Manchester United returned to Premier League action after the international break and moved to second place in the table with a convincing win over Everton. United, dominant for long periods, opened the scoring through Darren Fletcher’s outstanding volley and never looked back as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men kept Chelsea’s lead to five points.
Fletcher beat Tim Howard with a swerving shot that flew into the top corner. A candidate for goal of the season from the Scotland Captain. The goal came after some excellent full-back play by Patrice Evra, who’s cross found Antonio Valencia in the box for the Ecuadorian to knock down for Fletcher just outside the penalty area.
United’s midfield general, criticised for his performance in the 3-0 thrashing of Scotland by Wales last weekend, showed excellent composure to score with a volley that even Mark Hughes would have been proud of.
Louis Saha, on his first return to Old Trafford since his move to Everton, then tested van der Sar with a shot on the swivel with the Dutchman equal to the strike. United’s former striker seems to have put his fitness issues behind him with his fifteenth appearance of the season.
Everton introduced Yakubu Aiyegbeni for Dan Gosling at the interval and the Toffees’ best chance of the match fell to the Nigerian. The striker outmuscled Wes Brown before beating van der Sar with a low shot that went inches wide. The substitute then played Tim Cahill behind United’s back four, with an alert van der Sar quick off his line in producing a smothering save.
But United continued to dominate. Wayne Rooney’s shot, picked up by Ryan Giggs at the corner flag, eventually found Michael Carrick on the edge of the box who slotted home to double the home side’s advantage.
United wrapped up the victory when Paul Scholes set up Valencia, who’s shot deflected off Leighton Baines to leave the Red Devils five points adrift of Chelsea.
United will take heart from the performance, even if Everton was as poor as United good. But there is a concern with Michael Owen, who started the match but failed to make an impact. The former-Liverpool striker created a couple of good chances but does not look as if he is enjoying his football at the moment. The striker’s lack of goals looks as if it’s starting to take a mental toll.
United, who will look to continue this form throughout December, will be in a good position to mount a serious title challenge when Chelsea loses the heart of its team to the Africa Cup of Nations in January, according to Ferguson.
“We have to look at all the games as must-win now,” the manager said.
“We need to get on a run and be somewhere near the top of the league by New Year’s Day. Then, in the second half of the season we can have a real go and give ourselves a chance.”
The United manager was also effusive in his praise of Fletcher, who’s outstanding strike started proceedings for the home side.
“Darren is an improving player.
“Each year we have seen his performance level go up and up and it is still doing so.
“But I have to admit I did not expect that goal [against Everton]. It was really well taken.”