With a new year came a slightly new-look Manchester United at Goodison Park on Monday and, with Paul Pogba revelling in a more advanced starting position, they finally got back to winning ways with a 2-0 success over a toothless Everton.
Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard grabbed the second-half goals which settled the contest but it was Pogba who was the beating heart of their renaissance after a lifeless first 45 minutes. Playing a free role from the starting base of the number 10 position, the £89.5 million signing made up for a recent downturn in personal form to help United end a run of four games without a win which had seen them drop to third in the Premier League.
The opening half had seen United send in 10 attempts at goal but only one which troubled Jordan Pickford, and they came out for the second period in a far more purposeful manner. Juan Mata began by testing Pickford from range and then stinging the far post with a left-foot drive, and by the time Martial opened up the scoring in the 57th minute United had run Everton’s right side ragged.
Martial, playing as a centre-forward for the first time since May 2017, finished with aplomb after finding space just outside the area in which to collect Pogba’s neat pass off the left as Everton stood off, rewarding United for their energetic opening to the second half. The French pair continued to cause havoc thereafter, with Pogba almost converting a Martial cross shortly after with Pickford beaten having moments earlier worked his way into a shooting position thanks to a series of step-overs.
With just 10 minutes to play, Pogba was given far too much space once more, taking Luke Shaw’s header and feeding Lingard. The England attacker continued his wonderful form by bursting towards a retreating Everton defence and firing superbly across Pickford.
Pogba’s ability to be a serious influence in the final third had been key. Even during the tepid first half the United front four had exchanged positions freely, allowing the Frenchman to regularly drift left and ask questions of Mason Holgate while Lingard and Martial focused on the centre of the park. It wasn’t a pretty first half but it was clear that Jose Mourinho had sent out his side with a clear plan in mind.
The former Juventus man has now assisted seven goals in his 12 Premier League games this term compared to a tally of just four in 30 appearances last term. While the number 10 role is not a perfect match for Pogba, and United certainly need more than the out-of-form Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera patrolling the midfield in the weeks to come, his increased involvement in Everton’s third made all the difference on this occasion.
Pogba back on form, United back to winning ways… it was just the start to 2018 Mourinho and his side needed. This was a reminder of how dangerous they can be, and was the sort of away-day performance they could do with more often.