A penalty shootout beckoned at Goodison Park but Edinson Cavani had other ideas. The veteran Uruguay international produced a stunning 88th-minute winner to maintain Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s quest for a first trophy as Manchester United manager and condemn Everton to more cup heartbreak.
Cavani opened his United account here early last month, also late in the game and at the Park End of the stadium. He found his range once again to give the visitors a victory their first-half dominance merited, but one that appeared to have eluded them in an otherwise sterile second half. With Everton wide open at the back as they went in search of an equaliser in stoppage time, substitute Antony Martial broke through to add a second. Bruno Fernandes also struck a post and Robin Olsen denied Marcus Rashford with a fine save in time added on.
Fernandes and Harry Maguire were the only players to retain their places from the 6-2 victory over Leeds as Solskjær rotated heavily, albeit while still fielding a strong and experienced line-up. Paul Pogba returned to partner Nemanja Matic in the heart of midfield, Edinson Cavani led the line, Donny van de Beek and Mason Greenwood flanked Fernandes while Eric Bailly partnered Maguire in central defence. The changes in personnel did not disrupt the rhythm or swagger that United gleaned from the Leeds’ result. They dominated possession and dictated play from the outset, and they could have been out of sight before a nervous Everton constructed their first meaningful attack.
Fernandes orchestrated United’s 3-1 win here in the Premier League last month – “I learned that day that if you leave space for him we are dead,” Carlo Ancelotti had admitted – and was presented with an early opportunity to reprise that role when Michael Keane miscontrolled Alex Iwobi’s back pass.
The Portugal midfielder broke clear with Cavani free to his left only to uncharacteristically scuff his pass towards the veteran striker. Yerry Mina cleared on that occasion but the pattern had been established. Everton were error-ridden and careless whenever they did have the ball. United created chances frequently, with Alex Telles a productive source down the left, but lacked the clinical touch to finish off the home side.
Olsen had replaced Jordan Pickford as Ancelotti swapped his goalkeepers for the third time this season and he made an eventful contribution. The Sweden international punched Mina in the nose as they attempted to clear the first of a series of dangerous United corners and he almost let in Cavani by stalling too long over a Keane back pass and needed a desperate recovery tackle to escape.
There were plenty of opportunities for him to demonstrate the good and the routine, too. Olsen saved at Cavani’s feet after Axel Tuanzebe had dispossessed Ben Godfrey on the right, denied the Uruguay forward Cavani twice in quick succession at his near post and held a tame header from Pogba when the midfielder was found unmarked by a Telles corner.
Séamus Coleman also produced a vital block to divert Van de Beek’s close-range shot from a Pogba back-heel and Greenwood was inches away from converting a diving header from Telles’ left-wing cross.
Everton, no doubt wondering how they had remained on level terms, took 35 minutes to test Dean Henderson for the first time, when Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner straight at the United keeper. Moments later they almost went ahead when Sigurdsson swept a long-range free-kick towards the top corner but Henderson was equal to the effort and pushed the ball over.
The home side’s recovery was fleeting. United, carving through the home side with neat one-touch triangles, ended the first half back in the ascendancy and it required an acrobatic interception from Mina to prevent Cavani from connecting with Fernandes’ cross in front of goal.
Olsen made another near-post save from Cavani early in the second half after the striker – with no VAR to intervene – appeared to control Tuanzebe’s cross with an upper arm. The Uruguayan was then involved in a spat with Mina when, having been held off the ball by the Colombia defender, he reacted by grabbing his marker around the chin. Again VAR may have had a different view on Cavani raising his hand than the referee, Andy Madley, who opted to lecture both players.
Richarlison had to be withdrawn having been left dazed and confused by a collision with Bailly. The contact was purely accidental on the defender’s part but Richarlison’s teammates were visibly unhappy with Fernandes for pushing the Brazilian into the challenge that flattened him.
Those incidents aside, the second half impressed only for Rashford receiving warm applause from the 2,000 Evertonians inside the stadium for his efforts to feed school children throughout lockdown. The football was turgid.
Everton tired physically and United ran out of ideas after their first-half dominance failed to yield a breakthrough. Solskjær introduced Martial in a bid to inject pace and energy into the visitors’ attack and it paid dividends with only two minutes remaining. Martial, dropping deep into midfield, collected Maguire’s ball out of defence and found Cavani lurking with intent on the right of the Everton penalty area. The 33-year-old cut inside Godfrey and unleashed an outstanding first time shot that flew beyond Olsen into the far corner. The penalty shootout had been averted.
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