Following a disappointing run of results that saw them draw their last three Premier League matches, Manchester United returned to winning ways on New Year’s Day in impressive fashion as they overcame the challenge of Everton in a solid 2-0 victory. A couple of stunning strikes from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard secured all three points at Goodison Park, whilst Paul Pogba put in a man of the match display in midfield, providing assists for both goals. The performance put in by Jose Mourinho’s men was a world away from the limp showing just two days previously, when they failed to break down a struggling Southampton side in a match that remained goalless.
Mourinho made three changes to the side that started that clash with the Saints, as Marcos Rojo was brought in to partner Phil Jones at centre-back in place of Ashley Young, with summer signing Victor Lindelof stationed at right-back. United’s player of last season Ander Herrera was also handed a place in the starting XI, as he lined up alongside Pogba and the ever-impressive Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park, with Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard maintaining their places in the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who put in a hugely underwhelming performance two days earlier in his first league start since the beginning of November, was dropped to the bench at Goodison. Up front, Romelu Lukaku’s head injury prevented him from returning to Merseyside, so Martial was chosen as United’s focal point in attack.
The Frenchman was the visitors’ biggest threat going forward during the first-half and saw his low cross inside the area pushed away by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, following some good work by left-back Luke Shaw. United nearly took the lead towards the end of the opening 45 minutes, when Jesse Lingard went for goal following a surging run in Everton’s defensive third, only for his shot to drift narrowly past the post. The visitors, though, did not have everything go their own way and had it not been for an excellent last-ditch block by Rojo would have found themselves a goal down.
It was in the second half that United stepped it up a gear and turned their dominance into chances and goals. Shortly after the restart, Juan Mata nearly handed them the lead with a curling shot from outside the box that crashed against the post. United were not to be denied for much longer though, and shortly before the hour mark, Martial handed the visitors the lead in stunning fashion. Following some good work between Mata and Pogba down the left-hand side, the latter picked out Martial who was stationed on the edge of the box and the 22-year-old’s sublime effort curled past Pickford and into the top corner. That goal filled United with confidence and they nearly doubled their tally minutes later, when Pogba danced his way into the Everton box before seeing his shot tipped over the bar and away for a corner.
At the other end, Oumar Niasse gave the visitors a scare when his header hit the side netting and served as a reminder for United that they required a second goal if they were to go away with all three points. Whilst the Reds’ recent failure to kill of Leicester City saw them concede a stoppage-time equaliser and throw away two precious points, Lingard ensured that there would not a repeat of that this time out. Having been denied just a couple of minutes earlier, the England international secured the points for United with a stunning long-range effort that sent the away fans into raptures. After picking up possession deep into the home side’s half, Lingard skipped past a couple of challenges before unleashing an unstoppable drive that sailed into the top corner past a helpless Pickford and sealed United’s first victory from their past four matches. The visitors saw out the final ten minutes with little fuss, ensuring their return to second-place in the league standings and momentarily cut the gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City, who take on Watford on Tuesday night, to 12 points.
This was a performance that will undoubtedly please Mourinho following a disappointing run of form and should instil confidence into his side that has looked jaded in recent weeks. On Friday night, United will travel to take on Derby County in the FA Cup third round, before returning to league action 10 days later, when they welcome a beleaguered Stoke City to Old Trafford. Victory at Goodison was the start to the new year that Mourinho would have wished for and the Portuguese will be hoping that his side has put their recent slump behind them and will finish the campaign as they started it, blowing away opposing teams with a fluid, attacking style of football.