1. 4-4-1-1 v 4-2-3-1 The key differential in terms of formation was United’s wide players were deployed further up the pitch to press our fullbacks. Everton opened up 4-4-1-1 with Osman starting very advanced in close proximity to Saha. Coleman was wide right and Billy was asked to occupy the left flank. An initial look at United’s personnel would hint that Ferguson was going on the offensive but the opposite was true. United were more 4-2-3-1 with Welbeck and Park playing high up field and Rooney pivoting between supporting Hernandez but mostly as a third central midfielder. Rooney played this role well – adding physicality to United’s midfield and providing the passing range they have missed since Scholes retirement.
2. Blues outnumbered in midfield United started the game the better and got the opening goal just before the 20 minute mark. This was due in large part to the fact that in the opening period the Blues were outnumbered 3v2 in central midfield – United making 150 passes to our 116 in this period. With Osman advanced and Rooney sitting more in midfield alongside Cleverley & Fletcher, United had an extra man meaning Rodwell & Fellaini were being bypassed by United midfield triangles. Moyes made the call to ask Osman to sit deeper in midfield to go 3 v 3 with United and from this point the Blues took control of possession making more passes (394 v 333) for the remainder do the game. We also bossed territorial dominance with 33% of the game being played in United’s half compared to 24% in our own area of the pitch which led to more shots (19 v 7) – however De Gea was forced into few meaningful saves.
3. Baines nullified Perhaps mindful of last season when 2 Baines deliveries rescued Everton in injury time, Ferguson played the more defensively astute Park on the right wing – he and Welbeck pinned back the Everton fullbacks for the most part. Whilst there is little point in doing this with Hibbert who provides minimal going forward, eliminating Baines basically takes out Everton’s most effective attacking weapon. Baines clearly misses a decent left sides partner – he received just 5 passes from Billy/Barkley combined and is working on scraps at the moment. United made a massive 20 interception in total, with Park registering 25% of these. He was specifically blocking off the angle to the supply coming into Baines leading to the roaming wingback registering just 1 successful cross in the entire game.
4. United target our right side United had distinctly less of the ball and seemed to be looking to keep the game tight. The chalkboard shows just how little of the ball they actually had in terms of playing the ball into our box – however there seemed a deliberate ploy to work play out to our right side – (46%) rather than our left (27%) – and eventually this led to the goal when Evra whipped in for Hernandez to convert. Hibbert found Welbeck’ pace and ball control difficult to combat and prior to the goal United almost took the lead when a similar move led to a clear cut chance for Park who hit a tepid shot into Howard’s body. Chelsea recently exploited our right side a few weeks ago, plundering all 3 goals from this area.
5. Familiar lack of incision costs The players worked really hard and more than matched United’s endeavour but we simply lack the final ball to make the possession count. We average just 1 through ball per game this season – the joint lowest in the division. We have sold our 2 most creative players and not replaced them and it shows. Today, Coleman had a fantastic game – alongside Fellaini he was our best player – and was the only midfielder to successfully pass a ball into United’s 18 yard box all-day. Osman was deployed in the ‘No.10’ role but was mute in behind Saha and often drifted out to the flanks leaving Saha isolated. Billy was replaced at half time having posted the lowest pass completion (70%) out of any of the starting line-ups. It was even more galling given the impact of Drenthe last week – a player who has genuine penetration in his locker. Whilst I think Fellaini and Rodwell are both good players, neither is the deep lying playmaker we crave.
There was an air of inevitability about this one. The Blues huffed and puffed a lot but were kept at arms length for the most part by a stubborn United rearguard marshalled superbly by the commanding Vidic. This was a much improved display to the feeble spanking at the Bridge though and with some winnable fixtures coming up – plus the return of Rosyton – the onus is now on the Blues to put some form together between now and the festive period.