It was almost six months to the day since Manchester United last faced Everton when the two sides lined up for the final pre-season fixture on Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted ‘intensity’ was the key for his side rather than performance, though there were few complaints about the display which followed.
The last meeting in February saw United dominate Everton in a similar manner, though some calamitous defending saw them somehow draw the match 3-3 after Dominc Calvert-Lewin’s equaliser in the fifth minute of added on time.
That last league meeting between the two sides should have been best remembered for Bruno Fernandes’ wonder strike in front of the East Stand, instead it was remembered for viral tweets mocking United’s defensive line from the set-piece which rescued Everton a point.
Half a year on and this pre-season friendly might finally be best remembered for Fernandes’ stunner at the same end, though perhaps some credit needs to be given for the manner in which United benefited from set-pieces rather than being left bereft.
While the focus this summer has been on the additions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, it is coaching arrival Eric Ramsay who is starting to show signs of improvement on a side which scores too few from set-pieces and have conceded too many.
After an early scare from an Everton corner United managed to tighten up defensively, something which should further improve when Varane is finally unveiled in the days ahead.
But perhaps the biggest endorsement of Ramsay’s tutoring was the fact United score from a set-piece themselves, as Luke Shaw picked out Harry Maguire with an inch-perfect corner before the club captain send a bullet header beyond Jordan Pickford.
It was a sight England fans had already seen in the summer with Maguire’s goal against Ukraine, it is another avenue of attacking threat which could prove crucial as United look to mount a challenge on all fronts in the season ahead.
Maguire had an expected goals output of 5.24 when playing for United last season, but he only managed two. In basic terms he should have had an extra three goals than he actually managed in 52 appearances for the club.
It was a similar story in his debut season at Old Trafford too with Maguire delivering three goals from an xG of 5.08, meaning he has scored five goals from chances which would typically bring a player ten (xG 10.32) during his spell at the club.
The summer of appointment of Ramsay as the club’s first set-piece specialist and individual development coach was primarily to reduce the amount of sloppy goals conceded – last season they let in 14 league goals from dead-ball situations, only Leeds conceded more, and a further four in European competition.
However, the real success of his appointment will come from the extra threat they pose when looking to add more goals at the other end of the pitch.
Maguire’s bullet header against Everton was further evidence of the genuine goal threat United centre-backs pose, now it is down to Solskjaer and his coaches to fulfil such potential.
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