Man United make winning start to 2018 with 2-0 victory at Everton
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points from Man United's 2-0 win at Everton in their Premier League clash on New Year's Day.
1. Man United make winning start to 2018
Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard both scored outstanding goals as Manchester United started 2018 in style with a 2-0 victory against Everton at Goodison Park.
After three frustrating draws during the festive period against Leicester, Burnley and Southampton, United had dropped down to third in the Premier League table. But a stirring second-half performance at Goodison, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata in particular making crucial contributions, saw United end their winless run and move back into second place, 12 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Having been so unimpressive in Saturday's 0-0 draw with Southampton, the style of United's win will help alleviate the pressure on Mourinho. The team's recent insipid performances, in tandem with the manager's downbeat comments about the club's inability to compete financially with City, have led to an air of negativity hanging over Old Trafford. But United's second-half performance against Everton was arguably their best since the 3-1 win at Arsenal on Dec. 2.
With an FA Cup tie at home to Derby on Friday up next, United then have a 10-day gap before facing Stoke City at Old Trafford on Jan. 15, when Mourinho will hope to have the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia fit to return to action.
2. Lukaku absence exposes United's lack of attacking options
Last week, Jose Mourinho claimed that a lack of alternative options up front had denied him the chance to rest centre-forward Romelu Lukaku, but the Belgium international's head injury against Southampton at the weekend forced the United manager to do without his £90 million summer signing at Goodison Park.
Although Lukaku's poor form in recent weeks had led to calls for him to be dropped, Monday's 2-0 win should not disguise the problems United would face without their record signing for any extended period.
Anthony Martial's second-half strike, from just outside the box, opened the scoring for United, but his goal summed up the lack of activity inside the penalty area. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury setback has not helped Mourinho, but United could not realistically have expected the 36-year-old be anything other than a stopgap this season after his serious knee injury. United were always running the risk of being short of reliable cover in the event of Lukaku being sidelined for any period of time.
At Goodison, Mourinho turned to Martial to lead the line, and although the France international was lively and prepared to run the channels in search of the ball, he is not a player who can hold the ball up and use his strength to beat a defender like Lukaku can. Another option, Marcus Rashford, started on the bench, but the England youngster is similar to Martial in that he is not yet experienced enough or strong enough to play through the middle.
If United had greater variety down the flanks, with wingers in the style of Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane, Martial and Rashford could succeed as central strikers. But Lukaku is Mourinho's only real option through the centre, and so it should be a relief for United that he is expected only to miss 10-14 days of action after the injury sustained against Southampton.
Winning without him will work wonders for the team's confidence, but when United face bigger challenges, they will need Lukaku in the team and playing through the centre.
3. Reality bites for Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce has done what he does best at Everton, stabilising the team after inheriting a rudderless ship from caretaker-manager David Unsworth in November. But after a promising start, he has now suffered successive defeats to halt his early momentum. Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth at the weekend was Allardyce's first as Everton manager, in his ninth game in charge, but his team could not respond against United.
That is perhaps no surprise, with the former England boss winning just one of his past 21 encounters with United and failing to beat Jose Mourinho in 11 previous attempts. But after instilling the basics into his team and stopping the rot, Allardyce now needs to re-energise his squad.
Ross Barkley is training again after his lengthy hamstring injury layoff; Everton will benefit from the midfielder's attacking energy as he gets closer to a return. Wayne Rooney will also be helped by Barkley's presence in the team, with the younger man potentially providing the legs that Rooney no longer has.
But it is reinforcements that Allardyce now needs, with the manager making it clear that a new striker is a priority. Everton have suffered all season long for the failure to replace Lukaku, and Allardyce will aim to resolve that problem within the first week of the transfer window.
Getting a new man in before Friday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool is optimistic, but a win in that game would certainly help restart Everton's season.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_