Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has admitted the 3-0 Premier League defeat to Everton has acted as a wake-up call for Louis van Gaal’s squad.
Kevin Mirallas’ second-half goal added to first-half strikes from James McCarthy and John Stones to seal a comfortable victory for Roberto Martinez’ Toffees at Goodison Park on Sunday.
The loss, a second on the bounce, leaves United in fourth – just seven points above rivals Liverpool, with Brendan Rogers’ men able to close the gap with a win over Hull City in midweek.
“Right from the first minute we were off the pace and they had a pressure that we usually have,” said England international Smalling, who was paired with United’s young player of the year Paddy McNair at the back.
“We were second best. This is a massive wake-up call for us.
“I think it was always going to go down to the final couple of games. We’ve got four big games now in which we’ve got to make sure we are better.
“We haven’t been the second-best team in games this season, even when we’ve lost, we’ve always had that aggression and those tackles but we were far from it [against Everton].
“You’ll see a different Manchester United next week, that’s for sure.”
Despite United dominating possession, it was the hosts who raced into an early lead with a swift counter-attacking move which was rounded off superbly by McCarthy – the Irishman brushing off weak challenges from McNair and a lacklustre Daley Blind before beating David De Gea.
Marouane Fellaini missed a golden opportunity to snatch a leveler against his former club soon after, and United were made to pay when Stones increased Everton’s lead.
The young defender – who put in another fine display as the Toffees recorded a third clean sheet in four games – leapt highest to head home his maiden Everton goal from Leighton Baines’ inch-perfect corner.
Tim Howard did well to prevent Wayne Rooney from pulling one back early in the second half, before Mirallas beat the offside trop to latch onto Ross Barkley’s pass and finish coolly past De Gea.
And Van Gaal, who also had to take off an injured Rooney late in the game, conceded that his side were well beaten.
“Everton had more aggression and motivation than us and that is the first time I have seen that this year, so I was very disappointed by half-time,” said the Dutchman.
“We could not restore [the scores] because Everton defended very well and played on the counter attack. Then it is always difficult.
“We shall always be compared to the opponent in motivation and aggression. We need to be higher than the opponent but that’s not always possible. It was more or less the first time I saw this.”
Main image courtesy of The FA Cup via YouTube, with thanks.