Manchester United Lack Direction, Penetration and Shape; Everton Kill on Counter

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Manchester United Lack Direction, Penetration and Shape; Everton Kill on Counter
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

David Moyes endured a woefully disappointing return to Goodison Park on Sunday, watching his Manchester United side lose 2-0 to Everton and allowing the Toffees a clean sweep of his troops for the season.

Phil Jones conceded a penalty for pulling off a diving save in the box in the first half—Leighton Baines converted—then Kevin Mirallas fired home from an acute angle just before half-time.

It was the worst United have looked for some time and just so happened to coincide with their manager's return to his old stomping ground. Goodison Park shouted "Moysie Moysie give us a wave!" throughout the match, teasing the Scot over the contrasting fortunes of the clubs in question.

Let's take a tactical look at the match and how it played out.

 

Formations and XIs

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Everton played a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with Steven Naismith behind Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley operating from the left.

Manchester United chose a possession-hungry 4-2-3-1 themselves, with Shinji Kagawa left, Juan Mata central and Nani floating aimlessly across the pitch from the right. Chris Smalling, not Phil Jones, manned the right-back spot.

 

United clueless in attack

The pattern of the game became quite clear from the off, with Everton sitting off and allowing Manchester United possession of the ball in every third of the pitch.

The Red Devils ended up with 61 percent possession in total, leading David Moyes to suggest his side played "quite well" in the post-match press conference, but it was all what's become known as pointless possession.

The organisation—or lack of, in this instance—of United's approach and midfield was self-destructive, with certain players harming their own team's chances of scoring by wandering too far from their positions and refusing to make penetrative runs.

Wayne Rooney was the chief culprit here, point-blank refusing to surge in behind Everton's centre-backs and invited short, sharp passes rather than penetrative, raking ones.

Everton were perfectly happy for Juan Mata to get on the ball (96 total touches) so long as he had no outlet to pick out, and United's players seemed wholly unable to work out how to get themselves into strong positions.

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Smalling provided an out-ball when possible, but his ability in tight areas is suspect, and he was swamped out by the presence of Leighton Baines or his own poor touches more often than not. Alexander Buttner looked scared of Seamus Coleman and scared of leaving space behind. Nani drifted around harmlessly, ruining United's balance and width, and Rooney dropped too deep too often and nullified himself as a threat.

United made plenty of passes in the final third—154 to be exact—but few penetrated the box, and the ones that did were largely unsuccessful.

No shape, no penetration, no runs, no organisation.

 

Everton masterful in their work-rate, positioning and counters

As bad as United were, take nothing away from Everton who played a phenomenal, near-perfect game of football.

The Toffees sat deep without the ball, stacked their defensive line like they did at White Hart Lane just a few months ago and countered with pace.

They lost 1-0 the last time they tried this, but they were missing Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman—two players who played seismic roles in the win on Sunday afternoon.

Coleman, in particular, got the beating of Buttner early on and tortured him for the rest of the game, running directly at him and twisting him inside out. Naismith moved the ball quickly from player to player, and Lukaku led the charge centrally, frightening the centre-backs with every surge.

Roberto Martinez's side frequently caught United three-on-three, bypassing Michael Carrick/Darren Fletcher with ease and working a strong goalscoring chance.

The penalty, via a Phil Jones panic-induced handball, and Kevin Mirallas' strike were both works of counter-attacking art. Had the decision-making been better, or if Naismith had brought his shooting boots, it could easily have been more.

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Barkley underwhelmed on the left on paper, but he was merely part of a three-pronged attacked that was designed to carry the ball over long distances on the counter. His dribbling ability convinced Martinez to try him there, and he did his job aptly.

Naismith was a key performer in every department, buzzing around United's midfield in possession and acting as a conduit for the ball on the counter. Once a scapegoat, the Scot is now integral to Everton's approach.

John Stones was aggressive when required and looked positionally excellent—again. James McCarthy put in a shift ahead of the defensive line, ensuring Mata and Co. had no time to stabilise themselves for a killer ball.

 

Afterthoughts

A nightmare afternoon for Moyes in which he was out-thought, his side were outclassed and the changing fortunes of both clubs came irrepressibly to the fore.

Coleman battered Buttner, McCarthy dominated midfield and, even when Sylvain Distin bowed out to leave the Toffees with two "reserve" defenders, United barely had a sniff.

Every defeat weakens Moyes' position, yet every victory appears irrelevant.

 

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