All of the build-up surrounding the last game of the weekend was concerned with two fascinating narratives. The first of these was the return of Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford, in the shirt of the club that first propelled him towards stardom all those years ago. The second was the inverse, as the seemingly unstoppable Romelu Lukaku faced his old club Everton and hoped to justify his colossal price tag.
Rooney received a largely respectful reception from the home crowd, but it was Lukaku’s United that came out on top as Jose Mourinho bested Ronald Koeman for the first time in the Premier League.
United dominate the early exchanges
Right from the off Koeman’s side sat deep and looked to make the United players work to find an opening. Perplexingly the midfielders seemed to drop far too close to their back three, or as Mourinho called it pre-game, their ‘back five’, and this allowed United captain Antonio Valencia to break the deadlock after just four minutes. All it took was a simple cross-field pass from Nemanja Matic to pick out the unmarked Valencia, and the right back hit a peach of a shot with the outside of his foot on the half-volley. The connection was good enough to take it past Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal, though there will be question marks over whether the £30m man could have done more as the shot certainly didn’t find the corner of the net.
Despite the early goal Everton continued to sit deep and invite pressure early on, and the Toffies missed the pace of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Kevin Mirallas who were left on the bench going into the game. They did experience some success down the right hand side as they capitalised on Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford’s persistent desire to get forward, and Cuco Martina almost combined with Rooney for an equaliser but the striker fired just wide. It was United who dominated the opening 25 minutes however, and Lukaku passed up a golden opportunity to put the home side further ahead as he fired a simple chance wide of the far post.
Everton struggle to find a way back into the game
To their credit Everton grew into the game after the half hour mark, and Martina again caused problems down United’s left flank. The Everton wing back set up a Tom Davies header which saw Gylfi Sigurdsson put the ball in the net, not realising that Davies had been flagged offside. The game seemed to open up slightly after Martina became more adventurous, allowing Marcus Rashford to show more flashes of what he is capable of. The youngster danced past the Everton defenders on various occasions, but his end product was largely lacking and he took a few selfish shots.
Once Rashford did start to look up and find his teammates the threat became an ominous one for Everton. He slipped in Lukaku for another good chance but Pickford was quickly out to deal with the danger. Koeman’s side struggled to deal with the creativity of the United forwards, and the home team used the full width of the Old Trafford pitch to stretch the Everton back five and add to their lead. A poor free kick from Sigurdsson to end the half embodied his side’s toothless performance, and they were lucky not to be 2-0 down.
De Gea shows his class to keep United ahead
Ronald Koeman’s half-time team talk inspired an immediate response from his team, who started the second half much the better side. Davies found Rooney on the edge of the six-yard box after less than a minute, but the United legend struck his shot straight at David de Gea and the chance went begging. Everton still lacked any real pace or cutting edge going forward, and there were various instances of the Everton wingbacks looking up to find a lack of blue shirts in the United penalty area and being forced to go backwards. Despite this another big chance fell to an Everton player after a wayward Phil Jones header fell to the feet of Sigurdsson, but the Icelandic international mimicked Rooney’s earlier shot and De Gea saved with relative ease.
Just as Everton didn’t capitalise on their chances, United had the same problem. Juan Mata came the closest early when his free kick struck the outside of the post, but United created very little early in the second half. Both managers made changes on the hour mark as Jesse Lingard replaced Marcus Rashford for United, and Sandro Ramirez came on for Tom Davies to add more of a goal threat to the Everton front line. It was Lingard who made an impact right away with his direct approach, but he skied a shot on his left foot as yet another good chance was squandered.
United finally dismantle the Toffies
Rooney became more and more involved as the game went on, but he cut a frustrated figure, giving the ball away on multiple occasions in his efforts to find a headline-forging goal. Both sides looked for a goal to change the game in their favour, but while neither showed much imagination going forward it was United who looked the more threatening. After a shot from Matic fizzed just wide and the referee waved away a penalty appeal from Lingard, Koeman decided it was time to introduce Calvert-Lewin and Mirallas to finally inject some pace into Everton’s attack. These changes saw the departure of Rooney and the end of his quest to find a fairy-tale goal against his former club.
Everton’s urgency to find an equaliser began to result in some sloppy play, and Ashley Williams gave the ball away cheaply to Lukaku just outside the Everton box. The Belgian striker looked for all the world like he was going to take the shot on, but he instead slipped in Mkhitaryan who slotted a cool finish past Pickford to double the United lead. The goal knocked the stuffing out of the Everton players, and Lukaku found his was onto the score sheet against his old club shortly afterwards. The ball fell to the former Everton man following a flick-on from Lingard in the aftermath of a poor free-kick, and he put away the simple chance to make it 3-0.
United’s habit of scoring a flurry of goals late on was furthered by Anthony Martial. The Frenchman rounded out the scoring with an emphatic penalty that he had won himself, forcing a handball from Morgan Schneiderlin. 4-0 was the final score line at Old Trafford.
This was another game where the score line flatters Manchester United thanks to a collection of late goals. Mourinho’s side were unimaginative and lacked creativity for large parts of the game, and it was only once Everton really started going for the equaliser that United began to open them up on the counter.
They may lack some of the free-flowing attacking majesty of Manchester City, but Mourinho is getting results with this United side and they will likely be a tough unit to break down once the play a traditional top six side. Paul Pogba was missed in this game, and United will hope that their record signing can recover from his hamstring inury as quickly as possible.
Manchester United: De Gea; A. Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Fellaini, Matic, Mata (Herrera, 77’); Mkhitaryan (Martial, 88’), Rashford (Lingard, 61’), Lukaku
Everton: Pickford; Keane, Jagielka, Williams, Martina, Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye (Calvert-Lewin, 76’), Davies (Ramirez, 66’), Sigurdsson; Rooney (Mirallas, 82’)
Goals: A. Valencia (1-0, 4’), Mkhitaryan (2-0, 83’), Lukaku (3-0, 89’), Martial (4-0, 90+2)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Yellow Cards: Williams (64’), Bailly (82’)
Red Cards: None
Manchester United: De Gea 9; A. Valencia 9, Bailly 7, Jones 8, Young 7; Fellaini 7, Matic 8, Mata 7 (Herrera 7); Mkhitaryan 8 (Martial 7), Rashford 6 (Lingard 8), Lukaku 7
Everton: Pickford 6; Keane 7, Jagielka 6, Williams 6, Martina 7, Baines 6; Schneiderlin 6, Gueye 6 (Calvert-Lewin 6), Davies 7 (Ramirez 6), Sigurdsson 6; Rooney 6 (Mirallas 6)
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