Teams & Formations
Everton lined up in the usual 4-4-1-1 with the same forward 6 players that played in the 4-4 draw at Old Trafford in May. Further back, Distin’s superior pace gave him the nod ahead of the unfortunate Heitinga. United went in with a 4-2-3-1 with Welbeck and Nani on the flanks with new signing Kagawa in ‘the hole’ behind Rooney. Rio Ferdinand’s injury meant that Carrick was deployed at centre half with Valencia at right back. The game played out in a familiar manner, with 2 distinctive phases of play.
Phase 1 – Aggressive Attacking
Our main strategy was to maximise the colossal threat of Fellaini, playing a more direct game perhaps in response to United’s central defensive injury crisis. The Belgian was immense; as we noted last season our goals output goes up 50% in the games he plays in an advanced role to those he plays as a defensive midfielder. The Belgian received the ball 28 times in the final third last night with 49 touches in the final third which was more than any player from either side.
His aerial prowess was crucial and in a more than deliberate tactic we looked to bypass Vidic and get the ball forward to Fellaini who was looking to pull onto the back of United’s fullbacks to win diagonal balls from Howard and Baines. This perhaps doesn’t do Fellaini justice – his chest control for example is better than anyone in the Premier League by a distance. He made plenty of gains and United couldn’t handle his physical prowess as the game developed. Firstly he outmuscled Valencia and rolled Carrick to hit the post, and then he provided a knock down for Osman to strike the bar.
It was third time unlucky for United though; Fellaini again dominated Carrick (the hapless stand-in centre back won just 28% of his aerial duels) as the curly haired dynamo shrugged off his attention to arrow home a great Darron Gibson centre to send Goodison into raptures.
For detail on passing tempo and various other nerding view EB’s Post Match Stats Dashboard
Phase 2 – Containment
With the goal in the bag ‘Operation Goodison’ shutdown commenced. United dominated possession, moving from 64% control in the first half to 69% in the second. This is nothing new for us though. For example, the wins against Man City, Chelsea, Spurs & Swansea last season were achieved with an average possession of just 35% with Moyes happy to retreat 10 yards, concede possession and get as many men behind the ball as possible.
Whilst United dominated possession (692 v308 passes), they were less incisive getting the ball into the box and creating threatening chances. The Blues had significantly less touches (571 v 933) but crucially we had more touches in United ‘s penalty box than they did ours (42 v 27) with us having 22% of our chances in their 6 yard box compared to United’s 0% in ours. The below image shows this nicely with United’s passing meeting a brick wall around our penalty box…..
With the centre of the pitch congested United were attacking down the flanks rather than utilise Kagawa through the middle with an emphasis on crossing which we were happy with given our organisation and prowess in defending such situations. United’s crossing accuracy was poor with just 17% accuracy, half the figure we chalked up. Van Persie’s introduction on the right side had limited rewards and he cut something of a peripheral figure as United continued to chase the game with minimal gains.
Jagielka’s display in the defensive phase was crucial; he won a crucial one on one with Welbeck following a great through ball from Kagawa and then foiled United’s best chance of the game, sensing the danger to clear Cleverleys shot of the line. Distin also performed heroically with some crucial headers at the death.
This was a classic Everton display of recent times and was very much an extension of what happened from January onwards last season at Goodison. On this form Fellaini is unplayable and his aggression combined with our ability to win the second balls around him were crucial in the attacking phase of play. Defensively we are resolute – Goodison is a real fortress with 7 clean sheets in our last 10 games at home – and in truth we never looked like conceding with United creating little from their large share of possession. In summary, this was a well deserved victory and a great start to the campaign.