Manchester United returned to winning ways with a 2-0 win against Everton on Monday night.
Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard’s second-half strikes were enough to secure all three points for Jose Mourinho’s side who now leapfrog Chelsea into second.
The hosts enjoyed a period of pressure around the 70-minute mark but were unable to break down their opponents and were made to pay the price.
Martial: a world-class talent but no Number 9
With Romelu Lukaku unavailable due to injury, Jose Mourinho handed Anthony Martial the chance to sign as he stepped in to fill the Belgian’s shoes. With six goals and three assists to his name so far this season, Martial has enjoyed a relatively fruitful campaign but has ultimately failed to nail down a starting spot under Mourinho. This, then, was Martial’s big chance to shine and stake a claim in the side’s starting XI.
But until he hit the opener, the Frenchman looked somewhat uncomfortable in the forward position. There was a confidence and authority lacking to his play, as highlighted by his clash with Ashley Williams in the 37th minute when he was brushed aside by the defender. Prior to that, his touch let him down as he attempted to meet an Ander Herrera through ball early on and was generally unconvincing in tight areas. Given his pace and direct running, he seems far more suited for the wings.
However, his ability shone through with his sublime goal, picking up possession on the edge of Everton’s box before stroking the ball into the top-right corner with the inside of his foot. It was a genuinely top-class goal that showed just what’s he capable of. When offset against his general all-round play tonight, here was further confirmation that United need Martial in their starting XI but not as an out-and-out forward.
Rooney plays key role for Everton
Wayne Rooney’s evolution over the years has been impressive to watch, with the player dropping further and further down the pitch with each passing season. Positioned in the heart of this Everton machine for tonight’s clash, the former United captain ran the show for his side – until he was substituted, that is – as he brought purpose and direction to the hosts’ game.
The player was here, there and everywhere as he showcased his fitness in dropping deep to support his defence as well as his creativity in offering some much-needed link-up play up front. His tackle on Martial in the 42nd also showed his shrewdness. Seeing the Frenchman surge forward into a dangerous position, he opted to take one for the team and brought the player down before he could get ahead of steam. It was an undoubted yellow card but highlighted his smart decision-making. Heavily involved throughout, he rarely put a foot wrong and kept it simple and effective.
Don’t be fooled, United still lacking ruthless edge
Having drawn their last three games, United have appeared caught in a rut. With the side seemingly short on desire and passion, the dynamics of the changing room and the players’ relationship with Mourinho have subsequently been called into question.
For the first half at least, it was a similar story tonight. In terms of their forward play, United looked unsure in Everton’s final third, as if they didn’t know whether to play it wide, look for the slick forward pass or try their luck on goal with a long-range shot – as Paul Pogba did many a time. There was a sloppiness to their passing, too, as demonstrated by the usually flawless Nemanja Matic who gave the ball away on a number of occasions. This general dip in form has seen Mourinho thrust under the spotlight and questions asked of whether or not he is capable of getting the best out of his players.
United certainly improved throughout the 45 minutes as they increased their intensity inside Everton’s half – and Martial and Lingard certainly showed what the side’s best players can do – but if they’re to ever to return to the top they need to hit the ground running from the off in these sort of matches. They spurned too many chances and were far too hesitant at times. In all, this was an important step forward but, at the same time, an important learning curve.
Young’s presence missed
Given his recent form, the three-match ban handed to Ashley Young over the weekend was always going to impact the side. Mourinho opted to bring in Victor Lindelof at right-back but the Swede looked out of his depth. He repeatedly picked up possession on the right only to check back due to a lack of options and his reluctance to venture further forward.
On the back foot he looked similarly uncomfortable. Yannick Bolasie had the better of him twice down the flank, using his pace on the first occasion and then his quick feet on the second to deliver a dangerous ball into the United box. Mourinho needs to think about alternative options otherwise right-back will remain a weak spot for United until Young returns.
Final product missing from Everton
Everton were just as guilty as their counterparts in lacking a ruthless edge tonight. It was not until the 65-minute mark, following the introduction of Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy, that the hosts came alive and started to take the game to United after a rounded opening 45 minutes.
But even then Sam Allardyce’s side were unable to find the back of the net. Tom Davies was notably unable to find the back of the net after Holgate’s hard work down the right while Oumar Niasse headed wide a glorious chance on goal from six yards out. Had either of these opportunities been taken, the game could have ended with a very different result but the Toffees were ultimately punished for their profligacy. Everton are missing the final product and could do with recruiting a proven forward in the transfer window.