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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Everton 1-1 Manchester United | United’s build up play and Everton’s compact structure in defending

Raghunandhanan Narasimhan writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Premier League match that ended Everton 1-1 Manchester United.

Everton hosted Manchester United at Goodison Park as the two teams were desperate for a win following a poor run of results. Everton had only one win in the last eight matches while United had one in seven. Languishing beneath the European spots with the teams above them racking up points consistently, it was imperative that both teams look for the win in order to stay within touching distance of those at top.

Line Ups


Everton( 4-4-2): 22. Stekelnburg; 23. Coleman 5. Williams 25. Funes Mori 3. Baines; 17. Gueye 18. Barry 14. Bolasie 15. Cleverley; 11. Mirallas 10. Lukaku

Manchester United(4-3-3): 1. De Gea; 25. Valencia 4. Jones 5. Rojo 36. Darmian; 16. Carrick 21. Herrera 6. Pogba; 11. Martial 22. Mkhitaryan 9. Ibrahimovic

Poor link up play from Everton

The game was of a scrappy nature as both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm. This was especially the case in the opening minutes as neither team could manage to hold on to the ball and string a sequence of passes together. This was because both United and Everton were keen on pressing the ball and cutting the passing options. There were different methods adopted by both the teams to navigate their way through.


When the Everton defenders had the ball, United moved quickly to mark the immediate passing options. We see that Martial, Pogba and Herrera have the Everton midfielders in their cover shadows so that the midfielders cannot even receive and move the ball in one touch. This forced Everton to kick the ball up field. As the game wore on though, Everton showed an inclination for such play as they sought to use Lukaku’s strength and even Bolasie to win aerial duels and take control of the second balls. With Lukaku coming deep to win the aerial balls, Mirallas and Bolasie made runs in behind to capitalise on the through balls.

United were in a 4-1-4-1 formation when Everton had possession. With Zlatan not expected to contribute much defensively, United let the Everton defenders have possession while their central midfielders Barry and Gueye were closely watched.

There is no Everton player to receive the ball when Funes Mori comes out with the ball. Similar to how Barry and Gueye are narrow, Pogba and Herrera demonstrate width to mark them. Mirallas does not drop in between Carrick and the midfield to receive the pass. This passivity led to Everton being extremely scrappy in their build up.

The above situation resulted from a Everton throw in deep inside United’s half. Five Everton players are seen in the last line of United’s defence. With the central midfield trio of United staying compact, we can notice how Everton have no easy vertical passing options with the two players on the far side being in the cover shadows of United’s players.

United’s build up play and Everton’s compact structure in defending

Everton played in a 4-4-2 formation which was unexpected as both Mirallas and Bolasie had started. Mirallas slotted in alongside Lukaku and had a free role. The Everton structure was prominent in the way they set up when they were out of possession. They played long balls from the back and started pressing United when the second ball was lost in the United half.


With Carrick dropping deep to receive possession, Everton had the remaining passing options covered. Their two man central midfield of Barry and Gueye was very man oriented as Gueye was always on the heels of Pogba. Barry was onto Herrera when he had the ball as these two combinations cancelled out each other. Idrissa Gueye especially went out of his zone and had a more man oriented pressing, often following Pogba when he went to receive the ball.


We see in this above situation that Pogba who has gone to receive the ball in the space vacated by Carrick is being followed by Gueye, whose primary job was to make sure that Pogba cannot turn and run towards the Everton goal freely. Mirallas who had a roaming role was also instrumental in making sure the passing lanes were cut down vertically.

Everton, with this pressing scheme, made sure that the ball was sent to the flanks and sent upfield via long balls. The man oriented pressing along the vertical axis is seen here as Everton make sure that the ball cannot be sent towards the center so that Carrick can switch play. Valencia can bypass the press by chipping the ball to Rojo. This was avoided by Cleverley pressing Valencia, covering Valencia’s left side so that he is forced to go down the flank. United had Ibrahimovic up front but could not always win the second ball as there were not many players up front to win the second ball.
Despite the erratic nature of play, United were better in terms of their build up and were crisp with their passing. Their play in the final third let them down as they couldn’t fashion out many clear cut chances with the Everton defence holding out solidly. Everton were very narrow and compact in the center. Added to this, the close marking on Pogba and Herrera meant that the wide areas were free.


