MANCHESTER UNITED vs EVERTON
As club football returned after the international break United were looking to build upon their derby success as they welcomed Everton to Old Trafford. Schweinsteiger had picked up an injury whilst training with Germany but other previously injured players were beginning to return from injury strengthening Van Gaal’s hand in the push for a top four finish.
- A very poor first half. Too many square balls and not enough movement ahead of the ball. Mata was too static and Schneiderlin always seemed to play the square pass.
- Everton changed things from their usual approach reshuffling their front four. Lennon featured as the number 10 and he led the way as Everton pressed United particularly in the first half and often won possession in dangerous areas. Their pressing was patchy and they didn’t use the ball well when they won it. The tempo of United’s play was too slow, their passing ponderous and they were lucky they did not concede.
- Blind had a great game, Lukaku is a handful, but Blind handled him well, both in the air and on the ground.
- Van Gaal changed things introducing Herrera in the second half. He pushed Mata wide and moved Lingard to the centre. United instantly looked more dynamic.
- Martial and Rashford are beginning to develop a good understanding. There interchanges didn’t quite come off here, but the signs are good.
United fielded exactly the same starting eleven as in their success against Manchester City. Mata started as the number 10 in the centre behind Rashford with Lingard on the right. Everton sprung a surprise, not in terms of personnel, but in terms of their positioning. Lennon was moved to the number 10 position behind Lukaku. As a consequence Ross Barkley was positioned in a much deeper role. Former United player Tom Cleverly featured on the left and Gerard Delafou featured on the right.
United at the start of the match and Blind; a key player
For most of the first half United’s play was slow and ponderous with much square passing. Everton attempted to press United and had some success winning the ball in high areas. They didn’t use it well however and created very few goal chances. This along with Blind’s excellent handling of Lukaku is the story of the half. Beyond this there are a few details worth picking out.
Everton’s press was led by Lennon which is probably the reason he was moved to the number 10 position. Lukaku ably assisted him but the other Everton players contribution to this tactic was much more patchy. This had a couple of clear consequences. When Everton won the ball they often didn’t use it well and were usually still outnumbered in areas where they would be looking to hurt United. Their midfield, and specifically Barkley were just too deep and by the time they arrived the moment had passed. If Barkley did get hold of the ball he tended to hit long forward passes towards Lukaku. Blind could handle this and did well. More of this later. The other issue here and this was a success for Everton was that Lennon and Lukaku closed down Schneiderlin and Carrick. Carrick had a poor game and whilst Schneiderlin tended to push a bit higher when United had the ball in an attempt to provide a passing target beyond Lennon and Lukaku’s attentions he usually then passed square so that United moved the play up the pitch slightly but didn’t look like penetrating. This meant that United also created very few chances.
There were three other features of the half worth commenting on. Firstly Mata had a poor half. He remained too high and was too static in the central position. He needed to be dropping deeper into the gap between the Everton front players and their defence and midfield to provide a passing option for Schneiderlin and Carrick. This might have been the better option than Schneiderlin pushing on. From their Mata might have been able to feed United’s forward players.
The next two points to be made are positive ones for United. There most dangerous moments came when the ball reached Rashford and Martial. That’s to be expected as they are the forwards of course but the interesting thing is the understanding they are beginning to develop. They have similar qualities in that they are strong and run well, aggressively with the ball. What was nice to see here is their dropping between the lines and attempting to combine. There combination play didn’t quite come off but it will do as they begin to develop a better understanding. If Mata had had a better half and been able to feed these runs United would have been much more dangerous.
For the final point we return to Blind. It was an obvious tactic for Everton to try to isolate Blind against Lukaku as logic dictates that he would struggle against the forwards pace and physicality. He didn’t and this tactic did not work. This was in part because Blind had a superb game, always anticipating, positionally aware and alert to danger, he looked comfortable in the air and on the ground and comfortable in possession having won the ball. His forward passing was much more probing than either Carrick’s or Schneiderlin. It would be fair to say that Blind was helped in this by the fact that balls to Lukaku were coming from such deep positions which meant that Lukaku was often facing and moving away from goal as the pass arrived. None the less this was a man of the match performance from Blind.
Little goalmouth incident saw a 0-0 half-time score line.
Van Gaal made a half-time substitution removing Rojo and introducing Tim Fosu-Mensah. This was not that much of a surprise as Rojo had struggled in the first half, being regularly caught out of position and regularly giving the ball away when under pressure from the Everton press. He had been bailed out by Blind on several occasions. The change saw Darmian switch to the left and Fosu-Mensah move slot in at right back.
United at the start of the second half and Fosu-Mensah; introduced at half-time
The pattern of the game was much the same at the start of the second half but the tempo of United’s play was a bit quicker. Then seemingly from nowhere they scored.
The goal was significantly as a consequence of a quick diagonal forward pass from the left towards the right. This pass was delivered by Schneiderlin and controlled by Mata. He passed the ball inside quickly to Lingard who flicked it into the path of Fosu-Mensah. He was on a surging run through the inside right half space from where he drove a low cross across the face of the box. This beat everybody except Martial who slide the ball home at the far post. Boom! 54 minutes 1-0.
The key to the goal was a quick early diagonal pass and an increase of tempo in the passing to exploit space available on the opposite side.
Shortly after the goal United made their second substitution removing Carrick and introducing Herrera. This substitution made a significant difference. Herrera injected pace into United’s play simply by showing urgency and moving the ball quickly. Schnedierlin was now the player to stay deeper and Herrera became the player to push on. Shortly before the goal Lingard had moved to the centre with Mata moving out wide. This all worked well with Mata now playing a much more fluid role. Despite generally starting on the right his positioning was flexible and he tended to move inside. For many Mata is United’s best number 10 so it is ironic that when he starts centrally always seems significantly less effective than when he starts wider. Starting in the centre he often fails to provide a passing option but when he starts wider he often seems to provide this.
United’s formations in the middle of the second half and towards the end of the game
The other notable point was that Lingard as the number 10 did provide this option. He dropped deep, he pushed high and his natural energy disturbed Everton causing them real problems. His pace and flexibility was a handful when he was in possession and he led United’s press well when Everton had the ball. United had pressed throughout but their pressing seemed much more effective now, perhaps as a consequence of Lingard moving to the centre but perhaps as a consequence of now having a lead to preserve.
Late in the game Everton rallied, especially after Blind was forced to leave the field injured in the 82nd minute. He was replaced by Valencia who took up position at right back with Fosu-Mensah moving to centre-back. Fosu-Mensah therefore finished an excellent half in the middle of the defence where he looked just as confident and robust as he had looked in the fullback position.
Final score 1-0.
This was a really poor first half display from United, Everton were by far the more dynamic team. They positioned Lennon immediately behind Lukaku and he led the Everton press with great energy. Other players didn’t always back him up though often leaving a gap between Lukaku and Lennon and those further back. This all meant that Barkley was usually deeper than is normal. The advantage of this was that Everton closed down Carrick and Schneiderlin who ended up passing the ball square all the time. United played themselves into trouble and often lost the ball. Everton should have made more of the chances to hurt United in their own half. The disadvantage was that Barkley was too deep for his passing to have potency in and around the final this which was probably the reason that Everton did not hurt United.
The goal and the introduction of Herrera changed the game. His energy increased the tempo of United’s play and allowed them to more readily beat the Everton press by moving the ball more quickly. The other key change was moving Lingard to a central position as a number 10 and Mata moving wider. Lingard energy and forward looking purpose in the middle of the pitch made United more dynamic and gave the deeper players a more mobile passing target. This was enough to make the difference.