Manchester United unravelling?

Jose Mourinho says Red Devils will regroup after slump

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Everton 0-2 Manchester United: Red Devils start the year with strong win

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

In 2017, Manchester United lifted the League Cup and the Europa League trophy, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time after a two-year break. Jose Mourinho has started to steady the ship, with the Red Devils competing for the Premier League title. They, however, sit 12 points behind their neighbours Manchester City in the title race, and a productive year ended more on a whimper than a bang.

After falling to a surprise defeat against Championship side Bristol City in the EFL Cup quarter-final, they have been left to rue missed chances in their league games, being held to three consecutive draws by Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton.

New year, new me. If United want to catch up with the blue half of their city, 2018 would need to bring a fresh approach. Mourinho's side started the year positively with a comfortable win at Goodison Park, aided by a second-half performance that brought a return to form.

The visitors were without Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and they seemed to be missing their strikers in a tepid first half - lacking firepower and desire. They returned a reformed side after half-time, looking confident and clinical as they upped the tempo.

Juan Mata injected life into the drab game almost immediately from the restart. The Spaniard forced an excellent save from a long-range effort, with Jordan Pickford at full stretch to tip it over the bar. Another effort from outside of the box fired across the young goalkeeper, but rebounded off the far post.

A superb finish from Anthony Martial just before the hour mark opened the scoring. Paul Pogba, who took the captain's armband in the game, found his compatriot in space 20 yards from goal - and Martial perfectly hit a curling shot into the top-left corner.

It would require something special to beat Pickford, who pulled off excellent save to deny Pogba, Martial and Jesse Lingard. United's first goal was a corker, and their second was equally as sublime thanks to Lingard. Pogba was once again instrumental for the goal, causing problems on the counter-attack and being menacing down the left. The midfielder picked out the young English winger in space, and Lingard was able to cut inside and send an unstoppable finish into the top corner in the 81st minute.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho praised his side's performance: “From the first minute to the 70th we were improving, improving, improving. We controlled the ball, we crossed a lot, the goals were phenomenal, Juan Mata’s shot hit the post and there was an amazing save by the kid [Everton’s Jordan Pickford]. We found a way to play without Romelu [Lukaku] and Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and we played really well.”

Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, says Everton let the visitors take the game away from them. The Toffees boss told the BBC: "If you gift the ball back to the team like United then they punish you. Here's some analysis for the lads on Match of the Day if you want: For the first goal they back off, back off and back off.

"We needed to put pressure on United and we didn't. Martial takes the ball and lifts the shot with no blue shirt trying to close him down or tackle him. We have to avoid unforced errors, cut balls out and have to be consistent or a team like United will punish you.

"It's a shame what happened in last five minutes at Bournemouth and today. Up to then a magnificent performance from everybody, but we need to bring a stop to the run of bad results."

Manchester United will play Derby County in the FA Cup third round on Friday. They face the Rams at Old Trafford (K.O. 8pm). Everton take on Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup, playing their neighbours at Anfield (K.O. 7.55pm).

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