Old Trafford witnessed a lot of difficult afternoons that simply past Manchester United by last season. In comparison, the stressful yet victorious nature of two successive 2-1 victories as tight as the offside flag that denied Kevin Nolan last Saturday was something missing from David Moyes’ campaign at the helm, and Louis van Gaal, whilst demanding improvement after another game threatened to slip away but for a magical duo of saves from David de Gea will recognise the benefit of winning in such tight circumstances.
United’s makeshift defence was supposed to come under another stern examination this afternoon, but despite Everton enjoying long spells of possession, very rarely did they threaten. Only once did Romelu Lukaku fully escape Paddy McNair’s attention, and even then the Belgian fired over from close range. United, on the other hand, appeared determined to fashion chances from out wide, with Luke Shaw and Rafael frequently pouring forward in support of their wide players.
It’s a strategy that has driven many mad in the last year, but with the increased in quality, suddenly United look so much more dangerous on the wings. Shaw’s early cross found Radamel Falcao but the Colombian’s grounded header didn’t have enough mustard to beat Tim Howard, with Robin van Persie firing over from Angel Di Maria’s delivery shortly afterwards. Rafael was turning in another excellent performance on the opposite flank, and it was the Brazilian’s hard work that lead to the opening goal after his cross was half-cleared to Juan Mata, who teed up a grateful Di Maria to curl confidently home. The Argentine almost doubled United’s lead with 20 minutes remaining with an audacious free-kick that Howard saved despite a deflection by Steven Naismith. The home side remained largely untroubled at the back until Shaw up-ended Tony Hibbert, getting the ball second and conceding a penalty in first half stoppage time. He’ll be thankful for David de Gea’s save with Leighton Baines unable to convert.
Roberto Martinez didn’t see fit to tinker during the interval but saw little change after the restart, Louis van Gaal’s charges hoping to press home their advantage and almost doing so with Falcao inches away from tapping in Di Maria’s fizzing delivery at the far post. Again, United’s number 9 had another sight at goal minutes later but fluffed his strike in front of goal after Shaw’s run. The unstable nature of this league campaign meant that punishment for such profligacy was swift, with Naismith heading home a sumptuous Baines cross from a well-worked free kick drill. At least Falcao was on hand to make a goal-line clearance shortly after, before making his biggest contribution to his new club with Everton in the ascendancy. Again, it was Di Maria who fired in another piercing low shot-cum-cross and this time, Falcao was on hand to tap over Howard from close-range. With Martinez’s men looking confident, it was a huge goal, for both the team and the former Atletico Madrid man.
The nerves weren’t quite on the scale of last weekend’s lat half-hour onslaught against West Ham, but as the clock ticked over and signs of a third looked slim, Old Trafford was certainly gripped with the fear of a late equaliser. Leon Osman almost obliged twice but De Gea saved superbly twice, the second from a powerful strike after Everton had cut through United’s lagging midfield far too easily. James Wilson’s foul only raised the tension with a stunning tip from Brian Oviedo’s shot after another Baines delivery. Tyler Blackett, brought on to replace the injured Luke Shaw provided a block of his own from Gareth Barry’s close-range blast moments before, as Everton ended the game firmly on the front foot.
The difference was United’s number 1, in the end. United’s goals came from two summer signings that have acclimatised well to live in the North West but with a back four that is seemingly coping with a new injury and upheavel each game, they still look somewhat short of a full side. They held on, however, and that’s surely the most important point. With Chelsea and the Premier League champions on the horizon, another result in this backs-to-the-wall fashion is priceless as United continue to find their feet under Van Gaal.