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One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

Everton pummel Manchester United (video)

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  • Richarlison scores overhead kick (video)
  • Sigurdsson, Digne strike from outside box
  • Walcott pours misery on De Gea, Red Devils
  • One shot on target for Man Utd

Everton hammered Manchester United on Sunday at Goodison Park, using four different goal scorers to pull into seventh place on the Premier League table via a 4-0 blowout on Merseyside.

Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne, and Theo Walcott scored for Marco Silva‘s Toffees, whose 49 points are level with Watford (which has played one fewer match).

United has now allowed more goals than any of its single seasons in the Premier League era with 48. There are four matches left, and Manchester City is next.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everton took the lead before the quarter hour mark, Lucas Digne’s long throw flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Richarlison’s terrific overhead kick.

Paul Pogba sprung Marcus Rashford on goal, but the striker’s flicked short zipped over the goal.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Everton made it 3-0 in the 56th, as Digne let a De Gea punch bounce once outside the box before smashing a shot inside the near post.

Walcott would later side-foot under De Gea after Sigurdsson sprung him down the left wing.

WATCH: Everton leads on Richarlison overhead kick, Sigurdsson missile

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Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson have both scored their 13th goals of the Premier League season this Sunday, each gorgeous in their own way.

Richarlison, who turns 22 on May 10, provided an aesthetically-pleasing, acrobatic goal during the Toffees’ Sunday visit from Manchester United.

[ STREAM: Everton-Man Utd on NBCSports.com ]

The goal came before the quarter-hour mark to open the scoring at Goodison Park.

Lucas Digne‘s long throw was flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison swung his left peg skyward for a terrific overhead kick that defied David De Gea.

After bagging five goals with five assists for Watford last season, Richarlison has 13 and two for the Toffees.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

Watch Live: Everton v. Manchester United

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Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United face familiar foes Everton at 8:30 a.m. ET on Sunday at Goodison Park (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Richarlison will try to lead Everton into David De Gea‘s goal, while former Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin hopes to stymy former Toffees star Lukaku.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Zouma, Keane, Coleman, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Bernard, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Jagielka, Walcott, Tosun, McCarthy, Davies, Lookman.

Manchester United: De Gea, Lindelof, Smalling, Jones, Dalot, Matic, Fred, Pogba, Rashford, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Young, Andreas, Lingard, Mata, McTominay.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 35

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A pretty unique situation at the Etihad Stadium headlines another stop on the road to the Premier League title.


And we go again
Man City v. Tottenham Hotspur — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

As hard as it is to fathom Man City getting off the mat quickly following their Champions League exit at the hands of Spurs, it’s even more difficult to imagine the visitors traveling back to London and returning to Manchester with the same fire shown in Wednesday’s thriller.

Not only that, but how can the hosts ignore reminders of what happened against the visitors three days prior with the very same opponents staring them down, even if City is business-like? Frankly, no result would surprise us (unless someone hangs 10 goals or something truly absurd happens at the Etihad (again)).

Liverpool’s title train pulls into Wales to meet hopeful Bluebirds
Cardiff City v. Liverpool — 11 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

Cardiff City has new life in the race for Premier League survival, though Neil Warnock‘s men will hardly be expecting a point or three from Liverpool’s Anfield visit. That said, the Reds are coming back from Portugal and have been using Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah an awful lot. Here is where guys like Xherdan Shaqiri will, theoretically, need to step up.

Weary Everton seeks revenge against relatively rested Reds
Everton v. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

You wouldn’t be stunned if Manchester United fans are having second thoughts about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Red Devils full-time boss, though they’d be over the same things — that defense — that worried Jose Mourinho. Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson will try to seize on that, and United’s midweek action versus Barcelona, at Goodison Park.

Stumbling Wolves hope to take advantage of sluggish Brighton
Wolves v. Brighton and Hove Albion — 10 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have slipped back into their early season mold of having fine performances in big games but not fully arriving for the little guys. Brighton, now just two points clear of the drop zone, will hope that it can do as visitors what hosts Southampton and Burnley did to Wolves.

Magpies, Saints battle for assured safety at St. James’ Park
Newcastle United v. Southampton — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

The stakes here are pretty straight-forward: Win, and forget about relegation (Saints would still be mathematically alive for the drop with all three points, but it would be an extreme scenario involving fellow drop candidates running off wins over big sides).