Jose Mourinho used three midfielders to give his side more control in the middle during Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park.
The 54-year-old came under criticism for a stagnant, predictable display against Southampton last weekend that saw Paul Pogba reduced to playing in his own half.
And he responded by placing Ander Herrera alongside Nemanja Matic and Pogba, giving the latter license to roam forward and inspire an impressive attacking display in the second half that saw Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard get on the scoresheet.
Speaking after the game, Mourinho noted that using another midfielder gave Man United more clout in the middle at Goodison.
“I think even the first-half after 10 or 15 minutes the team was in control,” he said. “And we found a way to play without a player like Lukaku or like Zlatan with more dynamic and more freedom.”
“We thought it was important [to have] the third midfield player. Tired people, not many players to rotate, we could anticipate that Sam [Allardyce] was going to make a lot of changes, with his squad now he has lots of options, seven changes. We knew an extra third midfield player to give us more consistency in the middle and the performance was really good.
“So maybe I’m lucky this time and the kings of the rock ‘n’ roll that that say I was under-performing last month this time will say I have performed.
“I think we played very well, second-half better than the first, second part of the first-half better. I think we were always improving from minute one to minute 70, we were always improving, improving and improving.
“Around minute 70 they had a little reaction and Goodison Park woke up and we were a little bit under pressure with a couple of corners and a couple of crosses in dangerous positions.
“But we had the ball, we moved the ball, we felt very confident with the ball, we created a lot, the goals were phenomenal, Mata shot was a fantastic action, amazing save by the kid [Jordan Pickford], a few crosses in the face of the goal. I think we played really well.”
The fluidity with which United went about their game was what contrasted most heavily with recent displays – especially the horror show against Southampton.
With Herrera and Matic anchoring the middle, keeping Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies relatively quiet, the likes of Pogba, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard were able to drift around the pitch and probe for space, keeping the home side on tenterhooks with their constant movement and, eventually, taking full advantage of the tenuous gap between Mason Holgate and Michael Keane to go ahead in the second half.
Mourinho appeared to invest more trust in his players against Everton, sacrificing a measure of fixity – his downfall against Southampton – for instinctual innovation, and it precipitated the perfect response to a difficult week as Pogba drove the visitors forward with zeal and style all evening.
You can only wonder why we haven’t seen performances like this on a more regular basis this season.