Niasse's header goes just wide for Everton
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points from Man United's 2-0 win at Everton in their Premier League clash on New Year's Day.
1. Man United make winning start to 2018
Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard both scored outstanding goals as Manchester United started 2018 in style with a 2-0 victory against Everton at Goodison Park.
After three frustrating draws during the festive period, against Leicester, Burnley and Southampton, United had dropped down to third in the Premier League table. But a stirring second-half performance at Goodison, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata in particular making crucial contributions, saw United end their win-less run and move back into second place, 12 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Having been so unimpressive in Saturday's 0-0 draw with Southampton, the style of United's win will help alleviate the pressure on Mourinho. The team's recent insipid performances, in tandem with the manager's downbeat comments about the club's inability to compete financially with City, have led to an air of negativity hanging over Old Trafford. But United's second-half performance against Everton was arguably their best since the 3-1 win at Arsenal on Dec. 2.
With an FA Cup tie at home to Derby on Friday up next, United then have a 10-day gap before facing Stoke City at Old Trafford on Jan. 15, when Mourinho will hope to have the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia fit to return to action.
2. Lukaku absence exposes United's lack of attacking options
Last week, Jose Mourinho claimed that a lack of alternative options up front had denied him the chance to rest centre-forward Romelu Lukaku, but the Belgium international's head injury against Southampton at the weekend forced the United manager to do without his £90 million summer signing at Goodison Park.
Though Lukaku's poor form in recent weeks had led to calls for him to be dropped, Monday's 2-0 win should not disguise the problems United would face without their record signing for any extended period.
Anthony Martial's second-half strike, from just outside the box, opened the scoring for United but his goal summed up the lack of activity inside the penalty area. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury setback has not helped Mourinho, but United could not realistically have expected the 36-year-old be anything other than a stop-gap this season following his serious knee injury. United were always running the risk of being short of reliable cover in the event of Lukaku being sidelined for any period of time.
At Goodison, Mourinho turned to Martial to lead the line and although the France international was lively and prepared to run the channels in search of the ball, he is not a player who can hold the ball up and use his strength to beat a defender like Lukaku. Another option, Marcus Rashford, started on the bench but the England youngster is similar to Martial in that he is not yet experienced enough or strong enough to play through the middle.
If United had greater variety down the flanks, with wingers in the style of Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane, Martial and Rashford could succeed as central strikers. But Lukaku is Mourinho's only real option through the centre, and so it should be a relief for United that he is expected only to miss 10-14 days of action following the injury sustained against Southampton.
Winning without him will work wonders for the team's confidence but when United face bigger challenges, they will need Lukaku in the team and playing through the centre.
3. Reality bites for Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce has done what he does best at Everton, stabilising the team after inheriting a rudderless ship from caretaker-manager David Unsworth in November, but after a promising start he has now suffered successive defeats to halt his early momentum. Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth at the weekend was Allardyce's first as Everton manager, in his ninth game in charge, but his team could not respond against United.
That is perhaps no surprise, with the former England boss winning just one of his last 21 encounters with United and failing to beat Jose Mourinho in 11 previous attempts. But after instilling the basics into his team and stopping the rot, Allardyce now needs to re-energise his squad.
Ross Barkley is training again after his lengthy hamstring injury lay-off; Everton will benefit from the midfielder's attacking energy as he gets closer to a return. Wayne Rooney will also be helped by Barkley's presence in the team, with the younger man potentially providing the legs that Rooney no longer has.
But it is reinforcements that Allardyce now needs, with the manager making it clear that a new striker as a priority. Everton have suffered all season long for the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku and Allardyce will aim to resolve that problem within the first week of the transfer window.
Getting a new man in before Friday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool is optimistic but a win in that game would certainly help restart Everton's season.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_
Jose Mourinho says Jesse Lingard has taken a major "jump" this season in his progression to becoming a "very good player" after scoring again in Monday's win against Everton.
Lingard had scored just five goals in his first 60 Premier League games, but his New Year's Day strike gave him seven in his past nine league matches, and his scoring rate has impress
"Jesse Lingard -- one thing is to be a young talent, another thing is to be a very good player. Some players are not capable of that jump," the coach said. "They go from great potential to normal players.
"Lingard is giving that jump. He is more consistent, he is adaptable, he understands better the game, he is going in a good direction."
Lingard, meanwhile, credited Mourinho for encouraging him to attempt more shots like the one that doubled United's lead at Goodison Park.
