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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Man United again finish with a flourish but Valencia rocket steals the show against Everton

Ecuadorian's early finish a contender for goal of the season before the hosts ended with a lat blitz to claim an emphatic victory.

Antonio Valencia is mobbed by his teammates after his early goal in Manchester United's 4-0 win against Everton. Andrew Yates / Reuters
Antonio Valencia is mobbed by his teammates after his early goal in Manchester United's 4-0 win against Everton. Andrew Yates / Reuters

After nine years at Old Trafford and 296 appearances, no Manchester United player on the pitch in their 4-0 win against Everton has been at the club as long as captain Antonio Valencia.

The Ecuadorian is only three appearances off his 300th for United, but with only 23 goals in that time, the man bought as an attacking threat has been short of goals.

Valencia scored 16 in his first three seasons at the club; before yesterday he had managed one in the past three seasons, in part because he’s been shifted from right wing to right back. He’s not expected to contribute goals, yet his fourth minute opener against Everton was not only his first at Old Trafford since January 2014, it was a contender for goal of the season.

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United drew more games than they won at Old Trafford last season, with a 1-1 result against Everton typical of many frustrating home games in Jose Mourinho’s first season.

Pressure would build during those games as the team failed to find a breakthrough, but United didn’t allow it against Everton, taking the lead early and stunning a competent Everton side lacking an effective centre forward.

Nemanja Matic may be praised for his effectiveness in the centre of the field, but he will also push forward. He passed a ball across the edge of the penalty area on a surface slickened by Mancunian showers. Valencia opened his body, met it with his right foot from outside of the area, striking it cleanly into the top corner of Jordan Pickford’s goal. The advantage was decisive, disrupting Everton’s defensive 4-5-1 formation and their game plan.

“Phenomenal. Ultra dominant,” was how Mourinho described his team’s performance in the first half an hour.

Ronald Koeman boasts a fine record at Old Trafford but his Everton side took until the second half to find their stride, creating chances against an increasingly nervous United team lacking the injured Paul Pogba.

Everton became the better team in a game with an unworthy scoreline, yet this United don’t wilt. Nine of United’s 16 league goals have come in the final 10 minutes, as a team confident and feeling the benefit of a well-planned pre-season, strengthen during matches.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial all scored to keep their impressive individual tallies up, and, in the case of Lukaku, agitate fans of his former club as he cupped his hands around his ears to celebrate.

The fourth goal also moved United joint top of the Premier League with Manchester City, with the same goal difference record. If last season’s expectation of a Manchester dominated league was overcooked, this season it looks more realistic.

United are more resolute, they are scoring more goals and conceding fewer, in part due to David de Gea’s excellence which allowed for a fourth clean sheet in five games.

“The (late) goals was the consequence of a team that was sad," Mourinho said. "And another that was happy.”

They were, but it was Valencia’s magnificent opener which gave the crucial lead, one which United protected until they hit that golden last 10-minute mark.

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