A solid defensive show from the Blues characterised by some heroic defending was undone by a late goal from Hernandez as the Blues unbeaten run deservedly came to an end at Old Trafford.
United opened up with in a 4-4-2 deploying Rooney just off Javier Hernandez. To cope with United’s wingers, the Blues dropped their 4-2-3-1 system in favour of a 4-4-1-1 with Coleman restored to the right side of midfield and tasked with doubling up with Neville to counter United’s main creative force Nani.
Blues park the bus
The Blues showed good defensive cohesion in the first half with 2 banks of 4 containing United fairly well for the most part. Defensively, our strategy was clear; let United have the ball and only press when they got 30-35 yards from our goal.
Attacking wise we had hardly any threat; our midfield and specifically our 2 centre mids defended deep meaning Beckford was isolated on the half way line and thus balls played up to him where mostly long and aerial. Hibbert has played well in recent weeks but he looked shaky defensively and when on the ball he opted for long balls – his passing completion of 57% was well below our team average of 72% – this meant that when we did get the ball on the right possession was quickly surrendered.
As most opposition sides have done have done this season, United were focusing much of their passing down our defensively vulnerable left side, with Valencia’s cross for Nani which almost led to the opening goal an example. Anderson was the games stand out performer with his 84% pass completion well above United’s team average of 76%.
The worrying issue for the Blues as the first half reached its conclusion was our inability to force any sustained period of possession in the United half – we didn’t make a successful pass into the United 18 yard box until the 35th minute! One of the key reasons for this is that the ball wasn’t sticking up front and enabling us to bring midfielders into play and occupy the United half.
Beckford has shown this season that he is Premier League standard inside the box but Championship (at best) outside the opposition 18 yard box. This was the key reason Moyes switched things at half time bringing on the stronger physical force of Anichebe and Cahill. This worked well, resulting in the Blues having their most sustained period of play in the United half after the interval.
Looking at the stats, in the first half Everton won 2 out of 11 aerial challenges in the Man Utd half (18%) compared with 8 out of 16 (50%) following the introduction of Anichebe and Cahill. Anichebe in particular did well when coming on, winning 4/4 of his aerial duels and offering more in behind than Beckford had done in the first half.
United attack down the flanks.
As noted in the preview, United under Ferguson always setup with 2 attacking wingers playing high up the pitch. The Blues seemed happy for United to have the ball in wide areas, confident we could repel crosses with our aerial power at the back (only 3 of United’s 35 crosses connected with a United player). Of course, the winning goal came from a cross but was a result of Distin’s error and consequently being dragged out of position leaving us a man light in the box. Despite United’s overwhelming possession and territorial dominance, it was one of the few moments in the match Everton’s defensive shape had been compromised, but ultimately it would prove decisive.
This was a solid defensive display by the Blues – ultimately we couldn’t keep the ball when we got it in the United half which led to wave after wave of United pressure culminating in the winning goal. Overall you couldn’t argue with the result – United were the only team who tried to win the game and despite our brave endeavour at the back we didn’t have enough quality in the United half.