Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he did not regret resting Cristiano Ronaldo after Manchester United let two more Premier League points slip away at Old Trafford as Everton emerged with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
United missed the chance to move top of the Premier League and needed a late VAR call in their favour to avoid a second consecutive home league defeat.
Yerry Mina’s late winner for the Toffees was ruled out by a review for offside after Andros Townsend’s excellent equaliser had cancelled out Anthony Martial’s opener for United.
Solskjaer’s decision to start Ronaldo on the bench will be questioned as the Red Devils have now won just two of their last six games in all competitions.
But the manager defended that call and his side’s start to the season as they moved level on points with Liverpool and one ahead of champions Manchester City before those two teams clash at Anfield on Sunday.
“You make decisions throughout the season, you’ve got to manage the players’ workload,” said Solskjaer. “The decision was, for me, the correct one today.”
“We have started better than last season, but it is still not what we wanted.”
Ronaldo’s heroics deep into stoppage time against Villarreal on Wednesday saved United from having a mountain to climb to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.
But Solskjaer did not risk the 36-year-old with a third start in a week as he took his place on a star-studded bench alongside Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba among five changes.
Martial’s inclusion was the surprise with Jesse Lingard and Donny van de Beek also left on the sidelines.
The Frenchman struggled to impress in his few previous outings this season and missed a glorious early chance when he mistimed his jump for a free header at the back post.
But Martial made amends two minutes before half-time when he latched onto a Bruno Fernandes pass to fire beyond Jordan Pickford thanks to a slight deflection.
Solskjaer called on Ronaldo and Sancho 10 minutes into the second half as he sought to put the game beyond Benitez’s men.
But it was Everton who struck to expose United’s frailty on the counter-attack.
Demarai Gray won the ball on the left and freed Abdoulaye Doucoure into acres of space in midfield, the latter played in Townsend to fire home his fifth goal in nine appearances for the club.
“We need to be better at when to risk it and how not to be counter-attacked,” added Solskjaer. “We did have enough players behind the ball, we made a couple of bad decisions which cost us in those 10 seconds.”
Solskjaer responded by adding another creative threat, bringing on Pogba for Fred.
United’s trio of star substitutes nearly rode to their manager’s rescue as Ronaldo and Pogba fired narrowly off target from Sancho passes.
Yet, only a matter of inches saved United from a second home league defeat in eight days after Aston Villa’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford last weekend.
Mina tapped home from a Tom Davies cross, but the Colombian had just strayed offside to United’s relief.
“We can be happy with one point but it could have been better,” said Benitez, who has made a fine start to life as Everton boss.
“Davies saw the position of Yerry and he thought it was a better position. You cannot blame him (for not taking on a shot), he was in the right position it was unlucky for some centimetres it was offside.”