9 Point Tactical Deconstruction on Man Utd 2-0 Everton

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Some thoughts on our defeat yesterday at Old Trafford…..

1. Defensively, the following 3 sub-points are taken ‘as a given’

  • The gap between Heitinga and Baines was too wide throughout the first half.
  • Our high line for the second goal was suicidal even by our standards….and if we are going to do apply such a risky tactic the midfield needs to apply more pressure so balls can’t be threaded through like Rafael did for van persie.
  • Neville was crud throughout. Whilst the veteran campaigner remains a useful midfield option his days as a credible right back alternative look as legitimate as his need for blonde highlights.

2. Neville had a lot of the ball

With Jones following Fellaini when the Belgian marauded forward, Cleverley was left outnumbered in the central zone against Osman and Gibson. This meant that Giggs was ‘sucked’ inside leaving Pip free on the right flank. Thus, as the matrix below shows, Neville enjoyed more of the ball than Baines on the other flank. This was negated by Ferguson prior to half time when he dropped Rooney into the left mid slot to relieve the pressure on Giggs and allow the Welshman to play more central.

EFC Passing Matrix vs Man Utd

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5 points on the passing matrix > (1)The size of the player’s head is relevant to how many passes he makes, i.e Gibson made the most, Anichebe the fewest hence their appropriately sized skulls  (2) The thicker and darker the line, the more times the pass combination was made, i.e the thicker, darker lines e.g Heitinga to Jagielka emphasise that the combination was made a lot (3) If there is no line between players there was no passes made  (4) Click on the image to enlarge (5)The idea for this passing matrix is mostly adopted/ ripped off from the  excellent 2+2=11 blog. Anyone who subscribes to football nerding will love it (6) the position of the players  in the diagram is loosely based on where they are positioned on the pitch 

3. United play down our left

United ‘s central midfield duo looked to push the ball out to the right and build attacks as often as possible with Rafael – and less so Valencia- very impressive. United’s top 3 passing combinations were Valencia>Rafael (13) Cleverley>Valencia(13) and Jones to Rafeal (11).

4.Baines impact minimised

As a result of Point 3, Baines was largely ineffectual and spent the majority of the first half back peddling trying to deal with the threat of Rafael and Valencia. He and his best mate Pienaar (who started on the right but then switched to the left) created hardly any serious chances from open play in the game.

5.Gibson  sees most of the ball

As the passing matrix shows via Gibson’s big steak-head, the Irishman had most of the ball for the Blues and was the principal link man between defence and attack. However in reality he ended up linking defence with midfield or back to defence. Overall he combined most with either backward passes to Jer-jelka or sideways balls to Neville.

6.Pienaar didn’t find Anichebe once

Pienaar had most joy in the 20 minute spell prior to half time; however the South African schemer was largely ineffectual and didn’t make any passes to Victor Anichebe during the game. The Big Nigerian, for the most part was starved of service, seemed to be under the misconception that you can get free kicks and penalties at Old Trafford.

7. Fellaini frustrated

The Belgian did minimal all game with his threat effectively neutralised by the lumbering galloot  Phil Jones. The ex-Blackburn lackey’s  pre match prozone briefing pack presumably stated about Fellaini;  ‘get in his face’ and ‘up and at em’ and was probably penned by Phil Brown.

In the Goodison game, Fellaini’s role was to receive long passes and then feed the wide-men as the the passing combination grid here shows. Due to the service being cut to the Belgian he couldn’t feed the wide-men, hence the Belgian didn’t make one pass to his compatriot Kevin Mirallas. More was expected of Fellaini here and in games such as this you expect your big hitters to turn up. He didn’t.

8.Mirallas peripheral

Kevin Mirallas was particularly peripheral and struggled to make much headway in the game. Unsurprisingly, the period he looked most effective was in the 20 minute spell prior to half time. During this spell Pienaar was picking up the ball in central areas and feeding him on the right;  this combination occurred 6 times in this 20 minute spell but didn’t happen before or after this time period.

9. Conclusions…..

The hope pre match was that last season’s gung-ho 4-4 would be the blueprint as to how we could get a result, however post match it appeared that last season’s gargantuan draw would be the exception to the rule.   The dynamism of the last 12 months was nowhere to be seen , replaced by the default efc powder puff display at Old Trafford that we have come to expect garnished with the usual condescending ‘praise’ from Taggart.

As usual we kindly gave the opposition a head start and were then forever chasing our tails with Vidic colossal for United aerially. In the second period, United basically played a ‘rest in possession’ approach and given our leggy midfield we struggled to get the ball back and when we did seemed completely goosed to do anything progressive with it.  Whilst the sides had the same amount of chances (11) United hit the target three times more than us and always seemed to be able to up another gear if required.