With Pogba in possession, we can notice that there are 4 Everton players within 20-25 yards on the left hand side of Man United as they try to limit the passing options forward. This however meant that a switch in play can lead to stretching the play without pressure with the ball being fed to Valencia (unseen in the picture) in this case. The four players on the farther side included Mirallas who dropped down to help cover the zone meaning that Tom Cleverley can move to the ball and press Valencia on the far side.

United’s attacks were based upon quick interchanges of play between their front men- Zlatan. Mkhitaryan, Pogba and Martial. Valencia’s presence meant that Mkhitaryan could drift inside, something which has become a feature of United’s play. United however were reluctant to cross the ball much, relative to the number of times they managed to get the ball out wide. Ibrahimovic’s movement was necessary for United to bypass Everton’s resistance as Gueye in particular, had a very good game. He was successful in disrupting United’s play. With Zlatan dropping, it meant that the extra passing option was now available and United could switch play through him.

We see here that Herrera has all his passing options nearby covered, so Zlatan drops deep to receive the ball. Only the ball-far full back Valencia is left free.


Once Zlatan receives the ball, notice how Martial and Mkhitaryan have moved to the inside and are marked by the Everton defenders. The narrowness exhibited by Barry and Gueye meant that the wide areas are free but Cleverley( circled on the far side) has made sure that the switch to Valencia is avoided with his presence there. However, with the extra passing option available United could build their play well with short passes. United’s crossing from wide areas was very poor in general. Added to this, a lack of runners beyond the Everton line of defence meant that their play was a bit predictable despite swift passing.

Everton attack down the flanks and play long balls

Everton’s build up play was very much dependent on long balls from the back being won by Lukaku. In the second half, after Deolefeu had come on for Cleverley and Enner Valencia on for Bolasie, the system was a straight forward 4-4-2 with Lukaku and Valencia on top. With Deulofeu shifting to the right and Mirallas on the left, Everton started throwing the ball into the box in search of an equaliser. The pattern of play did not change for Everton though as they still did not find enough passing options to play their way through United.

Notice how the forwards and their left winger( Cleverley) have positioned themselves near the United back line. In addition to Barry also finding himself up there to have supported the play initially, Everton have no one to receive the ball from Gueye, who is in possession now in the central areas. This structure of theirs, also made them susceptible on the counter if they lost possession in those areas.

This was exactly the case to follow as Cleverley lost possession up field and United countered via Zlatan dropping deep and releasing Pogba through the middle. Notice how narrow the two Everton players get caught against Zlatan with Barry still not having dropped back. The counter lead to a 3v3 situation at the back and Mkhitaryan had an effort blocked. Herrera subsequently struck the post after United exploited the space down the right flank.


This is another example of Everton’s deficiency in build up later in the half and as a result ended up attacking via the wings again. But this did give them the chance of throwing everyone into the box and knock on United’s door. David de Gea was definitely the busier of the two keepers as he made some good saves when called upon. Baines and Coleman (Holgate, after he came in for Coleman) are competent full backs and helped in attacking down the flanks. Rojo and Jones were adept at dealing the crosses and made sure Lukaku couldn’t impose himself in the box.


The nature of the goals scored by both the teams highlighted the way the game had panned out. Both the teams cancelled each other out throughout the game and probably did not do enough to win. United were once again susceptible in the latter stages of the game after having taken a lead. While United scored through Ibrahimovic in the 42nd minute after an error in judgement by Stekelenburg, Everton equalised through a Baines penalty. The poor form continues for both the teams, though Jose Mourinho will definitely rue his side’s inability to kill off games having seen Ander Herrera strike the bar in the second half and concede in the 89th minute due to a poor tackle in the box by Fellaini.

Read all our Tactical Analyses here.

Raghunandhanan Narasimhan
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