Manchester United welcomed back Wayne Rooney as an re-signed Everton player for the first time. Despite the warm pre-match ovation he received it turned out to be an unhappy return for the United legend during an often lethargic and passive contest.
Top Four Pressure
Given the other results from Game Week Five this was a must win game for United given Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool all dropped points this weekend – three of those teams played at home. Everton had a Europa cup game away from home and United had hosted Basel two days before that.
Antonio Valencia is capable of fantastic goals but his confidence over the past four or five seasons had dwindled somewhat – however since Mourinho’s appointment he has started to attack opposing full backs and get more crosses in. Naturally I was very surprised when I saw him take that shot full on but I was less surprised that it went in with that amount of power and technique. He absolutely nailed the shot. The reality is that he has this ability but he has seldom had the willingness. I hope he takes more long distance shots on as it makes him less predictable and more difficult to play against.
United went off the boil in the middle of the game and played at a low tempo at times. It seemed as if the midweek matches had tired them and this is slightly concerning given the fact they were playing Basel in Manchester and Everton had travelled for their Europa game. Everton seemed to get more a hold of the game as time passed but due to their own fatigue didn’t seem to test United the way a big rival would do. For example Tom Davies had a decent time against Ashley Young and you would think that a Sane, Salah or Moses would do some more damage. In this match Marcus Rashford didn’t have the impact he would have wanted, but at his age there’ll be games where he may have to graft to get his chances. His hard work wearing down the right flanks paid off for his friendly rival Anthony Martial who dazzled the Everton defence for fun at the death to earn himself a penalty (which I thought was a tad harsh on Schneiderlin) that he very confidently converted.
It was very obvious that we missed the big man in the middle in an attacking sense. Pogba has the ability to take an opposing player out of the game as he isn’t afraid to take a man on. Although they can do a decent job Mata, Fellaini, and Herrera aren’t always capable of this and therefore have to look for an alternative route – usually a sideways pass. Mkhitaryan can take a man on but when only one of your central players can do this it makes it difficult to break teams down that put ten men behind the ball. Mourinho will have to find a way to make the midfield work as well as it was recently while Pogba recovers. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial will have games where they will take care of this problem with a brilliant performance out wide.
I was glad Nemanja Matic was given the Man of the Match award by the fans as I thought he was everywhere in this game. His performance was massively understated and it looks like this season he will get the credit he deserves from the neutral footballing fanbase. Jose Mourinho is a proud man and so his decision to buy Matic back for Chelsea it made many people sit up and take notice. Two league titles later it is clear how talented he is but his mobility continues to amaze me. His composure on the ball is outstanding but he can also dribble out of trouble.
Manchester have continued their trait of finishing games very strongly, regardless of how they well they have been playing beforehand. This was no different and it was nice to see that it had been achieved a different way. Lingard and Herrera made a difference in the game, they injected an amount of pace and dynamism and I think this changed the overall vibe. Rooney had been dropping deeper and influencing play earlier, so his substitution also made a difference as Calvert Lewin was obviously told to push up and play “off the shoulder”. This maturity is what United were missing last season and during matches you cannot rule out a goal later on. Henrik Mkhitaryan can create a goal at any time even if he has a fairly quiet game. Though it was lucky that Everton made a second mistake and Lukaku showed real ruthlessness finding Mkhitaryan with a disguised pass that he simply had to put away for the decisive second goal.
Lukaku took some flak from his former supporters during the game and especially after missing a free kick in the latter stages. Karma struck a few seconds later as he latched onto a Lingard flick-on to net the third goal of the afternoon. Personally I don’t usually like players celebrating against their old clubs but on this occasion I couldn’t fault Lukaku for doing what he did. He is now amongst a few players who have scored five goals from their first five league games. I hope he continues this rate of goals.
I love the fact that United responded to a big Manchester City scoreline with a big win against Everton, a bigger team than Watford. This mentality of not wanting to lose ground on that top spot will hopefully remain as the season progresses.