At the end of a 90 minutes in which he had contributed nothing at all, the ball fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Everton box, gifted a chance to find a leveller for Manchester United.
The Red Devils were behind for much of the game after Anthony Gordon’s strike brushed the shoulder of Harry Maguire and flashed past a helpless David de Gea.
United looked totally lost for much of the second half. Bruno Fernandes tried to squeeze some life out of his attacking teammates but was often wasteful, Jadon Sancho apparently played the whole 90 minutes but that’s going to need a stronger citation, and Juan Mata played his first half-hour of Premier League football all season.
It might have gone someway (ok, that’s generous, a little way) to being forgiven if the anonymous Ronaldo had buried the only chance he had all game, but his wayward strike deflected off Michael Keane and against Jordan Pickford, trickling away with the visitors’ hopes of a late and undeserved leveller.
Ronaldo’s return to Man Utd has certainly not gone according to plan, with the Portuguese superstar already registering his first trophy-less season since 2005 and the club’s own drought being extended to half a decade.
With each passing week and each new dismal performance for the world to analyse, United’s second-place 2020/21 finish looks all the more miraculous, while the following transfer window has aged like milk.
The signings of Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo were meant to turn United into title contenders, but even now labelling them as pretenders would be flattering. All three have been unmitigated flops so far, too.
Sancho is at least young and has generally improved as the season’s gone on, while Varane has struggled to battle with injuries. But Ronaldo arrived billed as the man to change United’s fortunes, the inevitable winner whose infectious mentality would restore the Red Devils to their glory days.
The 37-year-old (a fact that should probably be stressed a little more often) has blown the hottest hots and coldest colds this season. When he’s among the goals, it’s proclaimed that he’s still the very best and is capable of leading the line. When he’s not finding the net, he can’t fall back on an excuse that he makes other players better – a sentiment reserved for current genuine world class modern-day forwards in Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.
Being a winner is of no use if your team isn’t winning, and being a big club is pointless if you can’t back it up on the pitch.
Ronaldo has escaped criticism on some occasions simply because of how glaring the circus that surrounds him is, but he has not elevated the standards as hoped and is not scoring at a rate enough to justify last summer’s transfer.
Manchester United went backwards because they looked too far into the past to sign a limited striker who played for them in the 2000s. They are now both heading towards a critical humiliation – a place in next season’s Europa Conference League.