A new right-back option
Right-back might be the one area in the Manchester United squad with the biggest gap between first-team regular and competition, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka under no pressure from Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
But with Wan-Bissaka injured against Leeds Solskjaer was forced to consider an alternative and in Axel Tuanzebe he might have found a reliable understudy, for this season at least.
Tuanzebe is solid defensively, as we know, and has excellent recovery pace, which is always an asset at full-back, but it was in an attacking sense that he really impressed. The 23-year-old constantly took up aggressive positions down the right flank and even made some adventurous runs into the Everton penalty area.
Going forward is one area of Wan-Bissaka’s game that remains a work in progress but Tuanzebe was at least as effective as the regular right-back at Goodison Park.
His delivery wasn’t always on the money, but he got into good positions and showed his attacking game from that position can be about far more than just getting in crosses.
Having made nine changes to his side, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have wanted fringe players to make a case for selection and Tuanzebe was one who did exactly that.
Edinson Cavani could have made this cup tie a lot easier for United. The 33-year-old missed a succession of presentable chances but his failures in front of goal didn’t deter him and, as is so often the way for strikers, he ended up taking the hardest chance of the lot to settle the game.
Despite his misses, particularly in a first-half blitz, Cavani never shirked responsibility and his play aside from the finish was excellent. His link-up play was strong and he brought others into play superbly, while also doing a lot of work off the ball to put pressure on Everton’s back five.
But just as the game look destined for penalties he produced a moment of magic, cutting inside on to his left foot to slam home a finish from 20 yards.
A thankless task for Van de Beek
Donny van de Beek had some bright movements against Everton, but he looked the least threatening of United’s attackers and it was no surprise he was one of the first to make way when Solskjaer bought the big guns off the bench.
It must have been a frustrating night for the summer signing, who has started only one of the last six games and was brought off at half-time on that occasion, at West Ham. On Wednesday he was given another chance to impress but was played out on the left, a role he can play thanks to his game intelligence, but not a position anyone would consider his best.
At a time when Van de Beek needs to be impressing when given the opportunity he was given a thankless task out of position. While his movement was bright and his interplay occasionally slick, he found it much harder to get involved in the game once United’s bright opening half-hour fizzled out.
When Sheffield United tried to crowd Dean Henderson on every corner kick last Thursday it felt like it might have been a bit of inside knowledge at play, a rare weakness in the goalkeeper’s game that Chris Wilder had noticed last season.
It didn’t cause Henderson too much trouble at Bramall Lane but the fact that Everton took the same approach at Goodison Park suggests that analysts have noticed something they may be able to exploit.
Everton put men around Henderson for every corner and sought to put him under pressure from those set-pieces. Again he coped well, but it looks like he might be getting more of this treatment when he gets a game for United at the moment.
That was some statistic from the CIES Football Observatory the other day that no elite player in world football has played more minutes than Harry Maguire in 2020.
The study, up until December 17, showed Maguire has played 4,745 minutes this season. Since then he’s added another two 90 minutes in the Premier League and now this Carabao Cup quarter-final.
Maguire has started 48 of United’s last 51 games in all competitions and one of those games he missed – at Paris Saint-Germain earlier this season – was through injury.
That’s an astonishing workload for one player and while Maguire’s durability is to be applauded, it feels like asking him to play every game is a risk.
He started at Luton in this competition in the first week of the season and even played the Europa League second-leg against LASK Linz back in August, when United led 5-0 from the first game.
United’s options are slim at the back, but the more Maguire plays the greater the injury risk becomes, and if that happens United really would be in trouble.