On a ground that had rarely been a happy place for United in recent seasons, Louis Van Gaal’s side showed remarkable composure and secured a result that few would have expected ahead of kick-off, which keeps them in touching distance with City ahead of next week’s derby.
Here’s five talking points from Saturday
1) United are quick out of the blocks
Having conceded three goals in 20 minutes at the Emirates two weeks ago, United were quick out of the blocks at Goodison Park, controlling the game from the start without giving Everton the time to settle into the game.
United’s solid start served the double purpose of giving them a foothold in the game and, at the same time, take the sting out of the partisan Goodison’s crowd, as the expected initial barrage that had accounted for United in their recent visits to Merseyside failed to materialise.
Louis Van Gaal had bemoaned his side’s performance against Arsenal and it was telling that, on Saturday, after going 1-0 up, United immediately pushed forward to seek a second goal.
2) Brain and brawn
United’s dismal opening 20 minutes against Arsenal were largely caused by their midfield being completely overrun and exposing their defence, as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick struggled to cope with Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.
Van Gaal’s decision to deploy Morgan Schneiderlin alongside Schweinsteiger spoke volume for the impact the defeat against Arsenal has had on the Dutchman. Schneiderlin offers the dynamism Carrick can not provide, which in turns allow Schweinsteiger more time on the ball and relieves him from defensive duties.
The pair expertly controlled the midfield third and even when the game’s physicality increased by a couple of notches in the second half, the duo stood firm against Everton’s midfielders.
3) Ander Herrera makes things happen
While Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger got the better of their Everton counterparts in midfield, the movement of Ander Herrera created countless problems for the Toffees’ back four.
United are a complete different side when Herrera is on the pitch, particularly when he’s deployed in the number 10 role, for the Basque’s dynamism and vision are crucial to ensure Van Gaal’s beloved control of possession translates into goalscoring chances rather than remain a sterile exercise of sideways passing.
Herrera’s darting run into the box for United’s second was reminiscent of the kind of movement Paul Scholes became famous for and while it’d be foolish to compare them, Herrera’s influence on this side is almost as big as Scholes’ was on the sides he played in.
Van Gaal hinted he could drop the former Athletic Bilbao man. Don’t do it, Louis.
4) Another step in Smalling’s development
Chris Smalling’s outstanding start to the season got even better on Saturday as United secured a clean sheet at Goodison Park for the first time in four years.
While he found Romelu Lukaku a tough customer to handle, the United centre-back was excellent again, both with and without the ball, and one wonders what damage the Belgian would have done against the Smalling of a few seasons ago.
Even more importantly, and that is the sign of a great defender, Smalling’s assuredness seemed to rub off onto Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, who enjoyed a relatively solid game themselves.
5) Martial adds attacking threat
Anthony Martial did not find the net against Everton but the 19-year-old delivered a performance that betrayed a maturity beyond his years. Deployed wide on the left, a role he occupied for Monaco, the Frenchman was a constant nuisance, repeatedly making a mockery of Everton’s defence, as Seamus Coleman simply could not handle United’s deadline signing.
Martial’s direct approach and his ability to beat defenders at will gave United an attacking edge they had rarely enjoyed this season, as he repeatedly stretched Everton’s back four, creating space for the Herrera and Wayne Rooney.
For all their struggles in front of goal earlier in the season, United have scored three goals in four of the five Premier League games since the Frenchman arrived.
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