For Everton, James McCarthy came back into the side with Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas shunted to the right flank. Neither wide man pushed up onto his fullback when possession was lost so the setup was 4-4-1-1 with Naismith in the hole behind Lukaku. Moyes played a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney leading the line with support from Kagawa, Mata and Nani. There was no room in the team for former toffee Marouane Fellaini.
Post match both managers claimed to have controlled the game, with Moyes commenting on his passing dominance and Martinez lauding his side’s counter attacking prowess. Who was right then? Well in terms of creating chances there was only one winner. United didn’t create a chance from open play in our box until the 86th minute, and overall their output in this respect was derisory, creating less than half the chances (6v13) compared to ourselves.
For us, the gameplan was similar to the Arsenal webbing as we seemed fairly happy to let United have possession, preferring instead to win the ball back in our half and break quickly. Our route to goal was characterised by being first to the loose balls and then igniting quick counter attacks with sharp, long passes – we made a third more long passes than United- and by breaking in numbers.
We looked particularly menacing down our right side with Moyes seemingly keen to prove he’s not a negative misery guts by pairing the comically bad Buttner with Kagawa, who afforded his bungling colleague little protection. Nobody won more loose balls than Mirallas – as was the case in the Arsenal game – with the Belgian making a game high 8 recoveries, all in his own half. Mirallas interaction with the relentless Coleman – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – was our key attacking weapon with the duo combined superbly for our second goal with Mirallas slotting home after some shoddy positioning from Buttner who kept him onside.
By this time of course it was already 1-0 after Baines cooly dispatched a penalty following Phil Jones handball of Lukaku’s goalbound shot. The move that led to this had come about from another long pass, this time from Barkley, and more good link up between Lukaku and Naismith. The Scot was again at the centre of all that was good for Everton. He featured in the build up to both goals, got in some great positions -and should have scored at least one – but it was his link up play which was the main feature of his game. Much is made of the mayhem our wingbacks cause in the opposition half, but it was Naismith who was the main out ball for their marauding with passes from the flanks infield from Coleman to Naismith (9) and Baines to Naismith (8) the most frequent from players in a blue shirt.
After the break United again played a high line and had more of the ball in our half but still looked out of ideas in terms of how to pull us out of our defensive shape and penetrate in behind, even when Distin was forced off due to injury. Yes, United were not great but they do have the best away record in the league and to restrict them to such few chances – their first shot on target in our box came on 76 minutes – was very impressive.
Moyes did try and mix things up with Valencia moving to right back, Smalling moving inside and further forward Rooney dropped deeper and Hernandez, and later Welbeck, became the main targetmen but there was to be no change in the dynamic of the contest.
Our general approach here was to sit deep, invite United onto us and then regain possession and start quick counter attacks. Yes, United had bags of possession and territory but they never looked like scoring and got picked off at will once we’d evaded the initial press – something which is a feature of the Martinez approach v Moyes. It was the Spaniard’s third win on the spin against his predecessor – all without conceding a goal. At the sharp end there was a lot of similarities with the Arsenal game and in particular with the speed in which we scored each goal after crossing the halfway line. In the end it was something of a comfortable victory and certainly the least nervy against United in many, many years.