Manchester United put their defeat at Arsenal firmly behind them with a professional 0-3 victory away at Everton yesterday. Goals from Morgan Schneiderlin---his first for the club, Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney ensured that United kept pace with their local rivals at the summit of the league.
On The Match
Louis van Gaal
It was Marcos Rojo's turn to attempt to solve the left-back conundrum (no doubt aided by injury to Ashley Young) but the Argentine was adept at the task. Indeed, left-back has been his more natural position throughout his career. A fit Phil Jones should indirectly solve the left-back problem in the absence of Luke Shaw with Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo more accomplished in the role than anybody else.
Goodison Park is one of the more difficult venues to pick up three points from but to play well there was perhaps the biggest plus for Louis van Gaal. There was hardly anything to fault about a performance that ranks as good as any away from home in the last few years. Certainly, not since 2007 have United been comfortable in the closing stages of a match at Goodison (And there have been some good United squads that went there in between).
Perhaps the improvement in Wayne Rooney, albeit minor, was enough to restore the shine to van Gaal's class of 2015. With the captain up top, it allowed Ander Herrera to pay his more natural Number 10 position. It was an opportunity that the Basque-born Spaniard took with both hands (and his head) to score United's first headed goal of the season. Sometimes it's hard to fathom why Ander makes more appearances on the bench than in the first team and yet the sum of his qualities are unmatched by his teammates. His goals per game ratio, for instance, is excellent for a midfielder.
The most unsung contribution yesterday was by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. Often times at Goodison, United are caught out by a counter-attack by the home-team. Indeed, it could be argued that United's wretched record at Everton was down to the midfield, or lack of it. Yesterday, while the Frenchman went about legally butchering, the German cleaned up, effectively isolating Lukaku and giving Chris and Phil little to deal with at the back.
On the Sub-Plots
Wayne Rooney scored his first away goal for United since that break-away winner at Arsenal last November. It only took 11 months! Despite his obvious decline, the captain at least continues to crawl towards more record breaking history. It's 187 now in the league, past the legendary Dennis Law and level with the great Andrew Cole in second place in the all-time premier league charts. Alan Shearer should be safe though at 260.
Chris Smalling is already a mile or two ahead of his teammates in the running for Player of the Year. His performance yesterday effectively put to rest the notion that Daley Blind made it easier for him. Romelu Lukaku will give the best defender in the league a tough afternoon and so it was impressive seeing the Englishman keep the Belgian in check.
Phil Jones, it has to be said, is a very welcome addition to the team, if only because it potentially solves the club's left-back problem. If he stays fit to partner Chris, perhaps Daley and Marcos (who provided a delicious cross for Herrera's goal) will tag-team to sort out the left-back issue. It also means Matteo Darmian gets to continue his impressive start at right-back with no need to fill in on the left.
Morgan Schneiderlin has a knack of getting in at the far post for set-piece deliveries. It's a welcome habit that finally reaped rewards by being well placed to guide a lovely finish past Tim Howard. His pre-season goal for the club against Club America was from another far post venture. He was unfortunate not to net in a similar position against Aston Villa in August but thankfully he stuck to it.
On The Bottom-Line
In a month that threatened to bury United's season, the importance of picking up three unexpected points at Everton cannot be overstated. It also adds context to the defeat at the Emirates as a kick up the backside that the team probably needed.
Ahead of the Manchester derby next week, it was important to remain in touch with them lot down the street. Instead of approaching the derby with a fear of dropping further away from the top, United will now go into it with the joy of having to contest for top spot with their closest rivals! It's a scenario that we would have all taken before August. Perhaps it has not been as bad as you read in the papers.