• Solskjaer’s assistant Mike Phelan looked the picture of dressed-down relaxation in his United shorts before the game but it was a display to shock anyone out of a sunny countenance.
• The game was all over inside half an hour; claimed by the side who were sharper, stronger, wiser.
There was no fool in a Grim Reaper costume waving an imitation scythe behind the away dug-out, as there had been five years ago to this day when Manchester United’s desultory defeat here brought the curtain down on David Moyes’ brief and unhappy time at the club’s helm.
But this was still enough to make you wonder whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is destined for anything better than the three United managers who have struggled in Sir Alex Ferguson’s long shadow.
Solskjaer’s assistant Mike Phelan looked the picture of dressed-down relaxation in his United shorts before the game but it was a display to shock anyone out of a sunny countenance.
The game was all over inside half an hour; claimed by the side who were sharper, stronger, wiser. As it played out you wondered, yet again, how on earth United have managed to squander so many millions since Ferguson walked away.
The only three remnants of the Moyes team that lost 2-0 on Easter Day 2014 were David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones and there was a deep significance about that. De Gea, the only player of consistent world class in United’s dark post-Ferguson era, is the one they managed to keep, against all the odds.
Smalling and Jones are the pairing they somehow never managed to lose. They are no more players of world class – Manchester United class – than they were when Ferguson signed them and their continued presence is a metaphor for the way that the side once feared across the nation have become so terribly average.
They’d both been given the run-around by Everton’s rapid, inventive forwards when Smalling’s failure to cope with a long throw by Lucas Digne, on the Everton left, created the danger which saw the home team go ahead.
Smalling was beaten to throw-in by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose flick on was hooked in by Richarlison’s acrobatic scissor-kick, as Victor Lindelof’s reactions also failed him. It was the Brazilian’s 13th Premier League goal of the season. Not one of United’s strikers has matched that tally. Only Paul Pogba has reached it.
The defence was the source of most concern, though. Everton’s opener was the 45th the visiting side had conceded – more than in any other Manchester United league campaign. The manager said heading into this weekend that he did not needs a tide of new signings this summer – certainly not six, he said – but United were vulnerable every time Everton ran at them.
Lucas Digne eased away from Jones to establish the opportunity which doubled Everton’s lead. He located Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was allowed several yards of space to run into as Nemanja Matic stood off. The Icelander struck a shot from 30-yards, to De Gea’s right, which crept just inside the post. The goalkeeper might have done better though the cardinal sin was Matic’s.
United could not offer a fraction of the intensity. Paul Pogba, largely invisible, conjured one diagonal 40-yard cross-field piece for Marcus Rashford, who lifted the ball over with his right outstep having ventured into the Everton box.
When Romelu Lukaku faced a footrace for a 50:50 ball with Seamus Coleman, it was diminutive one of the two who won it, to the unrestrained delight of the home support. It was not the first challenge between the pair which the Irishman would win.
But it was the sight of Jones injuring himself, in the process of ploughing wildly into the excellent Bernard, which seemed to say most. Ashley Young arrived in his place after half-time, in a double substitution which saw Scott McTominay on for Fred, who had shipped water at the back of midfield. Everton simply continued where they had left off. Digne extended the lead four minutes before the hour, allowing a ball punched out by de Gea to bounce once before lashing it back past him, under no real challenge from an advancing Anthony Martial.
Sigurdsson was integral to the fourth, nutmegging Victor Lindelof during a brilliant exchange of possession down the left before the rolling the ball in for substitute Theo Walcott to finish. It would have been five, had not de Gea sprinted across his goal-line to kick away a corner which Sigurdsson almost sent directly in. By the end, the travelling United fans had found voice and their old Solskjaer anthems though many will have left with questions about whether he is up to such a task. The manager had said United needed a wake-up call but did not remotely imagine something as brutal as this.