This time, there was no one dressed as the Grim Reaper to stalk a Manchester United manager but, if possible, it was even grimmer.
Five years since a dreadful Easter defeat at Goodison Park brought David Moyes’s reign to an undignified end, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered a sixth, and most damning, defeat in eight games. This is their worst run since 1981.
Unlike in 2014, there were no costumes or stunts to herald the manager’s imminent demise; not when the ink is barely dry on Solskjaer’s three-year contract. Instead, his shambolic side were simply mocked by the majority in Goodison Park. The United fans cheered ironically when their team completed a handful of passes.
“We have got to apologise to the fans,” Solskjaer said. “We let the club down.”
This was a humiliation, a capitulation. United were overrun and overpowered, witless, clueless and lifeless.
“They beat us on all the basics,” Solskjaer conceded. “That performance is difficult to describe because it is so bad.”
David de Gea was culpable again, while they were rudderless and wretched at the back, toothless in attack and had a void where the midfield was supposed to be. “Everton deserve all the credit,” Solskjaer said.
They were outstanding. Their first three scorers, Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lucas Digne, were superb, but so were the relentless Idrissa Gueye and the workhorse Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Even Theo Walcott struck.
“We were the best team on the pitch since the first minute,” said Marco Silva, whose side have shed the inferiority complex that characterised Everton’s matches with their supposed superiors.
After 25 matches without a win against the top six, they now have three in as many games at Goodison Park. They played with confidence, conviction and quality, sensing United’s frailties and exploiting them. They had the invention and intensity United lacked, the togetherness and attitude United needed.
The figures were damning. “It’s not a surprise to hear that Everton ran more than us,” Solskjaer said.
But the gap in distance covered was a massive eight kilometres.
United have gone 11 games without a clean sheet after their heaviest defeat to Everton since 1984. Over a Premier League season, they have let in 48, an unwanted club record. United conceded four times for the first time since 2016.
It could have been more. De Gea spared United further ignominy when Sigurdsson almost scored from a corner and excelled to keep out Richarlison’s early half-volley, but his capacity to concede long-range shots was apparent again when the Icelander struck from 25 yards.
The irrepressible Gueye had surged forward and Nemanja Matic made a lamentable attempt to close Sigurdsson down when he let fly.
Everton had gone ahead when the United fans were chorusing Wayne Rooney’s name. Among the finest of Rooney’s 253 United goals was an overhead kick against Manchester City, and this bore certain similarities. Richarlison’s acrobatic effort came after Calvert-Lewin rose above Chris Smalling to flick on Digne’s long throw.
That combination of Digne and Calvert-Lewin had also brought the breakthrough against Arsenal, when Phil Jagielka struck. If United were forewarned, they were still unable to cope.
The influential Digne got the goal he merited with a half-volley flew that past a motionless De Gea; Anthony Martial, who had allowed his fellow Frenchman to shoot, was partly at fault. And while Richarlison hobbled off, his replacement, Walcott, scored his first goal of 2019 after being released by Sigurdsson.
This was a display that could end United careers, prompting the resident nice guy to issue a warning. “I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that,” Solskjaer said.
In the short term, it represented the worst preparation for a Manchester derby.
Solskjaer believes United require 12 points for a top-four finish. “We are still in with a chance,” he said.
But, regardless of the mathematics, it feels almost inconceivable that United can salvage Uefa Champions League football now.