Another 4-0 win for Manchester United on Sunday. This win coming against an Everton side that had lost their last three games in a row in all competitions.
After a rare early goal from Antonio Valencia—only their fourth out of 16 in total inside the first 45 minutes—United huffed and puffed. Yet the side are lacking a ruthlessness. The kind that would not have been out-of-place in 2016/17. Still they found a way to add three more in the final ten minutes of the game. Here’s my three snap thoughts on the back of that.
1. United were in 2d gear versus Everton and the result most certainly flattered them.
Make no mistake about it, this was not United’s best performance of the season (sorry Jose). In fact for about 45-50 minutes of the game the Red Devils were asking to be pegged back and punished for their drop in level. Almost ironically, in the final third, they ended up scoring four goals. It was a game that would otherwise most likely have finished 1-1 at best last season.
So, what has changed now that late won victory is gradually becoming a regular feature at Old Trafford?
It’s rather hard to point the finger at a particular aspect of their game that has improved on last season. Red Devils look as if they have collectively moved up a level in terms of confidence and assurance both on and off the ball. For example when Everton threatened David De Gea in the early stages of the second half, the home side refused to be drawn in.
In Mourinho’s words, Manchester United are seeing a ‘natural evolution’ in their game. Obviously that development is aided by better and more experienced personnel making the accompanying transition on the field all the more seamless.
2. Substitutions continue to make tangible positive impact, for a change.
Much was said about United’s strength in-depth thanks to the success of the last two Summer windows. But that was all on paper. Surprisingly, since the start of this season, the money spent on bringing in the talent has actually translated to improvement on the pitch, across all areas.
United are showing a marked difference going forward, before and after attacking substitutions, particularly when playing at Old Trafford. None epitomizes that game-changing streak of United from the bench quite like Anthony Martial has done so far, this season. There is a strong case to be made in favour of starting him. Week in and week out he would be at his devastating best on the left no doubt. Yet the energy and dynamism he brings when substituted against tiring opposition legs is too good a weapon to miss out on.
Martial has been involved in 4 goals —exactly 25% of what the side has managed in five games—in the mere 131 minutes that he has spent on the pitch. That is not an insignificant contribution. Jose Mourinho is now facing an interesting selection headache with regard to starting the Frenchman. Yet it is one the manager will not mind having at least as long as the winning results continue.
3. Manchester United did indeed miss Paul Pogba in midfield.
Up to the Everton match, Pogba led United in completed passes, number of goals scored from midfield, and in completed dribbles as well.
For all the solidity that Nemanja Matic offers in midfield coupled with the unique qualities that Marouane Fellaini brings to the table, it is unwise or too early to deem that a partnership that can dominate the midfield. Certainly that is questionable against sides that will pose a much greater threat than did Everton. United will face much more difficult questions in midfield in the coming weeks.
Without the 24-year old Pogba, United lack the star quality to win games in and from the middle. They will suffer even more so, if the rumours of the Frenchman suffering a grade 3 muscle tear are revealed to be true. Jose Mourinho has rubbished any such claims in his post match interview citing the lack of any concrete information from the preliminary scans. It appears that he is fighting a losing a battle on that regard.
United find ways to prevail
Goals are coming in twos and fours for the Red Devils. United are also missing relatively less chances in front of goal. Still, chance conversion is still something that the Red Devils can work on. That is especially true in the opening stages of the game when the vulnerability at the back is usually higher. For the better part of the Everton game, United looked a mistake away from conceding. They may well have had it not been for David De Gea delivering the goods in front of the sticks. That would have been a crime. Particularly given the explosive start United enjoyed by opening the scoring as early as four minutes into the game.
Despite the tentative start against Everton United scored four goals at the end of the day. That is the third time they have done so in the Premier League this season. To put that in perspective, that is the same number of times they have scored four or more in the league, in the last three years combined.