Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 700th club goal of his career to earn Manchester United a 2-1 victory at Everton that moved his team a point off the Premier League’s top four on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Ronaldo was only on the field due to Anthony Martial’s inability to run off an injury sustained in the warmup, but it was no great surprise the substitute seized his opportunity.
Ronaldo had been previously limited to just 207 minutes in the league by United’s recently hired manager, Erik ten Hag, who cannot find a place for him in a system which is based on mobility and pressing.
But, while the Portugal international may not be ideally suited to those requirements, he can still show a turn of pace and an unerring eye for goal when he has to and that is exactly how he brought up his landmark shortly before halftime.
Antony’s neat finish in the 15th minute had canceled out Alex Iwobi’s sumptuous curling strike in the fifth to turn the momentum in United’s favor, but it was a passage of mistakes which presented Ronaldo with his moment in history.
Casemiro gave away possession to Iwobi, only for the Everton midfielder to run the ball straight into the path of his opponent, whose immediate response was to send Ronaldo scampering clear down the left.
There was only one thought in his mind as he bore down on goal and his low, left-footed strike whistled past England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford at his near post.
The buildup to the goal typified a scrappy game which was interspersed with moments of absolute quality.
Iwobi’s strike set the tone when Amadou Onana robbed Casemiro, allowing Demarai Gray to charge forward and, with United’s defense backtracking, he teed up his teammate to bend a shot inside David De Gea’s left-hand post for Everton’s 1,500th Premier League goal.
But the Everton defense was soon exposed after another loss of possession, this time by the usually reliable Idrissa Gueye, who gave the ball away to Bruno Fernandes.
Martial took up the counterattack and his inviting lay-off to Antony on his right saw the summer signing slot a shot beyond Pickford to become the first United player since Ian Storey-Moore in 1972 to score in his first three league appearances.
That feat was soon surpassed. After Pickford saved from Christian Eriksen, Martial succumbed to an injury he had been carrying from kickoff and Ronaldo entered in the 29th minute.
His first involvement was to be flagged offside after Fernandes thought he had put the visitors in front when Vitalii Mykolenko unsuccessfully tried to dribble out of the penalty area.
His second was a weak effort easily saved by Pickford but, after the unmarked Casemiro missed a header from eight meters, there was no mistake with his third a minute before halftime.
It was his 144th for United over two spells, with 450 for Real Madrid making up the bulk in addition to 101 for Juventus and five for Sporting.
The general quality barely improved in the second half, with United failing to press home its advantage and Everton posing little threat.
Even the long-awaited return of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, for his first appearance of the season 15 minutes from time, and a debut for former United midfielder James Garner failed to make a difference.
Everton was fortunate to escape further punishment when Marcus Rashford, capitalizing on Ronaldo’s flick-on, had a goal ruled out by VAR for handball after James Tarkowski’s challenge lifted the ball on to his arm.
De Gea had the final say with a brilliant one-handed save to deny Garner from distance in stoppage time as Everton’s six-match unbeaten run came to an end.