There was no sign of fatigue, no hint of tiredness and no suggestion at all that Manchester United are suffering from a gruelling schedule as they crushed Middlesbrough like a tank rolling over a bicycle.
According to Jose Mourinho, United are vulnerable, weak and exhausted, drained by the unfair demands placed on them.
His players are being cruelly overworked, unnecessarily flogged by television companies for the enjoyment of armchair audiences, their physical welfare put at risk because they are not given enough time to rest after Europa League games.
It is a tale of woe few outside of Old Trafford sympathise with. A club of United’s wealth should have a squad big enough to cope with playing so many games at home and abroad - and the fact they have not lost a league game since the end of October, suggests they are dealing with it perfectly well.
Mourinho was able to make seven changes to the team that beat Rostov on Thursday night but you could not really claim it was a weakened side, even if three key summer signings – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - did not start. That is why you have a squad and it is why United have one of the largest wage bills in Europe.
The reason Mourinho’s men remain outside of the top four is nothing to do with fatigue, regardless of how the Portuguese wants to spin it. They are outside the Champions League places because they started the season so badly and have not won the games they should have done through profligacy.
United are flying and this victory over a Middlesbrough was a breeze. Once they had taken the lead though Marouane Fellani after half an hour, Mourinho’s men looked comfortable.
That lead was doubled by a wonderful strike from Jesse Lingard and although Boro pulled a goal back through Rudy Gestede – their first in the league since New Year’s Day – it was a routine away win for United, confirmed when Antonio Valencia rolled the ball into an empty met after a terrible stumble from Boro goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Mourinho did not have to face his friend and former assistant at Real Madrid, Aitor Karanka, after he was removed as manager last week. Not that his replacement, Steve Agnew, did much to change things.
In came Stewart Downing, who had fallen out with Karanka on the training ground and left out of the squad as a result, and striker Alvaro Negredo, who had also had a strained relationship with the Spaniard.
But that was all Agnew had time to alter. Boro played in the same formation and style they had during the insipid final weeks under Karanka, although they did try to move the ball around a little quicker, hoping to expose any tired legs in the United team after their Thursday-night exploits in the Europa League.
With Wayne Rooney injured and Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, Marcus Rashford was again given the main centre-forward role. His pace spread panic, but his finishing brought relief to the home side. Played in on goal by a delightful pass from Jesse Lingard, Rashford made it far too obvious where he was going to put his shot and Valdes made a decent save low to his left.
Boro tried to respond, but they called David de Gea into action just once before half time when Gaston Ramirez jinked inside, shifted the ball on to his right foot and fired in a shot that the United goalkeeper palmed away.
United were far more dangerous going forward but, not for the first time this season, came up against a goalkeeper in inspired form. The double save Valdes pulled off just before the half hour mark was world class, somehow keeping out Rashford from point-blank range as he guided Juan Mata’s cross goalwards and then keeping out the follow-up effort from Antonio Valencia with his feet.
It was a familiar story for United under Mourinho but it did not follow the same script as the visitors eventually found a way past Valdes when Fellaini peeled off the back of left-back Fabio – a deliberate ploy that will have been worked on in training – to head in a deep cross from Ashley Young. There were three Boro defenders inside the area to deal with Fellaini, but he managed to create an aerial duel with the smallest of them at the far post and won it comfortably.
In front and in control, United did not look as though there was any way a team that has not scored a league goal since January could trouble them, and they were right.
Boro dominated possession and territory for 15 minutes at the start of the second half, but did nothing with it. Unlike Lingard who, on the hour mark, picked up the ball on the halfway line after United had cleared a corner, galloped to the edge of the area as Boro’s centre backs retreated and smashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Even Mourinho allowed himself to smile on the touchline.
Boro looked beaten, but they pulled a goal back through Rudy Gestede after a mistake by Chris Smalling presented him with a simple finish six yards out. And then Valdes returned the favour.
Grim faces all round
Full time: Boro 1 United 3
That shocker from Valdes is the last action of the match and it's hard not to feel some sympathy for him. Ah well. Poor old Boro. Report to follow.
There will be four minutes added but Jose Mourinho is not going to stay and watch them. He pumps both fists in the air and high-tails it down the tunnel.
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
Man Utd have restored their two-goal lead thanks to a goal from Antonio Valencia: it's 1-3 now.
Awful blunder from Victor Valdes against his former club. A regulation back pass, Valencia chases it down just in case, and Valdes slips over! Valencia has only to tap it in. Cruel luck.
Argy bargy! Bailly and Gestede seem to be the major protagonists. They're, literally, at one another's throats! Grabbing and shoving, but the ref just lets the moment pass and we're back to football.
United are making terribly heavy weather of this, and you cannot help but feel that Boro might have been better off having a go at them at 0-0 rather than waiting to go two goals behind.
