United went into this game looking for a second consecutive home win. Last week the concern about the defence was in part as a consequence of injuries and suspensions, this week and for the same reason attention turned to the midfield diamond. How would United cope without Herrera and Rooney?


In: Valencia and Mata
Out: Herrera and Rooney.


  • This was a tight game that could have gone either way. For long periods United had more of a cutting edge but Everton were neat and tidy in possession and were never out of contention.
  • United started brightly again but again lost their way and found themselves hanging on at the end as Everton asserted themselves. This is becoming a recurring theme.
  • A 4-4-2 diamond lacks natural width. This is an issue both in attack and defence. Only a co-ordinated effort by the whole team can address this issue.
  • Valencia was not really an effective replacement for Herrera and whilst Mata for Rooney was a more straightforward swap despite his assist for United’s first goal Mata was a disappointment.
  • Di Maria was again excellent, but are United becoming over reliant upon him?
  • David de Gea was excellent.


Van Gaal retained the same 4-4-2 shape with a central diamond for this game. The suspended Rooney was replaced by Mata in a straight swap with Valencia coming in for the injured Herrera.

First Half 2014-10-05T120538Z_1879305830_GM1EAA51JRV01_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-ENGLAND

Van Gaal retained the same 4-4-2 shape with a central diamond. The suspended Rooney was replaced by Mata in a straight swap with Valencia coming in for the injured Herrera.

The start of the game showed how important a player Herrera is now for United. Valencia did a reasonable job deputizing, but United missed the snap of Herrera, a player with seemingly limitless energy who will get about the opposition to win the ball or at least disturb their rhythm. Valencia did not do this instead contenting himself with occupying space and retaining team shape. This was almost a throwback to the last few years under Sir Alex where the team would sit back and wait for the opposition to give them the ball back. When this didn’t happen United usually failed to take control of the game. This is what happened here with Everton retaining the ball for most of the first ten minutes.

Valencia tended to maintain his position

Valencia tended to maintain his position

Everton were neat and tidy in their play. Passing and moving well, but they did not create any clear cut chances. When United had the ball they were similarly neat and tidy but they had more of a cutting edge and did create a number of good chances throughout the first half. This was the general story of the half; fairly even but United looking the more menacing. When United had the ball Shaw and Rafael took every opportunity to get forward and provided good attacking width. Shaw in particular combining well with Di Maria on the United left to create all sorts of problems for Hibbert. Generally the greater menace was from the United left as a consequence of Di Maria’s aggressive running and Shaw’s crossing. Both players constantly sought to pick out van Persie and Falcao. Unfortunately both these players were misfiring.

Di Maria was more adventurous and fluid in his movement than Valencia

Di Maria was more adventurous and fluid in his movement than Valencia

On the other side Rafael often ran beyond Valencia and it was just such situations which lead to United’s first goal. Rafael delivered a cross which was diverted by the Everton defence. This fell to Mata beyond the far post. He calmly rolled the ball into the path of the advancing Di Maria who clinically picked his spot. Boom! 27 minutes played 1-0.

There was then a period of play where United put Everton under some pressure and they might have scored again. They squandered a number of reasonable opportunities as van Perise and Falcao snatched chances or the final ball was not quite up to standard. United’s success was coming through the channels or from the width being provided by the fullbacks. There was very little created through the middle, in fact Mata was fairly quiet throughout the first half. Valencia tended to stay fairly deep and control space so effectively both he and Mata had little impact on the game. The consequence of this with Di Maria pushing as high and often beyond Mata was the shape of the central diamond became distorted and United’s midfield looked particularly lopsided; a rough diamond rather than a polished one.

Despite this United were well worth their lead. Everton looked a bit toothless. They had clearly decided to employ a tactic where Kukaku would look to drag McNair out to the United’s right often running very deep. In the first half Naismith playing in the centre of the 3 in Everton’s 4-2-3-1 sat deep. As a consequence Everton had little presence in the centre of their attack. They were able to retain the ball with numbers in midfield but they created very little. Then on the stroke of halftime they got a penalty. McGeady pushed forward on the Everton left. Hibbert advancing from fullback was able to run onto a pass on the inside of a disorientated Shaw who clumsily challenged him. Baines stepped up to take the kick having never missed a premier league penalty. De Gea saved to his right. This has to be worth a Boom! A relieved United went in at halftime with their lead intact.


