1.Teams and Formations
The Blues formation was much more adventurous than what many expected in this fixture. After Jelavic’s isolation lat week and Baines injury the game plan was to get bodies close to Jelavic and attack United from the first whistle. When we had the ball the system resembled 4-2-2-2 with Fellaini right up top with Jelavic and Osman/ Pienaar playing very narrow and in close proximity. When we lost possession it was more 4-5-1 with the Belgian joining Neville and Gibson to form a 3 man midfield and Pienaar and Osman dropping to support their fullbacks. Neville and Gibson anchored midfield and neither of which strayed past the half way line for the most part. United were very much 4-4-2 with Rooney partnering Welbeck up front with supply from the flanks via Nani and Valencia.
Average position/most touches heatmap…..
2. United’s right side
United were focusing attacks down their right flank more than their left (49%/25%) with Rafael (85) having more touches of the ball then any United player. Pienaar for us had a lot of joy from cutting inside on this flank as Rafael – perhaps showing a lack of maturity given his relative in-experience – appeared more comfortable with his attacking duties and mostly undecided as to whether to track Pienaar inside or leave him to a team mate – his indecision would prove costly as the game unfolded.
Further up the flank, Distin’s selection at left back worked pretty well and Pienaar supported him well in closing the angles of passes to Valencia and limiting the productivity with Valencia not making any successful crosses in the match. The Blues took the lead when a lovely passing build up worked the ball from left to right to Hibbert and with Nani foolishly not pushing him onto his weaker left foot the full back put in a great right footed delivery to Jelavic who rose to head home. This looked like a rehearsed cross targeting Rafael’s vulnerability in the air and Jelavic’s strength.
3. Welbeck turns game in United’s favour
Rooney’s equaliser just before half time meant that we started the second half on level terms. Welbeck drove United back into the driving seat of the game after half time and for a 20 minute spell we simply couldn’t handle him. He bagged 2 assists – 1 for the Rooney goal bearing a remarkable similarity to a Cole/Yorke goal against an opponent whose identity escapes me. Welbeck also got the goal of the game, made more dribbles and also had the best pass completion (91%) of any player on the pitch which for a player working in the final third is ace.
4. Fellaini on fire
With United hitting back and taking a 3-1 lead there were few who would have thought the Blues would muster a fight back especially after the events of last week. Evertonian’s will of course remember being 1-3 down not so long ago against United and taking a point at Goodison. Our maverick Belgian Fellaini was a key cog in our comeback, winning 7 aerial duels with his direct opponent’s Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in comparison winning just 1. The Belgian also teed up 5 opportunities for colleagues and pulled one back to make it 2-3 when Hibbert’s second assist of the game…yes that’s Hibbert’s second assist of the game.. was lashed home on the volley.
A crucial moment occured following Rooney’s 2nd and with United at 4-2 as Evra hit the post after good work again down the United right and a cross from Rafael. If it would have gone in and put United 5-2 up it would surely have been too big a gap for us to peg back. Soon after a straight aerial pass into United’s box led to Fellaini causing havoc and when the second ball dropped it was clinically dispatched by Jelavic on the half volley. The Croatian is absolutely ruthless with 8 goals now to his credit making him our top scorer. With United now visibly rocking the Blues again worked the ball down the United right side and again it was Pienaar finding space – not tracked by Rafael – ghosting into Utd’s box and converting a centre from the marauding Fellaini to level things up at 4-4.
This was a fantastic game and again showed the spirit and belligerence that exists in Moyes squad. At 1-3 and 2-4 down few would have offered us any hope whatsoever against a side that drop few points at home especially given that we only average 1 goal per game on our travels. The result was only the 3rd time a club had scored four or more goals at Old Trafford in the Premier League era and was a great tonic after the Wembley defeat last week.