Negredo battles into the area and bundles past Smalling, but dear old Phil Jones is there to throw his body in front of the charge, and he manages to get enough of the ball.
United, facing a team who had not scored for over eight hours in the League until a few minutes ago, are playing with six at the back. #glory
United making this waaaaaaaaaaaaaay harder than it should be. They are defending so deep, inviting Boro to shellack them with crosses.
Lingard comes on, looks like he has a leg strain. Martial comes on. Talking of dodgy legs, Gestede gets some strapping.
Boro fans are roaring their team on.
Just one goal in it now - Middlesbrough halve the deficit thanks to a goal from Rudy Gestede.
Downing cross, Negredo with the knockdown, looking for Gestede. United intercept that, but cannot clear properly. Boro keep it alive, stick it back in the mixer, Smalling makes a pig's ear of the clearance, trying to use his right foot when he should have used his left, and Gestede pops up to stab it home.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
Downing with a nice run and cross. Can Boro, who are enjoying plenty of possession and territory, get back into this?
He might not have to. Gestede is clutching his hamstring...
The considered opinion of Hodd and Macca is that Rojo has been brought on specifically to counter Gestede.
Marcus Rojo, who Mourinho said was not fit to play, comes off the bench.
Leadbitter & Ramirez come off and Traore & Gestede come on.
Another decent cross from Boro, this time from the left flank by Ramirez. Header from Negredo. This is more like it!
Boro, belatedly, actually having a bit of a go. They've got a couple in the area, a cross comes in, and Bailly heads it back at De Gea, who makes a sharper save than he would have liked.
Jesse Lingard has doubled Man Utd's lead - it's now 0-2.
Superb from the visitors, awful from the hosts. Bailly wins the ball in the right-back area and they break. Lingard, Rashford and Mata. The Boro defence are backing away from them, back-pedalling. Who will Lingard pass to? Nobody! He has lashed the ball at the goal from the edge of the area and that gives the keeper no chance. Strike!
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Boro have had lots of the ball
But, as this graphic shows, they're just passing it sideways.
It's Zenn Hoddle
"The wind becomes a pass."
Hoddle on Boro speedster Adama Traore
who is on the bench.
"The best players make the right decision at the right time. Talent alone is not enough." Glenn in good form today.
United break at pace, Lingaard and Rashford with the pace and mobility, if not quite the guile, of really high class players. Rashers makes a couple of poor choices and ends up shooting wastefully.
Game is open now, more enjoyable, and Boro still have a puncher's chance of an equaliser, although I would say a Man U breakaway second is more likely.
United slip into neutral, and Fabio is given the freedom of that left-hand side. Decent cross, Negredo and Ramirez lurking, cleared.
If I heard Darren Fletcher right, that's now EIGHT HOURS since Boro scored a league goal.
If you want entertainment, etc.
The Super Manchester Reds Brand TM
No changes from either side.
Here's Chris Smalling doing a diving back header to his keeper and... missing it.
"Boro have got the ball. But what are they doing? Where is it going? They are just playing in their own half."
Here we go.
Boro need a bit of magic
legendary comedic magician Tommy Cooper was born in Caerphilly, Wales, on 19 March 1921. pic.twitter.com/c1vz5yILyW— History (@HistoryTime_) March 19, 2017
Half time: Boro 0 United 1
Exciting play from Lingaard and Rashford. Their pace and interplay looking too slick for a ponderous Boro defence. Mata and Valencia have been arriving to join the fray. All those admirable, nimble footballers aside, it was the big man Fellaini who eventually scored, powering home at the back post.
United's defence could certainly be got at but not sure this Boro side have the tools for the job. They've had a couple of decent crosses from Fabio and Downing on left and right respectively but, as the stats would suggest, they lack a couple of men in the middle with eyes for goal.
Time on ball (first half)
Average touch positions (half time)
Rashford with a bobby dazzler of a run but his back heel pass is cut out. #skillz #almost
Rashford burns past poor old Bernardo again.
Another good Boro move, and this time Fellaini has to clear it behind. Suggestions of an own goal possibility there.
Good response from Boro since going behind, their best move of the match features some slick passing and then a low cross from de Roon that needed just a tap-in.
Now Boro fail to pick up Smalling from a corner... header not on target.
Middlesbrough not marking and wilfully slowing down play in midfield. A really terrible side to watch.— Football365 (@F365) March 19, 2017
Fabio probably never had a chance in a one-on-one header with Fellaini, but he's more in his element here attacking down the left. Crosses the ball and, had Phil Jones not been putting it about, Boro might have had a good chance at a header of their own here.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
0-1! The opening goal goes the way of Man Utd and it's Marouane Fellaini who scores it.
Fellaini has the goal, his first League score of the season. Desperately average defending from Boro, who have several men in their own box, I think Fellaini is almost the only United man in the area! Deep cross, it’s a complete mismatch against Fabio at the back post and that’s the opening goal.
