After three straight draws saw Manchester United drop to third place in the Barclays Premier League standings, a full three points were badly needed. United got all three points with a 0-2 victory at Goodison Park to start off 2018 in the right fashion.
Down a pair of strikers to injury, United went with primarily a 4-3-2-1 look with a lot of interplay and interchange at the front and the wing backs firing up the field. Paul Pogba, though technically deployed in the midfield was allowed to go box to box and the width of the field keying United’s attack all day.
The backline was comprised of the rejuvenated Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof at right and left-back respectively, and Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo filled the middle of the backline. Though United’s form has been erratic of late, a few positive signs have been the revitalization of Shaw and the improved play of Lindelof which was on display today at Everton.
The backline and David de Gea kept its second consecutive clean sheet, but this time, the United goal wasn’t threatened, as Everton’s attempts were always hopeful and speculative. de Gea kept the clean sheet without having to make a save.
With no true strikers available for selection, Mourinho deployed Herrera and Matic in the holding midfield positions, and an attacking quartet of Mata, Pogba, Lingard and Martial. Although technically Martial was listed as the striker, the foursome interchanged up front quite a bit and made it difficult for the Everton back line to key in on any one individual target.
Without Lukaku in the lineup to hold up play in the attacking portion of the midfield, United utilized its speed advantage on the wings playing through Martial and Lingard. Though deployed as a striker on paper, Martial drifted to the wing to use his pace to get up the field and go at defenders which gave Everton a headache all match.
In the first half, it was much more positive for United than it has been of late. Juan Mata got the start at attacking-mid and was very aggressive with through balls, and crosses that helped set the tone for the match.
Without Lukaku nor his backup Zlatan Ibrahimovich who were both out of form anyway, the attack lacked that quality in the final third as has been the case for most of this frustrating season.
Predictably, the half ended 0-0, but it was much better from Man United. The Red Devils had the lion’s share of possession at 57%, and had 10 attempts at goal.
The match seemed destined for a frustrating nil-nil draw and it always seemed like it was going to take a spectacular individual effort to get anything from this game.
Juan Mata nearly provided the spectacular in the 51st minute when he hit a curling effort from distance off the right post of Jordan Pickford’s goal.
It seemed like more frustration for MUFC but then, United came alive, and finally broke through As usual for anything positive for the squad this season, it started with Paul Pogba.
Pogba took a ball from Mata to the top corner of the box in the 57th minute and calmly waited for the play to develop. As Jesse Lingard made a dummy run to the back of the box, Martial drifted to the center. Pogba played a quick, but long back-pass to the top of the box for Martial. With the defenders out of position defending what they figured to be Pogba’s cross to Lingard at the back-post, space opened for Martial who hit a beautiful curling strike to the top right corner to give United the 1-0 advantage.
At 57 minutes in, Mourinho didn’t “park the bus” and United kept the attack going as the game continued toward the latter stages.
Unable to double its advantage, around the 70th minute, Everton predictably pushed forward and pressured United’s back line consistently as the game pushed toward the 80th minute.
United’s backline held firm, and Everton was unable to unlock the Red Devils’ defenses.
A hallmark of Jose Mourinho’s squads when things are going well is brilliant counter-attacking football. This was never more evident than in United’s victory at Arsenal. It was on display again today through Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard.
In perhaps the goal of the season, Pogba won a loose ball in the midfield and laid a perfectly weighted pass to the marauding Lingard. Lingard cut inside and hit across the ball with the inside of his foot causing the shot to slice away from the keeper, into the top corner of the right side of the goal, doubling the Devils’ advantage.
In the final ten minutes, United calmly saw out the match, and United won away for the first time in the festive season and for the first time since winning at West Brom in the middle of December.
With the 3 points in tow, United vaults back into second place, a position its held for much of the season.