All in all then it’s been a pretty gash weekend for the Toffee’s.  Realistically, achieving the dying ember of 4th spot would mean us having to go to Spurs and Arsenal and win both, which is unlikely in our current form. Thus, the FA Cup now appears a more realistic proposition in terms of ending a season which has promised so much with some kind of tangible outcome.


Scout Report: Moyes Tactical Blueprint for Manchester United

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The Toffee’s head to Old Trafford on Sunday for a ‘showdown’ with the likely Champions Manchester United in a re-match of last season’s gargantuan tussle that effectively cost the Red Devil’s the title. With the exception of the 4-4, this is a fixture the Blues have invariably adopted an unsuccessful ‘what we have hold…then roll-over’ policy. This strategy has delivered minimal gains give or take a few draws since our last win here way back in 1992 when the ‘mini marvels’ showed up and spanked Fergie’s would be Champions 3-0. The games between the two Scots are usually interesting tactical jousts in that United’s ideology is generally ‘we’re better than everyone so we’ll play our own game’ whereas Moyes is a more reactive customer who will tweak to negate opposition threats.

United Strengths

Looking back at the 4-4 last season, United’s front players were on fire with Welbeck particularly ace; the forward bagged one goal, 2 assists, made more dribbles and also had the best pass completion (91%) of any player on the pitch which for a player operating in the final third is very decent.

In the 4-4 we struggled to deal with United’s quick movement in forward areas with Heitinga and Jagielka struggling to hold their position and avoid following United’s forwards away from our goal. Whoever starts in central defence will need to keep their shape better and thus reduce the space in behind for United to operate. Whoever is selected in United’s wing slots are always positioned in advanced wide areas so it’s implicit that we don’t lose the ball in our own half and enable them to engineer fast break situations.

United also have the addition of Van Persie this season with him and Rooney comfortable alternating between the number 9 and 10 roles. This combined with the impish trickery of Kagawa and United’s trademark pace in wide areas makes the clean sheet we kept in August against them all the more improbable.

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Indeed, as the above passing dashboard shows whilst United dominated possession in the August game (692 v308 passes), they were less incisive getting the ball into the box and creating threatening chances with Jer-jelka dominant at the heart of the Blues back four. We had significantly less touches (571 v 933) but crucially had more touches in United‘s penalty box than they did ours (42 v 27) with 22% of our chances in their 6 yard box compared to United’s 0% in ours.

With the current situation regarding Heitinga, hopefully logic will prevail and Jagielka will be restored to the centre of defence with Neville probably on the right, although when fit Moyes usually prefers to select the skipper in the centre of midfield as he did in both recent fixtures against United.  Personally I’d stick Heitinga on the right with Jagielka where he is best in the centre alongside Distin.

United Weakness

The two most recent games have highlighted that we can get at United’s defence with Fellaini in particular getting plenty of joy with a goal in each game, both from pin point deliveries from the right flank. In the Goodison match the curly haired Belgian was the fulcrum of a well-executed game-plan that involved getting the ball into him quickly from back to front.  We often do ‘go longer’ against the league’s better sides…as an example in the 1-0 win vs United 17% of our passes were hit long whereas against a nice middle of the road outfit, like Fulham, just 9% of our passes went long.

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If we take a look at the pass combination table from the 1-0 game (above) we can see 3 of the top 5 combinations were from defensive players (Howard, Baines & Hibbert) into Fellaini. The other two were from Fellaini to Osman/Pienaar who started the game on the flanks. This was basically our strategy; hit it long to fellaini’s head or chest and let him link play to the wide midfielders. We have also made decent gains by exploiting United’s defensive players aerially….

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Above, Jelavic’s opening goal in the 4-4 comes when the delivery by Hibbert is looped deep to by-pass Ferdinand / Evans and enable the Croatian to isolate Rafael in a physical mis-match. Rafael was also at fault for Pienaar’s equaliser when he switched off and failed to track the South African’s run inside.

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In the above screen shot, the cross again goes deep to by-pass Vidic and looks for Fellaini who has come round the back of Carrick. This should be a big concern for Ferguson and having been done twice by the same trick I’d be surprised if he didn’t start with Smalling at right back in place of Rafael.


This will be a really tough one for the Blues, but is by no means mission impossible. Our defensive problems – exposed ruthlessly by an average Villa side last week – will be put to the test and it’s unlikely we will keep a clean sheet.  With Anichebe in fine fettle, Mirallas back in action and  Fellaini on-song then we certainly have the tools to score at least one goal and I’d go for a score draw, probably 2-2 (best priced 16/1 with BetVictor).