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Jonny Evans’ surreal brilliance gives Manchester United a well-deserved victory

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There are times when Manchester United have seemed weighed down by their past, unable to escape the weight of their history. And yet, as Erik ten Hag’s side made the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years, since Ron Atkinson entered a spiral that saw them turn to a certain Scottish manager, a comeback to the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson proved an unlikely savior.

It’s been 16 years since Jonny Evans’ debut for United, 14 years since he first lined out for them at Turf Moor. It had been eight and a half years since his previous move to United. His return had seemed so nostalgic that even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might not have considered it. His selection seemed to be a case of desperation and not inspiration.

Instead, a glorious goal from Bruno Fernandes, ending United’s three-game losing streak, was made possible by Evans’ magnificent pass. United’s first clean sheet since the opening weekend – after conceding at least two goals in five consecutive matches for the first time since 2001 and at least three goals in three in a row for the first since 1978 – came produced with a defense supported by Evans, probably their sixth choice centre-back.

As brief as it was, their season featured some surreal storylines. The return of Evans, relegated with Leicester last year, supposed successor to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, husband of a MUTV presenter, was among the strangest. His return to Arsenal was unfortunate: a brief appearance featured two Gunners goals, one of which deflected off him. For 89 minutes at Turf Moor, Evans responded to United’s defensive SOS and managed to contribute to the attack.

He thought he had scored his first United goal since 2014, but replays meant it was disallowed. Instead, he recorded a first high-profile assist for them in over a decade. He made a terrific block to fend off Jay Rodriguez, a blast from Burnley’s past, in a run of old stagers. At times he was tasked with marking the younger and faster Zeki Amdouni, but he provided a new defense throughout the match. His squad number – 35 – also matches his age, but a character from a bygone era came to United’s aid when their present began to look unpleasant.

He crafted a high-class goal that didn’t fit in with a low-caliber game. Fernandes met Evans’ diagonal ball with a volley which he drilled past James Trafford. It had some similarities to Robin van Persie’s 2013 strike against Aston Villa, courtesy of Wayne Rooney’s pass. It was an illustration of what Evans can offer: he was always two-footed and the pass was hit with his left.

Fernandes was only stationed on the right wing due to the absences of Antony and Jadon Sancho and the fact that United now lack an available and experienced specialist in that position. Yet it produced one advantage: Antony could never have created a right-footed finish of this quality.

It was the second goal United celebrated. Evans headed towards Sergio Reguilon’s corner. Replays then showed offside Rasmus Hojlund blocking Trafford and, for the third league game in a row, United scored a goal via VAR. After five defeats in their previous six away games, they picked up a win. After a difficult period, they entered a winnable series with a victory.

Bruno Fernandes’ perfect strike was the difference between the teams

(Getty Images)

The clean sheet had a redeeming feeling for Andre Onana. The goalkeeper blamed himself for Wednesday’s defeat against Bayern Munich. After Leroy Sané’s terrible opener error, a superb save was made, diving to his right to push away Amdouni’s header. The lively Amdouni also hit the inside of the post after an incisive pass from Aaron Ramsey as United’s defense cracked.

Lisandro Martinez had been added to the injured list. Raphael Varane only returned as a late substitute. Harry Maguire was still sidelined and could now find himself overtaken by his former Leicester teammate. But that’s how Evans, whose United debut came when Hannibal Mejbri was just four years old, came into the team, almost as a player-coach. Meanwhile, the young Tunisian came into a midfield that also included Scott McTominay. There was a look of fortune. There were times when Burnley were the more skilful side.

But Vincent Kompany’s team remains winless. They are still useless at home. They may savor the memories of Robbie Blake’s decisive goal against United in 2009, when Evans was playing. Around 14 years later, the free transfer that came to the aid of a manager who spent £400 million was canceled at the last minute, meaning Sofyan Amrabat made his debut as an emergency left-back . And then the United fans sang in chorus: “Jonny Evans is a Red”. He was a long time ago. The strange thing is that it is again and it was so integral.


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