Even as Jose Mourinho dropped the second most expensive player in Manchester United’s history, perhaps this was an advertisement for the merits of their spending. While Romelu Lukaku, their costliest addition in 2017, watched on, their biggest buys of 2016 and 2015 scored.
Goals by Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial defeated Everton and secured United only their second win in eight games. Paradoxically, United were rendered more attacking and more potent in their absence of last season’s top scorer, even if it owed much to Martial’s recent renaissance.
If the way the Frenchman won the penalty that led to Pogba’s opener was contentious, his goal was glorious. A player who suffered from the arrival of Alexis Sanchez has displaced the Chilean, and United look all the better for it.
Martial produced the sort of searing display, blending pace, trickery and directness, to invite sympathy for Seamus Coleman, his immediate opponent, and suggest the fit-again Sanchez’s future should lie among the back-ups.
Younger, faster, more productive, United played with speed, attacking intent and invention: in short, everything they have lacked all too many times in recent years.
They pressed high, something Mourinho’s teams do rarely, and the crowd signalled their approval in choruses of the Portuguese’s name.
They benefited, too, from Everton’s enterprising approach, which made it a more open game. Everton’s record Premier League scorer, Lukaku, spent the first 65 minutes on the bench, protected, according to Mourinho, after a lack of goals and a loss of confidence.
He was not missed. His cameo extended his run to nine games without a goal.
Marcus Rashford led the line in his absence, having a goal chalked off and drawing a fine save from the overworked Jordan Pickford with a drilled shot, but the key contributions came from the supporting cast, Martial in particular.
He was the provider when Juan Mata’s header drew a save from Pickford, and he unleashed a rising shot the goalkeeper tipped away. Yet when he went past Idrissa Gueye and to ground in the penalty box, the Senegalese won the ball. Referee Jonathan Moss decided otherwise.
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Pogba’s afternoon had begun inauspiciously – a second-minute shot was miscued to such an extent that it went out for a throw – and his penalty-taking technique is not for the traditionalists. After 26 mini-steps, he eventually took the spot kick.
Pickford clawed it away – his second penalty save in successive Sundays, after denying Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic – but to no avail as Pogba slotted the rebound into an unguarded net.
Supplier and scorer exchanged roles for a memorable second. Pogba slid a pass into Martial’s path and the winger curled in his fourth goal in as many games from the edge of the box.
United could have had more, with Pickford excelling. It helped that Fred, an indirect replacement for Lukaku, had a terrific game.
His was a performance to invite questions why the summer signing has been seen so rarely and the balance of the side looked better with a trio of central midfielders.
And yet, while Everton have still won only once at Old Trafford since 1992, they are entitled to wonder what might have been. Few visitors create so many chances and Marco Silva’s attack-minded team are a world away from Sam Allardyce’s sterile side.
Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson headed straight at David de Gea, who also parried Theo Walcott and Richarlison’s shots. Most glaringly, Bernard shot into the side netting after skipping past De Gea.
They eventually scored when Chris Smalling marred his 300th United appearance by chopping down Richarlison. He was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card but, while Sigurdsson scored the penalty, United held on.