Had a fortune teller informed me before the start of the season that United would beat Everton on this date with goals from Di Maria and Falcao, I suspect it would simply have confirmed my negative views about fortune tellers. For the second game running, United started the game with only four players who were in the first team squad this time last season. Yet, while Falcao got on the scoresheet for the first time and Di Maria once again was at the heart of much of the Reds’ best attacking play, it was one of those four players who did most to ensure a third home win in succession for United. David De Gea, arguably the one player in that turbulent twelve months to have maintained a consistently high level of performance, saved a penalty before half time and produced a stunning save in the closing moments of the game to preserve United’s narrow lead and send them into the top four, also for the first time in that twelve month period.
The game had many similarities with the win against West Ham last weekend, although this time the Reds managed to keep eleven players on the pitch. Once more, the early stages of the game saw the Reds dominating possession. Daley Blind was dictating the pace metronome-like at the heart of United midfield until Everton began to deny him space late in the first half. By this time, United were already a goal in front: Jagielka cleared a cross from the lively Rafael only as far as Mata who fed in Di Maria to crash in his second spectacular effort of the afternoon.
United may well have been further in front by the time the clock ticked away the minutes before half-time and they looked to have paid for their profligacy when Luke Shaw tripped Tony Hibbert to give the visitors a penalty and a chance to get back on even terms. Although Leighton Baines has a good record from the spot, this time he found De Gea diving to his right to parry his shot with a stiff arm to keep United in front.
It turned out only to be a temporary reprieve, however, as Everton, now enjoying far more of the play, equalised ten minutes into the second half when a Baines cross was headed home by Naismith. It might have got worse when a Jagielka header looked to have found its target only for Falcao to clear off the line. It wasn’t to be the Colombian’s last say on proceedings as minutes later he got on the end of Di Maria’s cross to steer United back into the lead to rapturous acclaim from the Reds’ support.
Once again, however, Old Trafford was forced to witness a nervous end to the game as Everton pressed forward. De Gea had already made two fine saves before he superbly turned away Oviedo’s strike in the closing minutes. It had been, in truth, another game in which some excellent play going forward had been balanced out by the Reds’ inability to control the game for ninety minutes. Few would have left Old Trafford thinking that the current United are anything like the finished article yet but, once again, there was much to admire in the Reds’ spirit and quality going forward, as well as in a second solid appearance from McNair – who dealt admirably with the pace of Lukaku throughout – and a late substitute appearance for James Wilson who replaced Falcao and once again looked to have the touch of a United star of the future. Most of all, for the second week running, it was three points gained in circumstances in which, you suspect, United might have struggled to secure maximum points last season.