The scoreline lied -- then again, it didn't. On Wayne Rooney's return to Old Trafford, which was greeted with great applause by the home support, Manchester United eventually swept Everton aside 4-0, a result that reflected their superiority but did not hint at the profligacy of some of their finishing.
Antonio Valencia's exceptional strike opened the scoring within five minutes and thereafter, United's progress should have been routine, only for a succession of poor passes and misses to frustrate them and their supporters. Late on, though, they were devastating, confirming them at this very early stage as Manchester City's closest competitors for the league title.
Nemanja Matic was magnificent and Juan Mata was not far behind. Between them, they set the tempo for much of United's best play. Ashley Young looked effective at left-back, while David De Gea was superb when called upon at crucial moments.
Some of United's attacking play lacked composure, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku all culprits. This game should have been sealed long before the end.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Jose Mourinho must emerge with great credit given such a scoreline as his changes being vindicated in the end -- even though, at the time, his removal of Marcus Rashford for Jesse Lingard instead of Anthony Martial seemed inexplicable.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 8 -- Made two vital saves when United were only a goal ahead, his concentration as exceptional as his reflexes. Just before both attacks, he had not been involved for long periods. Indispensable again.
DF Ashley Young, 8 -- Remained high up the pitch throughout, with Mourinho being more enterprising with his use of his full-backs than usual. Defended well and also went past his opposite man with the ease of the out-and-out winger he once was.
DF Phil Jones, 7 -- A good showing. Used the ball well, working it smartly out of dangerous areas and took no positional risks. After a difficult recent outing, he resumed normal service.
DF Eric Bailly, 7 -- A little below his high standards and too easily deceived by Wayne Rooney for the former United forward's best chance. Otherwise competent throughout.
DF Antonio Valencia, 8 -- Opened the scoring with a magnificent strike from distance and spent much of his time in the final third, overlapping with patience and intelligence and running at players as much as he ever has. Defensively sound too, as ever.
MF Nemanja Matic, 9 -- A performance of great strength, urgency, vision and technique. Matic picked up some of the slack in Paul Pogba's absence, stepping forward with purpose and working the ball quickly and cleverly through the middle of the pitch and to either wing. Along with Juan Mata, he was the architect of Sunday's victory.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 7 -- Passed and moved with discipline and efficiency, another game where he was not found wanting. If United's attackers had played as effectively as him, the game would have been out of sight long before the finish.
MF Juan Mata, 8 -- Found space time and again (as he has all season) and prompted United's best attacks with passes of perfect speed and weight. Hit the post with a fine free-kick, denied a goal that he would have richly deserved.
MF Marcus Rashford, 6 -- Not his afternoon. Too often ran into multiple defensive coverage without players in support, lost possession where he would have expected to retain it, and was not quite decisive enough in scoring positions. Simply an off-day.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 7 -- Like Rashford, he seemed out of sorts for large periods of the game, over-complicating two passes in the final third where a simpler ball would have yielded an excellent scoring chance. Also lost the ball needlessly too often when going forward. Yet he scored United's crucial second, which sealed the game, with a finish of notable calm. Even on a bad day, he is vital to this side.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 8 -- Missed a fine first-half chance that he made himself and was then out of the game for some time. But then, his intelligent move and pass led to Mkhitaryan's important strike and he added another of his own -- a near-post finish with his wrong foot -- to burnish the scoreline. Like all the best forwards, he did not allow that early miss to leave him despondent.
MF Jesse Lingard, 6 (for Rashford, 61) -- Was high-energy but ineffective when it came to executing in the final third -- his movement was good, but he was not precise enough when it counted.
MF Ander Herrera, N/A (for Mata, 77) -- The lesser-spotted Herrera made a difference at once with his intensity and precise passing, giving United the tempo they needed to dominate this game late on.
MF Anthony Martial, N/A (for Mkhitaryan, 88) -- Even with just a few minutes to make an impression, he performed in style -- his elite footwork led to a penalty, which he casually converted. Should probably have been introduced far earlier.