Another 4-0 win for Manchester United, this time coming against an Everton side that had lost their last three games in a row in all competitions.
After an early goal from Antonio Valencia, only their fourth out of 16 in total, inside the first 45 minutes, United huffed and puffed lacking the ruthlessness that would not have been out-of-place in 2016/17, only 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 second gear today and the result most certainly flattered them.
Make no mistake about it, this was not United’s best performance of the season (sorry Jose) and in fact – for about 45-50 minutes of the game, the Red Devils were asking to be pegged back and punished for the drop in level, almost ironically, in the final third. But they ended up scoring four goals, in a game that would have most likely finished 1-1 at best last season.
So, what has changed now that this is slowly 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 – but they look as if they have collectively moved up a level in terms of confidence and assurance both on and off the ball that even 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 helped by better and more experience personnel making that transition all the more seamless.
2. Substitutions continue to make tangible positive impact, for a change.
Much was said about United’s strength in-depth – on paper thanks to the success of the last two Summer windows, but since the start of this season, the money spent on bringing in the amount of talent has translated to improvement on the pitch, across all areas.
United are showing a marked difference going forward, before and after attacking substitutions, particularly at Old Trafford. And nobody epitomizes that game-changing streak of United from the bench quite like Anthony Martial has done so far, this season. While there is a strong case to be made in favour of him starting week in week out on the left where he is at his devastating best, the energy and dynamism he brings against tiring opposition legs has worked is too good a weapon to miss out on.
The Frenchman has been involved in 4 goals – exactly 25% of what the side has managed in five games (16 goals), in just 131 minutes that he has spent on the pitch. That is not an insignificant contribution, and Jose Mourinho is now facing an interesting selection headache, but one that he will not mind doing so, as long as the results continue to be the way they are at this point in time.
3. Manchester United did indeed miss Paul Pogba in midfield
United scored four goals at the end of the day – 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.
The goals are coming in twos and fours, and United are missing relatively fewer chances in front of goal, even though, chance conversion is still something that the Red Devils can work on, especially in the opening stages of the game, when the vulnerability at the back is usually on the higher side. But for the better part of the game, United looked a mistake away from conceding and if not for David De Gea bringing out the goods in front of the sticks, they may well have and that would have been a crime, given the explosive start they enjoyed opening the scoring as early as four minutes into the game.
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 not just hold but dominate the midfield against sides that are pose a stronger threat than Everton. And United will face more difficult questions in midfield in the coming weeks.
Without the 24-year old Pogba, who had, before the game, completed the highest number of passes, scored the highest number of goals from midfield and completed the highest number of dribbles, United lack the star quality to win games in and from the middle and will suffer even more so, if the rumours of the Frenchman suffering a grade 3 muscle tear happened 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, but it appears that he is fighting a losing a battle on that regard.