Teams and Tactics
One of the interesting tactical posers pre match here was how we setup to combat former toffee Marouane Fellaini. The mad haired loon has recently received plaudits for his effective displays playing in the area of the pitch he did most damage for us, basically as a left of centre number ten. This role maximises his key strengths i.e. running and playing with his back to goal whilst limiting his major weakness of not being able to pick a forward pass.
United’s 3 man midfield had Herrera occupying a similar area on the other side of the pitch with Blind sitting deep in between the duo. In the recent Manchester Derby Fellaini benefited from City deploying Yaya Toure – not known for his defensive shifts – in the Belgian’s area of intent as a right of centre defensive midfielder, meaning that when the Ivorian went walkabout Fellaini had bags of room to operate.
Against Chelsea, Fellaini was less pivotal due to tedious bore Mourinho deploying Zouma as a man marker in the right of centre defensive midfield position, and Martinez approach yesterday was along the same lines. The Catalan has been overly cautious in a lot of the big games this season and has largely been out manoeuvred by opposing coaches, not winning any game home or away against a top six side prior to this one.
His approach here was to revert away from the midfield 1-2 shape which has yielded decent recent results with Barry at the base and Barkley (left) and McCarthy (right) the forward runners either side. Instead he reverted to x2 defensive midfielders but with Barry swapping his usual role on the left to a right-sided brief specifically to keep tabs on the movements of Fellaini. On the left McCarthy was tasked with overseeing Herrera, Barkley reverted to his usual no 10 role off Lukaku whilst Osman was deployed on the left to track Mata’s forward forays.
Counter attack Blues
The result of this midfield re-jig was an identical game plan to last season’s comfortable win over United at L4.
Possession was largely conceded, to the tune of just 40% – the lowest % of the season (last season’s lowest % was also in the same fixture).
Instead the emphasis was on defensive shape off the ball, with the Blues sitting deep and then making direct passes (the length of Everton’s passes of 43m was also the highest of the season) to launch quick fire counter attacks when the ball was turned over.
Barry did his own job superbly, snuffing out Fellaini at every opportunity and launching counter attacks when required. The midfielder usually dominates the passing stats but here he took a back seat and instead ‘put in a shift’ by standing in front of Fellaini to block passes into him, in doing so recording the most tackles of any player on the pitch. The much maligned midfielder also covered more ground than any of his teammates (11.4km), comfortably ahead of McCarthy (10.7km) and Aaron Lennon (10.2km). Barry only lost out once to Fellaini – after an iffy pass from Stones – but thankfully the Belgian miscued and fired high and wide into the Gwladys Street Stand.
Goal #1 came from Barry’s initial clearance, which led to McCarthy feeding Coleman down our right side. Coleman then inadvertently repaid the favour to his Irish colleague, who evaded the powder puff challenges from Blind and McNair to fire past De Gea. Post match Van Gaal lamented Utd’s flimsy defensive rearguard and it was evident in our first goal, losing x3 50/50’s in the build up.
Shortly after, Coleman again raced clear onto an ace pass by Lennon and was only denied by a last gasp challenge from Smalling. A flurry of corners followed before Stones dunked home from the third Baines delivery, aided and abetted by seriously crud defending from United.
After the break the redundant Fellaini – by now on the brink of a red card – had been replaced by Falcao who duly swapped with the equally ineffectual Rooney, but the story was a similar tale of woe for the visitors.
After Di Maria lost possession in our half, a through pass from Barkley led to the United defence mistakenly expecting an offside flag for Lukaku. The forward wasn’t interfering with play, however, and amidst the confusion his compatriot Mirallas nipped in behind Valencia to drill a trademark right footed finish into De Gea’s near post.
Mirallas recent charm offensive about signing a new deal has – probably – been the result of his agent not finding him the ECL suitor his ego appears to crave. Whilst the gold Bentley driving winger is clearly inconsistent (and a bit of a tit) there’s no doubting his capability 1v1; he’s a great finisher, and arguably the best at the club in such scenarios.
If there is one thing Everton have shown us in the last decade it’s that when there is little tangible riding on the result they are one of the most dangerous opponents in the country, and this win – our fifth in six games – was richly deserved. This was also the third win against United at Goodison on the spin – all three without conceding a goal.
It was also a pointer that, with a full complement firing on all cylinders, we can be more than the sum of our parts – something we haven’t shown enough of this season.
Up the toffees!