Anthony Martial impresses as Paul Pogba shows his best and worst for Manchester United
MANCHESTER -- Three quick thoughts on Manchester United 2-1 Everton in the Premier League on Sunday.
1. United cling on as Pogba shows his best and worst
Old Trafford breathes a sigh of relief. Nothing has been easy for Manchester United this season, but they will take any points they can. They looked relatively comfortable for spells of this 2-1 victory over Everton, but in the end they were clinging on, partly thanks to a late attacking blast from their opponents, partly because of their own desire for self-destruction.
Paul Pogba was at the heart of everything good and everything bad United did, scoring one and setting up the other for Anthony Martial, but also showing little care in possession, which led to the Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty that gave Everton late hope.
The home crowd seemed to fear the worst when six minutes of injury time were signalled, and you can't blame them after the last couple of months. In the end, United held on for just their second win in the last eight games, but nobody was kicking back with their feet up.
Jose Mourinho rested Romelu Lukaku, claiming the forward needed a break both physically and to his fractured confidence. It might have felt like a big statement, but it was entirely logical: the Belgian hasn't scored since the end of September.
United took the lead in the 27th minute, when Martial tumbled over Idrissa Gueye's leg: There might have been a little contact, but Martial leapt into the air in a manner designed to flamboyantly emphasise the brushing of legs. Or, to put it another way, he dived.
Pogba tip-toed up to take the penalty, like a prancing horse in an equestrian contest. A poor kick was brilliantly saved by Jordan Pickford but it fell right back to the Frenchman, who gratefully slid the rebound home.
In some ways Pogba's commitment to something so entirely pointless as that run-up is admirable, but he was also extremely lucky to get away with it this time. Earlier this season he tried the same against Burnley and missed, but opted for a more conventional approach against Brighton and scored.
It was two just after the break, as Martial brilliantly swept home from outside the area, a finish of emphatic certainty, the sort that we haven't seen much of from the Frenchman under Mourinho.
Everton toiled but couldn't break through, until they were given a chance of a revival when Chris Smalling crudely chopped Richarlison to the floor, extremely lucky not to receive a second yellow card. Sigurdsson showed Pogba how to take an emphatic penalty, and the game was on.
Marco Silva brought on three attackers and pushed for an equaliser, but it didn't come. Martial missed a brilliant late chance, but United hung on.
2. Martial makes his case again
In some ways Martial's beautifully crisp finish to give United a 2-0 lead must have been a little bittersweet.
That was his fourth goal in the last three league games, more than enough to think that the promise he showed in his early days and the talent he clearly has is being realised.
From the equaliser in that mad comeback against Newcastle, the brace against Chelsea last time out and the thumping strike in this game, this is arguably his best short spell of form since his first season at Old Trafford.
For the moment United won't be complaining, but there might also be a sense of "where has he been for so long?" For all the calls from fans and elsewhere for Mourinho to regularly pick Martial, over the last year or so his form has been inconsistent, at best. There hasn't been the imperative to select him, only the promise of what he might do.
And yet, plenty of that blame has to lie with the manager. It's been a point made on a number of occasions, but very few players have improved under Mourinho at United. It's why his complaints about a relative lack of quality in his squad feel so false: he doesn't have bad players, it's just he isn't getting the best out of him.
Martial is a case in point. By all accounts Mourinho would happily have driven Martial to whichever other club he wanted to move to in the summer, having decided he could get no more from the forward.
It's always tricky to deal in hypotheticals, but you wonder what Martial might have achieved under Pep Guardiola. And conversely, where Raheem Sterling would have been had he worked with Mourinho.
It's ironic that Martial might have bailed Mourinho out of immediate trouble. But had he played better, and been handled better, the manager might not have been in trouble in the first place.
3. Proactive Silva full of intent
Silva doesn't tend to do substitutions by halves.
Against Crystal Palace last week, Everton were struggling to break down Roy Hodgson's side, Plan A not quite working as hoped. So Silva introduced Cenk Tosun, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman, a slight Hail Mary of a Plan B but one that worked.
Lookman set up Calvert-Lewin for the first goal, then Tosun sealed the win a few minutes later. If a manager is judged on how he can transform games, then Silva is one of the best in the business.
He did something similar in this game. The same trio of players were introduced, sacrificing their most defensive midfielder in Gueye. Everton then had three strikers, a winger who can play as a striker and a No.10, all pushing to save the game.
You might call it brave, but really it's entirely practical. What's the point in standing around waiting for the formalities to be completed in a defeat? Why not try to do something about it? While he has still to achieve anything especially tangible to go with his reputation, one thing you can say about Silva is that he's decisive.
It reminded you a little of Mourinho in his younger days. In his first spell at Chelsea, he wouldn't hesitate before throwing on as many attackers as he could find on his bench, if things weren't going their way. It was thrilling, and something that Silva seems more than happy to do.
In the end it didn't quite work, but you can't fault Silva's intent.