MANCHESTER, England — Three thoughts on Man United’s 4-0 win vs. Everton at Old Trafford…
1. United keep pressure on City as Everton slump again
Manchester United blew Everton away at Old Trafford with three goals in the final six minutes to make the Premier League a Manchester top two as Ronald Koeman’s team collapsed once again.
Antonio Valencia’s stunning fourth-minute opener was finally followed by late goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial from the penalty spot as United responded to Manchester City’s 6-0 win at Watford on Saturday to move level with Pep Guardiola’s team at the top of the table. Everton, meanwhile, have now conceded 12 goals in their last four games in all competitions and failed to score in any of them.
Having invested over £140 million on new signings in the summer, Everton are already in crisis, with preseason ambitions of finishing in the top four looking less likely by the week. But United’s victory underlined their status as title contenders as the problems of last season, when Mourinho’s team could not find the goals to defeat stubborn opponents, are now firmly a thing of the past.
The absence of Paul Pogba with a hamstring injury could have derailed United against an Everton team looking to end their dismal run, but the Frenchman was not missed as Marouane Fellaini provided power and discipline alongside Nemanja Matic. And while United may have been forced to wait until the closing stages to confirm their win, the ruthlessness of their final 10 minutes enabled them to rack up the scoreline that ultimately reflected their dominance.
United and City are now three points clear of third-place Chelsea and even further ahead of Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal. In short, it’s already looking like a Mancunian battle for the title this season.
2. United move level with City but there’s a gulf between the two
Sunday’s victory moved United level on points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, with alphabetical order keeping Pep Guardiola’s men at the top of the pile. Both teams have scored 16 goals and conceded twice but their differing styles are already evident, with City killing teams early thanks to their blistering pace and variation while United are more persistent and powerful, eventually overcoming opponents with late goal bursts.
City have scored 11 goals in two league games, against Liverpool and Watford, and they could have scored more. Guardiola has built a formidable attacking force at the Etihad Stadium and he appears to have goals in every area of his team.
United have not been short of goals this season, hitting four past both West Ham and Swansea before this win against Everton, but they lack the slickness of City and have had to build their victories by over-powering opponents in a more attritional manner. The absence of Pogba does not help United in an attacking sense either, especially with Fellaini named as his replacement. And Marcus Rashford is too predictable when deployed out on the left, with defenders already discovering that he will rarely go on the outside when running forward.
United are building their points tally, though, so that is the positive. But they need to show more cut-and-thrust if they are to mount a serious challenge to City. By leaving it so late to put games away as they did against West Ham, Swansea and Everton, United risk being caught out by better opponents earlier in the game.
3. Rooney’s quality diminished by age
Wayne Rooney rose to the occasion on his first return to Old Trafford with Everton. The former Manchester United and England captain showed his quality on a tough afternoon for his team, but too often, his brain was much more nimble than his body.
At 31, Rooney has plenty of miles on the odometer and the explosive power of his younger days has now deserted him. But he offered enough evidence in this display of his ability to still make a difference and have an impact. The only problem for Rooney is that too much of his good work now seems to be in slow motion, making it easy for opponents to read his runs and nullify his threat.
Rooney twice went close to scoring against his old team, first guiding a right-foot shot wide of the post on 20 minutes following Cuco Martina’s cross and then forcing David de Gea to save with his legs early in the second half. He made smart runs from deep after initially starting at centre-forward and generally looked neat and tidy; more often than not, Rooney was Everton’s best player.
Rooney offered an interesting contrast to Romelu Lukaku, his replacement at Old Trafford following a £90m summer switch from Everton. Lukaku possesses all the power and pace that Rooney was once blessed with, but he does not yet have his composure. Lukaku missed a golden chance in the first half from close-range when he had time to pick his spot but his goal in the closing stages was pure instinct. Once he is as ruthless with every chance, United will have a world-class striker on their hands.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_