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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis | Manchester United 2-1 Everton : McNair shackles Lukaku, Everton sit deep and Blind orchestrates proceedings


Manchester United 2-1 Everton | The fixture list has been contrasting for the two teams as they’ve both endured disappointing starts to the campaign. On paper, United had a relatively easy start to the season but in reality it has been far from smooth sailing as they’ve tried to find their feet under Van Gaal. For Everton, playing Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United all in the first 7 games isn’t what Martinez would have wanted and their low points tally heading into the game represents just that. As it stood both sides would have fancied their chances of obtaining a result ahead of the International break.

 

Made using Tactical Pad

Made using Tactical Pad

Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, McNair, Rojo, Shaw (Blackett 71′); Blind, Valencia (Fellaini 79′), Di Maria, Mata, Van Persie, Falcao (Wilson 73′).

Everton: Howard; Hibbert (Browning 77′), Stones, Jagielka, Baines; Besic, Barry, Naismith, Pienaar (Oviedo 64′), McGeady (Osman 77′), Lukaku.

Goals: Di Maria 27′, Falcao 62′ || Naismith 55′


United stick to their off the ball game plan and McNair shackles Lukaku

United and Van Gaal have moved on from the 3 at the back system but there are still a lot of the same aspects of their play in their diamond midfield; aspects of Van Gaal’s much talked about philosophy. Indeed most of the off the ball game plan has stayed the same. The pressing game has been all the rage in the recent past but it is only a marginal aspect of United’s game. Instead, Van Gaal prefers a combination of man marking and spatial awareness to choke the opponents. When the opposition have the ball, the overall shape of the team stays largely the same. Most of the outfield players have designated areas of the pitch and corresponding opponents that they shadow up to a point. The player combinations that I would categorize under man-marking involve the number 10 Juan Mata, deep lying midfielder Daley Blind and centre-back Paddy McNair.

In the absence of the suspended Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata was deployed in the number 10 role. Aside from his attacking duties, he was tasked with sticking close to the opposition midfielder that dropped deep to pick the ball up and start attacking moves. This trend continued as Mata was more often than not in the proximity of Barry (and at times Besic) when they dropped in between the centre-backs.

Mata sticking close to the deepest Everton midfielder i.e. Barry in this case

Mata sticking close to the deepest Everton midfielder i.e. Barry in this case

In central midfield, Blind kept an eye on Naismith as he patrolled the area in front of the defence and effectively shielded the defence from the Everton attacks. The battle that most caught the eye though was between McNair and Lukaku in the first half. United’s central defence looked a bit bare at the end of the transfer window and it is a problem that has been compounded by injuries to the likes of Jones, Smalling, and Evans. Van Gaal has looked to the Academy for replacements and along with Blackett, young McNair has been entrusted with first team duties and has responded fantastically. After an impressive debut against West Ham, McNair was tasked with shadowing Lukaku. The defender not only held his own against the Belgian, he got the better of the latter. McNair followed Lukaku into wide areas and up-field playing an important role in ensuring the lack of Evertonian attacking threat in the first half. Everton sat deep throughout the first half and McNair keeping Lukaku quiet meant that the Merseyside club struggled to find an outlet and build attacks.

McNair tasked with marking Lukaku

McNair tasked with marking Lukaku

Everton sit deep in the first half and give Blind too much freedom

In Everton’s last outing against Liverpool, Lukaku was played in a wider role while Naismith played more centrally. Lukaku failed to effect proceedings and as expected Martinez opted for what seemed to be a 4-2-3-1 with Lukaku the main striker and Naismith the number 10 in behind him. One must also bear in mind the absence of McCarthy, an important cog in the Everton midfield which meant that a change of shape was on the cards. However, it soon became apparent that Naismith had a much deeper role. When United had the ball, Everton quickly transitioned to a 5 man midfield sitting deep in their own half with sporadic pressing from the likes of Pienaar. Naismith slotted into a 3 man central midfield and the emphasis was on staying compact and difficult to break down.