"I've been pushing myself to get as many goals as I can this season," Lingard said. "Playing on the left the boss has given me licence to cut inside.
"We're only halfway through the season and we have to have a winning mentality."
The three points were welcome after United settled ended a run of three consecutive draws, and Paul Pogba said a victory was overdue.
"We deserved to beat Leicester and Southampton," Pogba said. "This is football. Today we did what we had to do."
United end New Year's Day alone in second place, two points above Chelsea ahead of the Blues' trip to Arsenal on Wednesday.
"It's the first game of the year. It was a good win," Pogba added. "We played with aggression but a positive way. We knew we could score going in at half-time. We believed in it. We just had to work hard."
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Liverpool were indebted to two unlikely heroes as Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan combined for a dramatic stoppage time winner in Monday's 2-1 win at Burnley.
Jurgen Klopp's side were a long way from their best and looked to have thrown away yet more points from a winning position after conceding a late equaliser, but the two players most under threat by the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk came up big.
Up until they gave up a soft late equaliser the biggest positive would have been the defensive performance, as Liverpool had stood strong in the face of a long ball and set-piece onslaught. Ultimately they eventually buckled, as they so often do, so the most positive thing to come from this is the result.
Even allowing for the number of changes made by Klopp the performance was extremely disjointed. The first half was especially poor, with far too many sideways passes and very little creativity. It was slightly better after the break but the fringe players who were given an opportunity did not really make the most of it.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho were left at home nursing minor injuries while other regular starters were left on the bench. Even if the result hadn't been favourable it would still have been the right thing to do. It's easy to be critical when a manager makes changes but Klopp is handling it pretty well.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Simon Mignolet, 6 -- Burnley put a lot of high balls into the box but overall Mignolet didn't have a great deal to do. The saves he made were routine and he had little chance to prevent the goal.
DF Trent Alexander-Arnold, 7 -- One or two sloppy moments in possession but for the most part the youngster did well. It was from his cross that Sadio Mane finally broke the deadlock and he then went close himself with a tremendous long range effort that was well saved by Nick Pope.
DF Dejan Lovren, 7 -- A strong display from the Croatian who defended stoutly against the awkward Ashley Barnes. His most telling contribution came at the other end though when he produced a brilliant header that Klavan finished off to clinch the win.
DF Ragnar Klavan, 7 -- Another assured display from the Estonian, capped by that dramatic late goal. He may have felt partly culpable for Burnley's equaliser as he was beaten to a header by Sam Vokes, but he more than made up for that by being in the right place at the right time to win it.
DF Joe Gomez, 7 -- Switched to the left side for this game but it didn't faze him as he was once again strong and commanding. He did allow Johann Gudmundsson to run off the back of him to score the equalising goal, but in fairness it wasn't the easiest situation to deal with and it was not as obvious an error as the one he made at Arsenal recently.
MF Emre Can, 7 -- Not a perfect performance by any means but the German was full of effort and determination. Occasionally wayward in possession but never shied away from the physical side of the contest and it was his late surging run that led to the free-kick from which the game was won.
MF Georginio Wijnaldum, 5 -- Typically quiet away performance from the Dutchman who once again was the least involved of the midfield trio. It's becoming a pattern. Didn't do a great deal wrong but needs to impose himself more.
MF Adam Lallana, 6 -- The England man was making his first start of the season and was understandably not at his best. Kept the ball well and avoided giving it away as cheaply as some of his teammates did, but made little impact in the final third. His most telling contribution was a superb last ditch tackle to prevent a Burnley counter-attack in the first half.
FW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 7 -- Recovered from an underwhelming start and was much better in the second half when he had a hand in both goals and worked hard at both ends of the pitch. Almost scored late on with a powerful drive that was well saved by Pope.
FW Dominic Solanke, 5 -- A difficult game for the youngster, who struggled to make much headway against Burnley's well drilled rearguard. Some of his hold up play was good but he posed little threat. Failed to take the one opportunity that came his way.
FW Sadio Mane, 7 -- The Senegal man isn't in the best of form lately and quite frankly he was dreadful until he suddenly produced a stunning turn and finish to give the Reds the lead. The goal seemed to give him a lift but he was brought off soon after, probably with Friday's FA Cup clash with Everton in mind.
FW Roberto Firmino, N/R -- Introduced for Mane and helped his side keep possession while also helping out defensively.
MF James Milner, N/R -- Replaced Lallana for the closing stages but had little opportunity to get involved.
DF Joel Matip, N/R -- Only on the field for a matter of seconds.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.