The most noticeable change at the start of the second half was that Naismith was now playing much higher. He was often in advance of Lukaku and in contrast stayed in a central position. This changed the game as it allowed Everton to threaten United. Blind was pushed back and this created space for other players to move into the attacking channels between United’s centre backs and fullbacks. Baines had got forward on a number of occasions in the first half but now as Everton retained possession in high areas both he and Barry pushed forward creating overloads around Rafael. Rafael coped fairly well but he didn’t get a lot of assistance from Valencia who was far too passive.

This issue lead to the Everton equaliser in the 55th minute. Everton had won a free kick on their left. Baines took this quickly feeding the ball to Barry who returned a pass for Baines to cross as he advanced into the inside right channel unchallenged. The cross landed between Rafael and Shaw on the head of Naismith. Why were Rafael and Shaw the two nearest players and why did no one attack the cross with a defensive header? This was effectively another goal from a set piece, but more to the point is another example of the points we made last week in our Tactics News article Emerging Themes.  Firstly United failed to stop the cross coming in. Secondly when defending United currently seem more concerned with retaining a defensive shape than actually defending the cross or free kick. United have conceded a number of similar goals to this and on all these occasions have not been outnumbered, the opposition have just been more determined to reach the ball. On this occasion United had 5 players in their own area positioned within the width of the goal. Everton had three, but one of them attacked the ball. No United player did.

Fortunately it didn’t take long for United to get back in front. This was a slightly fortuitous goal in that it came from a mishit shot by Di Maria which reached Falcao in front of goal. His first time prod beat Howard to register his first United goal. Boom! 2-1 after 62 minutes. Everton had been level for only five minutes.

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Everton now had half an hour to chase the game and Martinez made a number of bold substitutions. Two minutes after the goal Everton withdrew Pienaar and introduced Oviedo. In theory this was a straight swap but Oviedo was far more effective in combining with Baines and Barry to create overloads on Rafael. He played higher and looked to get beyond Valencia. On the other side perhaps as a consequence of concern regarding Di Maria pace Besic tended to stay deeper and did not give the same type of support to McGeady.

Wilson Heat Map

Van Gaal now made two changes. The first was as a consequence of an injury; Blackett replaced Shaw. The second however was a tactical switch. Falcao was removed and Wilson introduced. Van Persie swapped sides to the left hand side of United’s attack with Wilson playing to the deep on the right. Effectively van Gaal appeared to be trying to prevent Barry from pushing forward to support Oviedo and Baines. This didn’t really work, principally because Rafael needed more support from Valencia. Van Gaal then removed Valencia and brought on Fellaini for the last ten minutes.

Late Second Half Manchester United v Everton - Premier League

Martinez had made two further changes by this point, introducing Osman and Browning for McGeady and Hibbert. These changes gave Everton’s attack a more balanced look in the closing stages and they were unlucky not to salvage a point. They did not do so because of the excellence of De Gea who made several outstanding saves as Everton pushed United back compressing play into United’s final third. United seemed powerless to resist. De Gea’s saves were critical in achieving the result and as the ability to retain concentration during periods of relative inactivity is a crucial skill for a goalkeeper the post-match plaudits he has received were well deserved.


This was a very tight game which United can consider themselves lucky to have won. They played well in the first half and created several chances. They should have been further ahead when Everton were awarded their penalty. Everton were never out of the game but they didn’t really have a cutting edge until they threw caution to the wind in the last half hour.

The concern for United is that having started well they were seemingly unable to reassert themselves once Everton got the upper hand. Everton had a lot of success late in the game in the channels. They constantly looked to get into the space behind Di Maria and Valencia. This illustrates a weakness of a 4-4-2 diamond shape which is naturally narrow and exposes the fullbacks. The wider midfield players have to support the full backs in the defensive phase to prevent overloads, whilst the strikers have to sit wide and deep in higher positions to occupy the opposition’s midfield. Van Gaal’s late changes were an attempt to address these issues but they did not work. He has put his finger on the issue when he says we need to defend as a team.

The other issue which is a concern is the regular fading in games. We often start brightly; pass, tackle and move on and off the ball, creating chances and in the most part controlling the game. In all recent games quantity and quality of movement has noticeably declined as the game has worn on, making it harder to retain possession. Off ball movement is noticeably less intelligent later in games leaving the team vulnerable in transitions. This all suggests a degree of both physical and mental fatigue.