Relegation marking, that.
United starting to dominate this now, their pace and combinations up front allowing them to cut Boro open again and again.
Phil Jones goes into the book for giving Negredo an arm across the chops.
Some eccentric refereeing here from Jon Moss who watches Rashford and then Mata in that order hauled down but plays advantage. Generally you would assume that it would be advantageous to have some attackers actually vertical? Sure, Valencia gets to cross, but nobody is there. Nobody who is not lying on the floor anyway.
Valdes! Brilliant work in the goal. Boro have lost Mata, he just steams through a giant hole in the inside left position, crosses, and there's Rashford. Tries to tap it in but that's a good save from Valdes.... and the same again as Valencia tries the same again from a narrow angle.
Downing air-shots a simple defensive clearance and that turns a harmless pass into a dangerous through ball. Boro have to scrabble and concede a corner. Cleared.
Rashford and Lingaard are looking dangerous with their pace and have won a corner down the left. Just needed one more runner with them. Anyway, from the corner, Gibson and de Roon double-team Fellaini. The mighty Moroccan gets above them for the header but they have done enough to put him off and he nods it over.
Boro already look quicker, more incisive. It's as if you don't actually need 30 sideways passes before you're allowed to get to the area.— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) March 19, 2017
It has been a good start from Boro
Plenty of the ball and they have been generally on the front foot.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Save from De Gea! Gaston Ramirez cuts in, he cracks a shot and that's a good stop from the Spaniard.
Leadbitter has an effort from range that sails effortlessly over the bar.
Rashford should have scored. Great pace leaves Bernardo for dead, but he hits it straight at the keeper.
Bernardo was about two yards slower over a seven-yard run.
"Jose was saying that he thinks a draw would be a good result, I have never heard a Manchester United manager speak like that," says Glenn Hoddle.
Man Utd threaten for the first time
Following the earlier Middlesbrough effort, Man Utd register their first attempt at goal.
Ramirez gets some space down the left and he could have done a lot better with that cross. Still, Downing has a go at crossing from the right and that's a much better cross, with his right. Boro have a corner.
Very blustery day, both sides yet to get to grips with that and each of them has tried a long ball to no avail.
Ramirez and Negredo pushed a little more forward than we have seen of late.
Valencia on the right side of midfield and Young looks like he is playing on the left of a back four.
Teams are ready to go
United in their dark blue. Boro to kick off
Mourinho pre-match interview coming up
Here he is.
"Miki and Rojo are on the bench, but it would be difficult for them to play. This is the group we have. I am positive, I trust the guys. Opportunities for someone else to play. I trust me boys.
"Seven changes, so they are fresh in that sense. But there is not just physical fatigue. Everyone plays even when they are not on the pitch, the accumulation of matches make it very hard. Let's go for it and don't moan about the players who aren't playing."
Cheer up mate, it's only Middlesbrough.
"No disrespect meant"
"We need to score a goal obviously. This is a really tough game."
Steve Gibson seems to be saying that Agnew will get the job full time
"We are going with Steve Agnew. He is a man of experience and integrity. I hope he is next year this time this season. And the season after."
Classic Mourinho in the pre-match
"It's difficult to play Monday with 10 men, it's difficult to play now, it's difficult to play 12 o’clock on Sunday. We have a lot of enemies," he told BT Sport.
"A lot of people might say we should have scored more goals. But a lot of things are going against us.
"The boys are amazing boys. We will probably lose the game on Sunday. Fatigue has a price.
"I will remember forever when I spoke to the UEFA delegate in Rostov. He told me if any of our players gets injured, the insurance paid.
"Whoever decided the Monday and Sunday games probably thinks the same way.”
On the way to the ground
A Manchester United team selection and shape soaked in Louis van Gaal.— Football365 (@F365) March 19, 2017
The Boro team in full
Boro: Valdes, Barragan, Bernardo, Gibson, Fabio, Clayton, Leadbitter, De Roon, Ramirez, Downing, Negredo. Subs: Guzan, Fry, Forshaw, Guedioura, Traore, Stuani, Gestede.
So it's a big day for caretaker manager Steve Agnew. As a player he's best remembered perhaps at Barnsley, where he plied his trade from 1983 to 1992. He was one of Jack Walker's first signings at Blackburn but it didn't work out for him at Ewood Park and he moved on after playing just twice. Then to Leicester, Sunderland and York City before starting his coaching career, assistant manager at Gateshead. He's since been a reserve team coach, ass-man and what have you at Leeds, Hartlepools, Hull etc. Was caretaker for Boro in 2010 after Wee Gordon Strachan left. So yeah... a good solid career but probably nothing quite to match sending out a team to take on Man United.
His nephew, trivia fans, is Jordan Rhodes.
Tyers here. Hope you're having a great Sunday. We've got plenty of live sport to bring you, starting with our blog of Boro v Man United. Team news incoming...