Manchester United faced a double- Gameweek in the Premier League this week as they look ahead to the Europa League quarter-finals and a home match against leaders Chelsea. United hosted Everton on Tuesday night in a match pitting the fifth-placed Reds against the resurgent seventh-placed Merseysiders. Manchester United then travelled to the northeast to face David Moyes and his bottom-placed Sunderland.
Everton have had a strong 2017, winning six home matches and leading the league in goals scored. Manchester United, of course, have struggled to win at Old Trafford but are undefeated at home since losing to Manchester City in September 2016. The Merseysiders came to Old Trafford intent on winning, which would see them leap into fifth place, at least temporarily. Zlatan Ibrahimovic rejoined his teammates after serving his three-match suspension for United. Antonio Valencia and Mkhitaryan were rested and Pogba was named on the bench.
Manchester United started the match well, seeing more of the ball and making incisive passes but it was Everton who opened the scoring in the 22nd minute off a corner, which was mismanaged by Marcos Rojo, allowing Phil Jagielka to produce an acrobatic finish which caught De Gea by surprise. Everton then saw more of the ball until halftime, but United had a few good chances from Ibrahimovic and Lingard, though not able to equalise.
The second half saw United make a chance with Paul Pogba coming in for Daley Blind. Pogba’s presence in midfield allowed United to see even more possession, but even after Mkhitaryan and Shaw entered the pitch, the hosts were still unable to capitalise on good chances. In the third minute of stoppage time, however, Luke Shaw took a chance from 20 yards which struck Everton defender Ashley Williams in the arm, earning a last-minute penalty for United. Zlatan stepped up to take it and sent Joel Robles the wrong way as United salvaged a point in the last touch of the match. For United, a second home draw in three days is not ideal- nor is a total of eight home draws for the season. However, the result kept Everton in 7th and United in 5th before Arsenal beat West Ham to go 5th themselves.
United, therefore, arrived at the Stadium of Light in 6th, but even on points with the Gunners, who play Crystal Palace on Monday 10 April. The Black Cats haven’t scored in six matches, home and away, and are bottom of the Premier League table on 20 points. Three points was a must for Manchester United to keep up the top four challenge and maintain the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City.
Jose Mourinho rested David De Gea for the Wearside match whose hip is bothering him. Mourinho would want to rest his number one before the trip to Anderlecht on Thursday or the home match against Chelsea on Sunday. So, Sergio Romero was in net, hoping to keep his ninth clean sheet of the season. With Zlatan up top, Mkhitaryan and Lingard on the wings and Pogba, Herrera and Fellaini (who wore the armband) in midfield, United had a strong XI available to claim the vital three points. Jose even started Luke Shaw, who has been criticised in the media by his boss for his attitude and commitment.
There was never a doubt as United were in control throughout. Ball movement was fluid, intelligent and direct, as opposed to the match against Everton where the passes were more timid and sideways. Shaw looked lively, as did Darmian, and Pogba was spraying his long cross-field passes towards Mkhitaryan and Lingard throughout. Zlatan found himself with the ball on the edge of the Sunderland area after a pass from Herrera and the big man turned to his left and fired a curling ball low and towards the right net of Pickford’s goal. Brilliant goal. Just before halftime, with United a goal to the good and Oviedo replaced after pulling up during a clearance, Sebastian Larsson was shown red following a raised-leg tackle on Herrera. Now down to 10 men, losing 0:1 and at the bottom of the table, Sunderland looked dejected.
It only took 47 seconds after the second half started for United to double their lead as a string of 15 passes lead to Henrikh Mkhitaryan to fire home with his left past Pickford. Sunderland hadn’t even gotten a touch of the ball before going down 0:2. Looking ahead to the Anderlecht match, Mourinho withdrew Shaw, Lingard and Mkhitaryan before 80 minutes, replacing them with Blind, Rashford and Martial, respectively. Rashford and Martial both nearly had an immediate goal scoring impact upon entering the match, with the latter trying to chip Pickford but not getting enough height. In the 89th minute, however, Herrera found Rashford making a run down the right wing who then pulled back for Zlatan, continued his run, received the ball back from the Swede and one-timed it past Pickford for his first goal in the Premier League since September 2016. Such a talent and a joy to watch score.
United finish the week in 5th, until Arsenal play tomorrow, depending on the result. The Reds travel to Belgium this week to play Anderlecht in the Europa League quarterfinal. This is a matchup surely in United’s favour as the Reds continue the climb towards the Europa League trophy and Champions League football. On Sunday, United host Chelsea in the Premier League in a game where a point is a good result but a win is necessary. Jose will need to field the strongest team he can. The following Thursday, Anderlecht come to Old Trafford for the quarterfinal second leg.
Until next week, enjoy the matches and cheer for your Reds!