Manchester United held on to three points courtesy of Angel Di Maria’s first-half goal, Radamel Falcao’s first strike and David de Gea’s heroic against Everton on Saturday.
Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Di Maria planted a right-foot (his presumed weak foot) curler beyond USA goalkeeper Tim Howard for his third United goal.
Goalkeeper De Gea did brilliantly to preserve Di Maria’s strike into the second-half, denying Leighton Baines penalty late in the first-half.
Steven Naismith leveled for Roberto Martinez’s side few minutes after the break but Falcao grabbed his first United goal two minutes after the hour mark to help the struggling giants get into the Top four.
Louis van Gaal named Antonio Valencia in place of the injured Ander Herrera while Juan Mata came in for the suspended Wayne Rooney with the Netherlands skipper Robin van Persie saddled with leadership responsibilities. Teenager Patrick McNair kept his place following an impressive debut against West Ham last week.
Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar started for the first time since the 2-2 draw with Arsenal in August, in place of birthday boy Kevin Miralas, and Aiden McGeady started instead of James McCarthy.
The ‘Toffees’ recorded a rare success the last time they visited Old Trafford and scored a couple of goals in their last meeting back in April, the final straw for the Old Trraford club who sacked then-manager David Moyes two days later to pave way for former Holland boss Van Gaal.
The 63-year-old has learnt “there are no easy games in the Premier League” after two wins, draws and losses apiece in his maiden season in England and was delighted with the urgency in his team’s attack right at the blast of the whistle.
Romelu Lukaku, planted up front in Everton’s 4-5-1 formation, had problems with keeping the ball on his feet, while Falcao threatened at the other end, often times getting in the end of a fine United passing game.
A few chances for an opening goal evaded United with Daley Blind and Di Maria all firing efforts over.
But not in the 27th minute, when Rafael’s cross from the right was poorly cleared by Phil Jagielka to Mata’s feet and the Spaniard laid the ball to Di Maria who curled home a sublime shot from inside the penalty area.
The Argentine midfielder almost doubled the tally four minutes later with a well-struck free-kick from 30 yards which Howard clawed wide.
McNair managed to get ahead of Lukaku to head clear a Baines cross as Everton tried to sustain pressure in the closing ten minutes of the half. And when the Belgium hitman did evade the 19-year-old, he smashed his effort wide.
Falcao blasted over after being found unmarked in the box before Luke Shaw hacked down Tony Hibbert in motion for referee Kevin Friend to correctly point to the spot.
Baines stepped up and missed from 12 yards for the first time after converting all 14 previous attempts. De Gea went low to his right to neatly keep out the resultant kick and help the reds secure their lead into the interval.
The visitors got the second-half underway but it was United who twice came close to extending their lead within seven minutes of kickoff; Jagielka deflecting behind, Falcao’s header before a diving John Stones also deflected wide the Monaco loanee’s shot.
Naismith powered home a forceful header on 55 minutes from Baines’ quality cross to restore parity.
It looked like the equaliser restored Everton’s confidence until Falcao pulled United ahead seven minutes later. The Colombian beat an offside trap to deflect Di Maria’s shot from 35 yards past Howard.
Everton again began pumping the ball forward but lacked that extra pace in the forward line to put United under extra pressure especially after Martinez replaced McGeady with Leon Osman.
De Gea got right at the end of the English midfielder’s low shot and later stopped the substitute’s powerful effort with a terrific one-handed save as Everton pushed for a late equaliser.
The Spaniard on his 140th United appearance continued to marvel in goal, also superbly denying Bryan Oviedo’s stinging shot from the edge of the box to help the hosts secure three points.
“I think it’s a good save,” De Gea said on his superb late save from Oviedo. “I didn’t see the ball well, I just put my hand there.”