MANCHESTER, England — Winning the Europa League is looking increasingly like Manchester United’s best chance of getting back in the Champions League for next season.
It’s 20 Premier League games without defeat for United after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, back from suspension, converted a stoppage-time penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Everton at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Ten of those games have been draws, though, and United is still struggling to bridge that gap to the top four where Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City reside.
“One point or zero points, it’s not a huge difference,” said a glum-looking Jose Mourinho, United’s manager.
United is four points behind fourth-place City with nine games left. Making the job even harder is United’s involvement in the Europa League, where the team is through to the quarterfinals and plays Anderlecht in the first leg next week.
It means that in April, United has eight games – one every three or four days – and Mourinho has already suggested he might start prioritizing his key players for the Europa League if his side’s league performances don’t start improving.
With five draws from its last six home games in the league, United is clearly stuttering domestically.
Many of United’s recent setbacks have stemmed from its failure to turn possession and clear-cut chances into goals, but this wasn’t one of those occasions.
Ander Herrera and substitute Paul Pogba may have struck the crossbar either side of halftime, but Everton caused problems and defended well after Phil Jagielka gave the visitors the lead in the 22nd minute from a corner.
At times, United’s play was chaotic and untidy, and they resorted to long balls by the end as Marouane Fellaini went up front alongside Ibrahimovic.
The pressure paid off deep in injury time when substitute Luke Shaw’s shot was blocked in Everton’s area by the hand of Ashley Williams, who was given a straight red card. The clock had ticked into the 94th minute when Ibrahimovic slotted home the penalty.
It was hardly a celebratory mood inside Old Trafford after the final whistle.
“The performance was not very good,” Mourinho said. “The spirit in the second half was phenomenal, but with some players really in trouble – some by the physical point of view, some others clearly with the confidence levels low.”
A look at the other Premier League games on Tuesday:
Leicester City 2–0 Sunderland
A tough week got even worse for Sunderland manager David Moyes. Things can’t get any better for his Leicester counterpart, Craig Shakespeare.
Leicester earned a sixth straight win since Shakespeare replaced Claudio Ranieri in charge of the champions, thanks to second-half goals by strikers Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy.
It was another blow for Sunderland, which is in last place and eight points adrift of safety, and the under-fire Moyes.
Footage was published by a British newspaper website this week, showing Moyes telling a female reporter that she might “get a “slap, even though you’re a woman” following an interview with the BBC after a game. There has been widespread condemnation of his remarks, although Sunderland said on Tuesday that the club “continues to fully support David in his role as manager.”
Moyes has already apologized.
Burnley 1–0 Stoke
With its first win in more than two months, Burnley can start to think about planning for another season in the Premier League.
Burnley moved up to 11th place, and eight points above the relegation zone, thanks to George Boyd’s 58th-minute goal at Turf Moor. The team’s last victory was on Jan. 31.
Burnley has seven games left but already has two more points than the 33 the team earned two seasons ago, when it was relegated.
Watford 2–0 West Bromwich Albion
Watford also appears to be in the safety of mid-table after a win sparked by captain Troy Deeney, who scored his 100th league goal for the club.
Deeney set up M’Baye Niang in the 13th minute for the opening goal. The roles were reversed in the 49th, with Deeney running onto Niang’s pass and scoring with a low finish.
Watford had defender Miguel Britos sent off in the 65th minute for two yellow cards but held on to move up to ninth place.
Story: Steve Douglas