Sir Alex Ferguson's post-Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United side is still struggling to forge its own identity, but the consensus from within the home dressing room following victory over Everton was that progress is slowly being made.
Saturday's win wasn't one of the more exhilarating 3-0 victories ever to have been seen at Old Trafford and the initially spirited resistance of David Moyes' side quickly evaporated when Michael Carrick's goal gave the hosts a two-goal advantage midway through the second half.
For Ferguson's team, though, it was crucial that they recorded a convincing victory on their return to action following the defeat at Chelsea immediately before the international break. That they did so on the back of goals from three midfielders – Darren Fletcher, Carrick and Antonio Valencia – was particularly welcome at a time when even the manager was questioning the limitations of his side's goal threat.
Wayne Rooney has shouldered the main scoring responsibility with seven league goals backed up by Dimitar Berbatov's tally of just four. But Ferguson knows contributions must come from other departments of the team, particularly on a day when Rooney and Michael Owen offered glimpses that their partnership is coming together without ever appearing truly convincing in the penalty area.
Ronaldo's extraordinary mark of 67 goals in two seasons remains a freakish return for a winger, but while no individual in the current side is going to match that total, more is required from the midfield if United are to close the five-point gap between themselves and leaders Chelsea.
"The number of goals Ronaldo scored was extraordinary for a wide man," said Carrick. "You can't rely on the front two to do it every week. Thankfully we've started doing that and we need to chip in a few more. But as long as we are winning who scores is not an issue."
Ferguson's mantra has always been that it is not the defeat that matters, it is the response that follows a loss that counts the most. To that end, the manager could declare himself satisfied.
"It was very important we bounced back with a win after Chelsea," said Carrick. "We haven't scored an awful lot of goals at home to kill teams off so to see the second and third go in was nice. It meant we could play some football and relax but it was important we got back to winning ways really."
Fletcher was once again the driving force behind United's victory and the Scotland international capped an impressive display with a superbly taken volley in the first half. Carrick finished with a left-footer in the 67th minute before Valencia's deflected shot completed the scoring.
The result was justified, as Everton are a shadow of the team which finished fifth in the last two seasons. Their midfielder Johnny Heitinga, though, did see flaws in Ferguson's side. "It's not the Man Utd that won the Champions League but you can see they've got really good players and they play as a team," he said. " But if they win 3-0, what can I say?" Heitinga's main concern was the form of his own side and with just one win from their last six league games, Moyes' team are struggling to overcome the loss of Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka. They flickered briefly after the break when Moyes introduced Yakubu but later crumpled alarmingly.
They face Hull in midweek before next weekend's Merseyside derby in what could be a pivotal week. "In the past, and I don't use the word, but I think the word that's been used with Everton players is 'over-performing'," said Moyes. "I've always said they've performed at a good level and I'll protect the players all day long, but they have to stand up and be counted as well. And at the moment some of them are underperforming."
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; R Da Silva (Scholes, 62), Brown, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Fletcher, Carrick (Gibson, 82), Giggs; Owen, Rooney (Obertan, 74). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Anderson, Welbeck, De Laet.
Everton ( 4-5-1): Howard; Neill, Yobo, Distin, Baines; Gosling (Yakubu, h-t), Heitinga, Rodwell, Fellaini, Cahill (Hibbert, 82); Saha (Jo, 82). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Hibbert, Jo, Coleman, Duffy, Baxter.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Manchester United Da Silva, Carrick; Everton Cahill, Fellaini.
Man of the match: Fletcher.
Attendance: 75,169.Reuse content