But whereas José Mourinho’s team had very much deserved their late strikes in the final ten minutes of matches against West Ham United and Swansea City, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial only provided distraction from a unconvincing performance by United, who went ahead thanks to Antonio Valencia’s early screamer.
United miss Pogba’s influence
Following a season in which United relied too heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimović for his outstanding goalscoring output, Paul Pogba had begun the current campaign in fine style, controlling United’s midfield in most games thus far this campaign. With two goals and two assists already to his name, the Frenchman is already set for a better season in terms of his own direct contribution to goals and is helping his teammates to fill their boots more frequently, too.
However, having been forced off injured against FC Basel in midweek, his absence was clear for all to see against the Toffees. Mourinho stuck with the double pivot of Nemanja Matić and Marouane Fellaini which completed the Champions League outing of three days previously in his place.
The Reds got away with that pairing against weaker opposition with their 3-0 win, and ultimately did so again versus Ronald Koeman’s side. But without Pogba, United lacked invention going forward and were more laboured when looking to prevent the visiting side’s host of counter-attacks.
Fortunately for United, David de Gea made a string of great saves to keep the scoreline at 1-0 for the majority of the match, Mkhitaryan not doubling the lead until 83 minutes had passed. But with Everton in poor form and lacking a natural number nine since Lukaku’s move to Old Trafford, they got away with some slack defending which might have been punished by a more potent attack.
Left-back issues continue for the Red Devils
Matić and Fellaini in midfield might suffice for most games but even in this fixture, they probably weren’t the main cause for what could have been a much nervier finish at Old Trafford. Indeed, Ashley Young was a bit of a problem in the backline, and one which Koeman’s side exploited.
The utility man was decent at times going forward but showed little defensive nous at the other end as Everton carried out the majority of their attacks down his flank. He left too much space in behind too often, showing that although he’s always going to work his socks off for the team, he isn’t the solution for this issue in the side.
As mentioned, Young wasn’t so bad in attack but he failed to make enough of an impact there, either. The whole left flank didn’t function properly for United; Marcus Rashford is a better fit than most for the wide left berth, but it’s still clearly not his best position.
His decision-making wasn’t at his best, which is no worry for a 19-year-old, but he and Young showed they aren’t the best combination for the left flank. Young's obvious right-footedness makes United's left side easier to defend against because of the lack of overlaps – although Juan Mata compensated for this at times in the first-half with some good runs down the flank.
An encouraging display from Lukaku
United’s third goalscorer didn’t have his best game in a Red shirt, but there are signs of his all-round game improving. The Belgian has been accused of being a flat track bully, having great finishing abilities and scoring tonnes against weaker opposition but lacking the game intelligence of a truly top striker. He will face tougher opponents yet, but Lukaku was much the opposite on Sunday.
The 24-year-old missed a superb chance in the first-half, uncharacteristic of his usual clinical shooting, but was impressive in the build-up. And that’s even greater credit to him given he was facing his teammates of less than six months ago, who should probably know his game better than most.
Lukaku held up the ball well on a number of occasions for his teammates, including for United’s second goal. He opted to tee up Mkhitaryan for a simple finish with a perfectly weighted pass, when he might previously have attempted to score himself. Not only that, but the former Toffees frontman showcased great movement, allowing him to score what must have been a personally satisfying goal, following in from his own poor free-kick which the traveling fans had jeered seconds earlier.
Late goals no coincidence for United
Though United weren’t at their best and could easily have had a tougher time of it but for some poor Everton finishing, they are starting to prove that their flurries of late goals are a pattern rather than a coincidence.
The Red Devils scored two in the final ten against West Ham, three against Swansea and another three once more against Everton. Add another one each versus Leicester City and Basel, and it’s there for all to see that this is to be expected from this side.
Mourinho must be credited for his substitutions and improving the team’s counter-attacking qualities. Quick forwards Jesse Lingard and Martial both came off the bench to register an assist and goal respectively, their work coming after United have kept it tight long enough to take advantage of their opponents opening up more and more as the match progresses.
United were perhaps more fortunate in this than in previous contests to keep it 1-0 for so long, and the eventual winning margin of four goals wasn’t indicative of their level of performance. But there’s no doubt United were deserving winners, and their continued clinical touch in front of goal can only be a positive moving forward.