Manchester United are no longer the sixth best team in the Premier League after victory over Middlesbrough moved them closer to the top four.
Goals from Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia were enough for Jose Mourinho's men to grab all three points on a comfortable afternoon in the north east as Steve Agnew began his caretaker tenure in charge of the hosts with defeat.
Here's what we learned:
If it wasn’t for a certain cocksure Swede, Juan Mata would be United’s player of the season. And it’s not even that close. So often the little Spaniard has been the difference this term and he was once again brilliant against Boro. While United have a surplus of No.10s none are quite as classy and consistent as Mata. Once a certainty to leave, Mata should be one of the first names on Mourinho’s teamsheet now.
Fellaini proving his worth
Another who looked for all the world to be out the door as Mourinho came the other way through it, Fellaini has quietly had a fine year for United. While today’s goal was his first in the league – and his first since December 2015 – the big Belgian has been an quietly effective option all season long. Without Ibrahimovic United sorely lacked an attacking focal point and Fellaini provided it.
Valdes remains a class act
You don’t win three Champions Leagues without having a bit about you. And even if United didn’t realise it in the year and a half he warmed their bench Victor Valdes remains a fine goalkeeper. The Spaniard pulled off a string of top quality stops to keep United at bay and will be key to his side’s battle against the drop. When you score as few as Boro do you need to make sure you don’t ship many either – Valdes, clearly, is hugely important in that. The less said about that third goal the better, mind...
In many ways this was the perfect free hit for Steve Agnew to start his tenure with – lose and it’s expected, win and you’re off to the races. Chairman Steve Gibson hinted that the job is there for him should he show enough to keep it and from this first showing he may well do so. The players look like they’re with him – which is half the battle – and they were well in the game throughout and gave United a scare at the death following Rudy Gestede's goal. A solid audition.
United’s sixth sense
For the first time since November, United aren’t sixth. Victory today ensured Mourinho’s men moved a place higher as they chase down the top four. Clearly it’s not where they want to be but performances in recent months have hinted they’re moving in the right direction. Now, finally, the league table reflects that.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies