It was United’s first game without Paul Pogba and for the majority of the game they missed their playmaker as they struggled to really exert themselves on the game. Mourinho’s tactical changes late in the second half changed that and eventually The Red Devils romped to victory. What did we learn?
1. Antonio Valencia is Thor
He was overlooked for club captain, presumably because he doesn’t have the necessary “top man” characteristics, and to be fair his command of English isn’t the best. However, Antonio Valencia is an incredible leader-by-example.
A rugged workhorse, the Ecuadorian has developed under Mourinho into a genuinely top-class full-back. His natural drive and reliability means that he’s always counted upon by the Portuguese and his experience in both football and specifically at United sees him wear the captain’s armband when Michael Carrick doesn’t play, which is pretty much all the time.
Antonio Valencia may seem to be a stoic, humourless athletic miracle but he possesses a true sense of magic in his boots. A mighty thunderbolt of a right foot that he wields like Thor does Mjolnir. Crosses and shots, all played with breathtaking power (if not some questionable accuracy). Valencia’s goal against Everton, a thundering 25 yard volley that roared into the back of the net to give The Red Devils an early lead, made a stunning case to establish Valencia as United’s God of Thunder.
2. Ashley Young is not a left-back
Ashley Young was supreme against Basel in the Champions League. Playing as a right-back, the veteran set-up United’s opening goal for Marouane Fellaini as the cap in a great display where he allowed Antonio Valencia to get some rest.
So against Everton, José Mourinho moved him to left-back in an effort to find a medium-term solution whilst Luke Shaw continues his agonising return from injury. Suffice to say, it did not work. Young worked hard and was diligent in both attack and defence.
Against the Toffees, Young offered width and was always available as an outlet. That’s the good. The bad was that he did next to nothing with the ball at his feet, constantly trying to cut back onto his right-foot doing it so predictably that he could never create half a yard for a cross (the only time he created a chance, it was when he went down the outside and used his left).
Worse still, Young left acres of space behind him for Everton to attack with rampant joy. The Toffees aren’t a side with a lot of power out wide yet such was the permeability of Young’s play that Everton’s best chances all came down the side Young should have been defending.
3. The Narrows
Everton set their team up with no wingers on the pitch, as did Manchester United. Although The Red Devils at least tried to keep up the pretence with Marcus Rashford once again thrust into a thankless role as a flanker, and did eventually bring Jesse Lingard off the bench.
Typically when you’re planning to sit deep and counter-attack, as Everton clearly were, you play with wingers to try and catch your opponent out with their full-backs up the field. Everton played with no wingers but still almost did this on three separate occasions.
Meanwhile when you’re trying to break a team down, trying to find a way through a parked bus, the best way is nearly always to go around the bus by using width. Something United repeatedly failed to do.
In the end, it was so fitting that United’s opening goal was scored by their full-back following a cross. And then their second goal was again scored by a player coming central from a wide position. And their third was from a cross and their fourth was a penalty won by a winger pushing infield from the flank.
4. Wayne Rooney fluffs his lines
It was all set-up for this, wasn’t it? 26 minutes into the match, with United 1-0 up, Cuco Martina sent a wonderful low cross into the United area. It was played in front of the United defenders and Wayne Rooney was rushed into the ball, this was the kind of goal that Rooney had scored dozens of time for United. This was going to be the moment when he scored on his return to Old Trafford.
Then he missed.
With half-time approaching, the ball once again was sent through to Rooney. He seemed to have lost the ball, but blocked Eric Bailly’s clearance with a slide-tackle and then stood up, staring down David De Gea and ready to smack the ball into the back of the net.
Then he missed.
Rooney’s two huge misses allowed it to remain 1-0, which as many teams have found out to their cost against United this season: doesn’t tend to end well. Rooney’s dream return to United ended up as a nightmare, watching Everton concede their 8th goal without reply from the bench after being subbed with the score at 1-0 and Everton still chasing the equaliser.
5. Manchester United are a late-game Juggernaut
United came into the 80th minute today holding into a tenuous 1-0 lead. Just like against Swansea and Leicester. Meanwhile on the opening day against West Ham it was only 2-0. United beat Leicester 2-0 and Swansea, West Ham and now Everton were dispatched 4-0.
Man United have scored 9 of their 16 Premier League goals this season after the 80th minute.
The late show. ⏱ pic.twitter.com/ZZzixbUUzR
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 17, 2017
The Red Devils have scored nine of their 16 Premier League goals after the 80th minute. The only game they didn’t score after 80 minutes is the only one they didn’t win (away to Stoke). The Red Devils are a late-game Juggernaut and that is all down to José Mourinho’s superb substitutions.
Mourinho’s changes are bringing on an extra midfielder (usually Fellaini, today Ander Herrera) to switch to 4-3-3. This provides a solid base for the counter-attack. Then he subs wingers, usually man-for-man, but always with the intention of bringing on quality and speed in attack.
In each of the 4-0 wins, it’s been Anthony Martial coming off the bench. The Frenchman is an absolute dynamo, a world-class talent who is frankly too good to be coming off the bench, but when he does he energises things to a frankly ridiculous degree. 3 goals and 1 assist is 44% of United’s total of 9 goals after 80 minutes (which is itself 38% of the Premier League’s total of 24 goals in the last ten minutes).
If you have the chance to peg United back when they have a 1-0 lead, you better take it or at least bunker down and accept a narrow defeat. Push forward to try and catch an equaliser late-on and Mourinho’s substitutions will eviscerate you on the counter-attack and then, before you know it, you’ll be 4-0 down and people will be questioning your worth as footballers.