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Alejandro Garnacho’s latest star turn against Everton helps Man Utd avoid an awkward question

Alejandro Garnacho celebrates after winning United’s first penalty (AP)
Alejandro Garnacho celebrates after winning United’s first penalty (AP)

When the end-of-season prizes are awarded, the best goal may involve a demonstration of Alejandro Garnacho’s precocious talent and come at Everton’s expense. Not in this game: November’s meeting on Merseyside contained the kind of overhead kick that deserves to be remembered for years.

But there are different ways of winning matches and Garnacho found another method of defeating Everton. After the spectacular came the statistical: he became the first Manchester United player to win two penalties in a Premier League game and the first to do so for any club since, improbably, Antonio Rudiger in 2021.

In turn, Garnacho facilitated another one-off: United had never seen two different players score spot kicks in the opening half of a match in the division. And if Everton can testify how devastating a dribbler the teenager can be, they also have first-hand evidence of Bruno Fernandes’ propensity for generosity: after ending his own goal drought, he allowed Marcus Rashford to score a spot kick, just as he had given the Mancunian one at Goodison Park. History repeated itself in another respect that Erik ten Hag could enjoy: he can cut a beleaguered figure but has faced Everton five times and won all.

Garnacho was tripped by Ben Godfrey and James Tarkowski (Reuters)
Garnacho was tripped by Ben Godfrey and James Tarkowski (Reuters)

But for Everton, there was a twist on a couple of familiar issues. Penalties of another kind have been the underlying theme of their season, with a 10-point deduction first imposed then reduced to six.

The authorities have penalised them in other ways. It has been a regular grievance of Sean Dyche that Everton had to wait until March to get a spot kick – which Beto promptly missed against West Ham – and now, no side has conceded more. United have benefited from three of those seven, even if Everton had no grounds for complaint at Old Trafford, their clumsiness the cause when confronted by Garnacho’s speed and skill.

James Tarkowski was the first culprit, tripping Garnacho as he turned. Ben Godfrey felt still more culpable, upending the Argentinian when in full flight.

Fernandes’ goal had an unusual rarity for a player who has been so prolific in his United career and who is hardly averse to shooting. It was his first in 17 league matches, dating back more than four months. All the more reason, perhaps, for him to then take the second penalty. Instead, that was granted to Rashford, who had been allowed to end a barren run at Goodison Park. Now he has scored in two consecutive league games and a respectable five in 2024: more of the problems stemmed from his first half of the season.

Rashford celebrates after Fernandes handed him United’s second penalty (Getty Images)
Rashford celebrates after Fernandes handed him United’s second penalty (Getty Images)

Yet even as the other two forwards – Fernandes was again deputising for Rasmus Hojlund in attack – scored, Garnacho starred. Quiet in the Manchester derby, he was irrepressible and elusive and probably ought to have converted one of a couple of chances Fernandes fashioned. The Portuguese was also influential; Jordan Pickford denied him a second goal by clawing away a free kick.

And yet while the half-time scoreline suggested United were comfortable, there was a case they led 2-0 after being outplayed at home by a relegation-threatened team. It scarcely bodes well. They were poor in possession all too often – and a Dyche team had 49 per cent of the ball at Old Trafford – and their propensity to allow opponents vast numbers of shots continued as Everton had 23. Perhaps predictably, they scored none of them.

Everton could convert their positive play into clear chances (Getty Images)
Everton could convert their positive play into clear chances (Getty Images)

If profligacy has been a problem for Everton, it has been exacerbated. Dyche has become a convert to the world of xG because Everton’s total of expected goals is far higher than their number of actual goals. Everton were the more positive and purposeful from the off.

There were misses aplenty, beginning with the unmarked Amadou Onana in the second minute. Dwight McNeil twice fired inches wide. Abdoulaye Doucoure had a couple of opportunities. A sliding Dominic Calvert-Lewin could not turn in Lewis Dobbin’s cross. The substitute’s own drought now extends to 22 games. It is still shorter than Antony’s: the United replacement got an outing when Garnacho went off, to a standing ovation, without ending his own wait.

But it was an irrelevant outing for the Brazilian, a decisive one by the Argentinian Garnacho. As in many of their wins, United were not convincing but they possess players of the talent to determine games. After consecutive Premier League defeats, victory maintained United’s faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. For Everton, meanwhile, the winless run now stretches back 11 league games and, with a three-week break, will now mean they have gone three months without taking three points from a match.

Relegation remains a concern but United could be forgiven for hoping they survive. They now have 41 Premier League victories against Everton, the most any club has against one other. And the last two, in contrasting fashion, can be attributed to Garnacho’s gifts.