EVERTON vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Having reached the semi-final of the League Cup by scoring four goals on the previous Wednesday United now returned to league action with a visit to Merseyside. This was a chance for United to put some distance between themselves and Everton who sat just behind United in the table before the game.
In: Darmian and Pogba.
Out: Shaw and Rooney.
- Another game where United were on top for most of the match but failed to win. In truth however unlike other recent games this was a poor disjointed scrappy performance whatever the manager might have said post-match. United didn’t deserve much more than the draw.
- Throughout the game United gave the ball away needlessly. In the first half this had a particular effect on United’s attacking play. In the last twenty minutes this had a massive effect on their ability to resist Everton’s late onslaught.
- Mourinho’s substitutions didn’t work after Koeman’s had changed the game with his own substitutions. Rashford, starved of service couldn’t get into the game and Fellaini proved a liability conceding an unnecessary penalty even if it was his naivety compounding his clumsiness which was exploited by an obvious dive. Pogba was the player really at fault here allowing Gueye to run untracked.
- The balance of United’s midfield was not right here; playing a 4-2-3-1 with Pogba in the number 10 role and Carrick and Herrera deeper works in theory but despite Carrick’s influence united were on top in the game but never really in control.
- Mkhitaryan continues to impress. He did not excell here but his gradual improvement is something United really need to have patience with as he is clearly a real talent with his close control and vision, which means he has the ability to play in between the lines in dangerous areas. He isn’t the first player United have signed from Borussia Dortmund who could do this. Let’s hope our current manager puts greater faith in him than in previous managers did with Mr Kagawa.
The most significant change from the side who faced West Ham in United’s previous mid-week fixture was the return of Pogba in place of Rooney. Rooney would consider he was unlucky given that he had an excellent game in the League Cup quarter final victory. Both teams set up in a 4-2-3-1 which meant Pogba in the number 10 role for United. For Everton Lukaku lead the line with Mirallas behind, Bollasie to the right and United old boy Tom Cleverley to the left.
United’s first half shape and Henrkh Mkhitaryan, continuing in the side
The first half was a fairly scrappy affair with both sides giving the ball away far too easily and in United’s case at critical moments. There was a clear contrast in each sides approach however despite their similar team shapes and failings. Everton tended to hit long early balls towards Lukaku with the aim of then developing play off him. This didn’t really work for them as United’s central defensive pair coped with his physicality well. Jones tended to pick up the Everton man and he had an excellent game. There were only a couple of occasions in the half where Everton were successful with this strategy, United usually moped the ball up and as a consequence Everton had no real clear cut chances in the half.
United’s approach was less direct. They tended to build up play from the back through midfield and into the final third. Everton competed well for everything and maintained a good defensive shape. This meant that when United reached the final third they tended to be outnumbered and lost the ball. The final pass in and around the box was not really good enough and it looked like the half would remain a stalemate.
Ibrahimovic drifting more to the left and Martial hugging he touchline
One feature of the half is worth noting and that is that United’s attacking play tended to focus on the left. Pogba has a natural tendency to move to that side. Ibrahimovic also moved that way and whether by accident or design this pulled Mkhitaryan in field. Martial, starting on the left hugged the touchline. This movement focused pressure on Williams rather than the potentially weaker Funes Mori.
Carrick and Herrera, a more even spread of action areas across the width of the pitch
Then just when it looked like the half time score would be 0-0 United scored. Ironically given United’s more patient build up play this goal came from a swift move up field. Martial picked up the ball a played a quick long early ball into the inside left position towards Ibrahimovic. When the pass was made Williams was covering Ibrahimoivic but was caught flat footed as Zlatan ran beyond him. Inexplicably Stekelenburg came racing off his line and the United man lobbed the ball over him and into the net via the cross bar. 42 minutes played 1-0. Boom!
It had been a scrappy half and United were perhaps lucky to be in front.
United’s general play improved after the break. For about 25 minutes they were on top and perhaps should have gone on to score more. The general pattern of the game remained the same, but the difference was that United’s movement and passing was sharper. Herrera had a good chance which hit the bar but despite this better play they did not create that many clear cut chances and failed to extend their lead.
Still in the game and with the hope of salvaging something Koeman made three changes in the 65th , 67th and 68th minutes. Firstly he brought on Deulofeu for Tom Cleverley and then Enier Valencia for Bolasie. This changed the shape of the Everton side from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. Effectively Valencia became the second support striker to Lukaku. Meanwhile Mirallas moved from the number 10 position to wide left and Deulofeu moved to a wide right position. Holgate also replaced Coleman.
These changes suited Everton’s more direct approach as they now had two target men to aim at. So commenced a late onslaught on the United goal. With wide players pushing forward Everton still targeted the long ball towards Lukaku, but with high wide players he was more able to push the ball wide and then head for the box. Everton also had the option of the long ball into the corner. Suddenly Ibrahimovic was looking increasingly isolated up front and the game began to pass Pogba by. United seemed to accept that the task now was to try and hold out rather than look for the second goal and gradually dropped deeper and deeper.
Unfortunately this meant that when United won the all and tried to move up the pitch they just kept giving it back to Everton and so the attacks kept coming back in waves. United needed to get hold of the ball and keep it. They didn’t but it looked as if they might hang on as the time wore on courtesy of a couple of excellent saves by De Gea. United then made two late substitutions. In the 83rd minute Rashford replaced Martial, perhaps in an attempt to catch Everton on the break. The service out of defence was so poor however than he was not able to get into the game.
United’s second substitution on 85 minutes saw Fellaini replace Mkhitaryan. What followed next has resulted in considerable comment since the game but Mourinho’s post-match comments were correct. The logic of this change was sound; in the face of an aerial onslaught positioning Fellaini in front of the back four should provide extra protection to the defence. The problem here though was that in the 89th minute Pogba let Gueye run free past him into the box. When he received a pass Fellaini had to get close to him quickly and this gave the Everton man the chance to dive in the box. A reasonably convincing tumble saw a penalty award. Why did Pogba not track Gueye?
Baines stepped up to score. 1-1.
Another frustrating performance where United were the better side but did not win. The draw was probably a fair result however given that this was such a scrappy performance.
On the plus side there was another good performance from Mkhitaryan and another solid display from Jones who seemed to relish the physical battle with Lukaku. His display was more measured, less rash than we have seen from him in the past and that is to be welcomed; perhaps he has learnt lessons from his long absences through injury.
United must start winning.