Everton – Manchester United: Energetic Everton Dominate Directionless United From Start To End (4-0)
In a crucial late-season Premier League match, resurgent Everton comprehensively blitzed Champions League chasing Manchester United in an energetic display where they threatened and put United on the back foot from the first whistle to the last.
Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.
For Manchester United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Sunday afternoon’s match away to Everton at Goodison Park was almost a must-win match if they wanted to keep up their hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League. Everton, despite a rocky start under Marco Silva this season, have found form of late and have proved a match for many a top-side at home since the turn of the year. How would Manchester United react to their exit at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League? And how would Everton do the same following disappointment away to Fulham last weekend?
Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.
Following their recent exit in the Champions League, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and United only had the Premier League to focus on for the remainder of the season. This narrowed focus meant that squad rotation would be less of a focus for them as they battled out for a top four finish. United started the match in a 4-3-3 formation, which has been used in some form throughout Solskjær’s arrival at Old Trafford.
The balance of the three front players – in this case Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku, and Marcus Rashford – has usually remained the same. When United have altered their formation, it has come in the positioning of their midfielders: either a double pivot, 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. or a group of two advanced central players. With Nemanja Matić given the start at Goodison Park, it was very much the latter of the two options. In other alterations, Diogo Dalot and nominal center-back Victor Lindelöf played in the fullback positions.
Everton and Marco Silva have found success in their recent matches against top six clubs. However, after losing to already relegated Fulham last weekend, the Portuguese manager opted to make two changes personnel-wise to his 4-2-3-1 formation. André Gomes, a player blessed with his ability on the ball, was dropped in favor of the more robust and defensive Morgan Schneiderlin. While the Frenchman is no slouch in his position, it was clear that Everton brought him in to work alongside the industrious Idrissa Gueye to break up play and combat United’s offensive threat.
Everton’s 4-4-2 shape out of possession when United had the ball, as Matić sat ahead of the back four and Fred and Pogba attempted to get forward and join their front three.
Everton use set pieces and direct play
As is commonplace with matches involving the top sides at Goodison Park, the tempo from the very off was frenetic and the match was played end-to-end. With both sides struggling to sit into any passing rhythm, the game was characterized by quick transitions from Everton to try and utilize the pace of Bernard and Richarlison in their wide positions.
While Manchester United struggled to break down Everton in the final third, Everton constantly threatened from free kicks and corners. Somewhat predictably, the opening goal from Richarlison came from such a scenario: a long throw-in flicked into the Brazilian’s direction on the six-yard box where he finished acrobatically to give the Toffees an early lead.
Everton dominated the first half mainly due to the United’s inability to hold up possession whenever they attempted to create attacks going forward. Lukaku, Rashford and Martial all struggled to maintain the ball in the other half, and thanks to Everton’s compact 4-4-2 defensive shape, ball progression in the middle corridors of the pitch was nigh impossible. While it sounds a bit clichéd to say so, United’s mentality to fight and match the intensity of the home side seemed an important component for their struggles in the first half. Everton constantly hassled and harried the opposition into mistakes like sloppy passes or fifty-fifty balls into feet.
A deep role in central midfield for Schneiderlin.
Marco Silva’s decision to start with a much sturdier double pivot in the form of Gueye and Schneiderlin proved to be the correct decision. This strong midfield base gave Gylfi Sigurðsson license to bomb forward and run at United’s defense. Once again, the trends of the match rewarded Everton as a quick counterattack after United gave away possession led to an advanced Sigurðsson unleashing a fierce shot past David De Gea to double their lead.
Manchester United barely mustered anything substantial in the first forty-five minutes and much of this can be related to Paul Pogba and Fred’s inability to get on the ball and find passes forward. As noted previously Morgan Schneiderlin and Gueye screened them remarkably well and limited their time to execute.
From bad to worse
It was blatantly obvious that Manchester United needed to change something at half time if they wanted to salvage points from the game. In an attempt to do so, the apathetic Fred was replaced by Scott McTominay, and Phil Jones was replaced by Ashley Young. These substitutions would normally denote a change in shape for the away side, but Solskjær opted to keep the same 4-3-3 formation and simply hoped that a change in the players on the pitch would signal a change in their fortunes.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, the game would be out of sight within five minutes of the restart as another set piece was dealt with improperly. United failed to step out quickly enough on a corner punched clear by David De Gea and Lucas Digne fired the ball past a forest of bodies which screened the visibility of the goalkeeper. It was not as if Everton had not warned the opposition enough in the first half about the threat they carried on set-piece scenarios but the Red Devils had seemingly not learned. The lack of any real effort to close down Digne demonstrated the issues that United had shown for the entire match.
If things seemed as if they could not get much worse for Manchester United, sixty minutes into the match they did. A simple long ball over the top found the feet of Theo Walcott – who had replaced the injured Richarlison – and the forward calmly slotted under De Gea into the far corner.
The match was effectively over with thirty minutes left to play, and it would have been quite easy for Marco Silva and Everton to drop off and see the match out in a deeper block. However, the home side continued to press with the same verve till the end of the game. This proved to be the correct decision.
While they obviously possessed an unassailable lead, United still possessed world-class players in the attacking regions of the pitch which could hurt them if given time and space. Similarly, from a tactical point of view, United’s shape still gave them a man-advantage in the center of the pitch. Any decreases in effort could see them threaten the final third of Everton more often and chip away at the home team’s lead. As it turned out, the remainder of the match was a walk-in-the-park for the home side and Manchester United were unable to muster any danger from there on out.
While Everton’s performance was remarkable, the story of the match will undoubtedly be how poor Manchester United were. In a match which could prove terminal in their hopes for a top-four finish in the league, Solskjær’s players were out fought and out battled from the first whistle to the last. Going forward in possession they were unable to generate a sustained threat with the ball in Everton’s final third, and without the ball they failed to deal with set pieces and the superior vitality of Marco Silva’s side.
As Manchester United continue their squad rebuild in the summer, one question must be answered. How will they play, stylistically? The current squad is a mish-mash of previous regimes, without any clear tactical similarity. If the club hope to get back into the higher echelons of English football, they need to instill an identity in their game from top to bottom.
Marco Silva has dealt with a fair deal of criticism this season, and understandably so. Everton have spent a vast sum on players this season, who have not panned out on the pitch. In recent weeks, however, the Portuguese manager has seemingly stabilized results at Goodison Park with a newfound formula: organized and committed football combined with spritzes of quality which make the difference in attack.
Sunday’s match was the perfect representation of this. Everton were a tough-nut to crack defensively, and made use of United’s disorganization in set pieces and counters to provide the finishing touch at the other end. If Silva is given more license to bring in transfer targets this summer, Everton fans could possibly have much to look forward to.
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