Everton transitioned to a 5 man midfield when United had the ball

Everton transitioned to a 5 man midfield when United had the ball

This rigid deep midfield was designed to thwart the United attack but what it did was provide Daley Blind with far too much space in the first half. United had major problems with playing the ball out of attack in the early games of this campaign but Blind’s inclusion has addressed this, as seen very evidently against Everton. The Dutchman specializes in seeking out space in central midfield and circulating possession and giving him so much space was always going to hurt the away side.

Thus, it came as no surprise that Blind started the move that resulted in Di Maria’s opening goal as shown in the graphic below. Having picked up the ball in his own half, blind has a good 15-20 yards of space to drive into and ample time to pick out his pass. Not one to pass up on such an opportunity, Blind did just that and found Rafael on the right wing. Fast forward 20 seconds and it is 1-0 to United.

Blind has the freedom of Old Trafford in the build up to the Di Maria goal

Blind has the freedom of Old Trafford in the build up to the Di Maria goal

Another by product of Everton sitting deep was that United weren’t shy of letting fly from range. The likes of Di Maria and the aforementioned Blind often found themselves in space and tried to test Howard from distance. The stats back up this observation as United attempted 6 shots from outside the box in the first half alone.

United attempted a fair share of shots from outside the box. 6 shots alone in the 1st half is a sizable amount

United attempted a fair share of shots from outside the box. 6 shots alone in the 1st half is a sizable amount

To his credit, Martinez took steps to address this problem after the break as he moved Naismith back into his more natural role up top and Lukaku was shifted to a wider role on the left. This attacking move bore fruit almost immediately as Everton started the second half brightly. Naismith not only provided the equalizer but also was much closer to Blind in the second half.

United try to expose Everton’s right but wasteful crossing limits the damage

For the second week in a row, Seamus Coleman was solely missed at right-back. The Irishman has emerged as a key player for Everton and in his absence, it was left to Tony Hibbert to fill in. Hibbert has been a great servant to Everton and has always been solid defensively. However to ask him to keep Di Maria and Shaw quiet in what is the final stages of his career is a seemingly insurmountable task. To his credit, he did well on many a occasion as he ensured that he wasn’t caught one on one against the likes of Di Maria, electing instead to back off and give himself a head start in case the Argentine tried to dribble past him and penetrate the penalty area.

Di Maria and Shaw provided a sizable 22 crosses in between them. Graphic via squawka.com

Di Maria and Shaw provided a sizable 22 crosses in between them. Graphic via squawka.com

Early on most of the attacks came down United’s left hand side with Shaw also providing attacking impetus from his left-back position. With Falcao and Van Persie both showing excellent coordinated movement in the box, it seemed as if it was a matter of time before United took the lead through a move down the left. There were numerous chances created early in the game courtesy Shaw and Di Maria but United failed to capitalise. As the game wore on, United continued to eke out opportunities from the left flank but Di Maria’s uncharacteristically poor crossing let Everton off the hook.

Where does this leave them?

It was expected to be a close game and the scoreline reflects just that. United definitely had the better of the first half as they spent large parts of the half on the front foot. The opportunities created were largely limited to long range efforts but late penalty apart they were well in control. The second half represented a sterner test but an inspired performance in goal from De Gea ensured that the Manchester club head into the International break with an important 3 points and in a top 4 spot.

From Everton’s point of view, as mentioned early in the article, the opening fixtures of the season has been unforgiving. They would have fancied to get something away from Old Trafford though and on another day they might have. The International break gives Martinez’s men an opportunity to evaluate the start of the season and address the defensive issues that has plagued them.


Written by Arnab Ray

Arnab Ray

Arnab Ray

Arnab is an opinionated Bengaluru FC and Manchester United fan. Always up for a good football discussion/ petty argument.
Arnab Ray

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