Everton 0 Manchester United 2
José Mourinho ended 2017 with a winless streak and a litany of complaints but he could have few problems with the start to 2018. Manchester United welcomed in the new year with a commanding second-half display at Everton and a comfortable victory that should do wonders for their manager’s mood.
Supreme finishes from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard brought United their first win in five matches and a return to second place in the Premier League. There is a 12-point gap with Manchester City but after a slow-burning start this was an assured, confident display from a team missing several influential players. It needs to be a benchmark for the remainder of the campaign.
The first half lived down to expectations, reflecting the dour form that both teams brought into a contest played on a wet and windy Merseyside evening. Mourinho was without Romelu Lukaku after a clash of heads in Saturday's Southampton game and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a knee problem, but the manager was still unable to offer a starting role to Marcus Rashford, worryingly for the 20-year-old, and Anthony Martial led the attack and the quest for a first win in five games.
Everton started the sharper, with Sam Allardyce making seven changes to the side who lost at Bournemouth on Saturday, his first defeat as the club's manager, but the lack of quality up front that has undermined their entire campaign was again glaring.
Oumar Niasse replaced Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the attack and had one of the few promising openings of the first half, bursting into the box from a touch by Nikola Vlasic only to be denied by a fine covering challenge from Marcos Rojo. Allardyce hopes to improve his forward options this month but attempts to sign Cenk Tosun, the Besiktas striker, have been complicated by the Turkish club's demands. A deal rising to £25m was agreed last week only for Besiktas to insist on closer to £27m due to the cost of Tosun's replacement.
Everton's brightest moments stemmed from the distribution and composure of Wayne Rooney in central midfield. The former United captain and record goalscorer was given a rousing ovation by the away fans when he trotted over to take an early corner – plus a touch of light-hearted Scouse-baiting for good measure. Mason Holgate sent a free header over from Rooney's delivery and in a game of limited opportunity, the young defender needed to do better.
Rooney showed no sentiment to his former team-mate Martial by scything down the France international as he led a dangerous counterattack, the first booking of the game belonging firmly in the taking-one-for-the-team category. United had finally discovered their rhythm and some urgency by that stage. They were sluggish initially and careless in possession, despite the occasional injection of quality from Paul Pogba. Mourinho's new captain almost fashioned a breakthrough when he broke into the Everton area and crossed low from the left, only for his delivery to just elude several red shirts who were waiting to connect. The midfielder also tested Jordan Pickford with a 30-yard drive that the Everton goalkeeper tipped round a post.
It was Martial who came closest to beating Pickford before the break. Racing on to an incisive pass from Luke Shaw the striker forced the £30m goalkeeper into a good save low to his left and Cuco Martina mopped up the danger before a United player could convert the rebound.
Mercifully there was improvement and incident after the break as United continued to build momentum and force the home side ever deeper. Better movement and distribution was key to their strong start and Juan Mata twice went close to opening the scoring from distance. The Spain international's first attempt from 25 yards was pushed over by Pickford. His second, a left-foot drive after cutting inside, flew beyond the goalkeeper but struck a post.
Everton’s reprieve did not last long. The breakthrough had an air of inevitability, such was United’s dominance, and was executed with a touch of excellence. At the end of a sweeping counter-attack Pogba picked out Martial lurking in more space than he should have been allowed just outside the Everton area. Central, and 20 yards out, the striker took aim for the top left-hand corner of Pickford’s goal and found his spot perfectly. A fine way to end a barren run and Martial’s seventh goal of an inconsistent campaign.
Allardyce responded by introducing Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy for Yannick Bolasie and Rooney respectively, the latter switch attracting audible derision from the Gwladys Street end. United responded by remaining on the front foot and Pogba twice almost doubled their lead, forcing another good stop from Pickford at close range and just failing to connect cleanly with Martial's inviting cross moments later. Pogba was a persistent threat roaming in from the left and also teed up Lingard for a low shot that Everton's keeper, yet again, foiled.
In fairness to the Everton manager his double substitution sparked a much-needed reaction. Niasse headed wide when Holgate's cross found the striker unmarked in front of goal and Everton belatedly exerted pressure on the United defence, but the game was put out of their reach by another supreme finish. Pogba, inevitably, was involved, playing Lingard into space on the left before wheeling away in celebration as the winger cut across a weak challenge by Michael Keane before curling an unstoppable finish into the top corner.