Everton vs. United: a tactical observation

Despite the score, it was Everton that dominated the Saturday’s game. The Merseyside club edged Manchester United in possession and attempted 19 shots to United’s seven. The Reds, a few patches of good play notwithstanding, were under constant siege, and while United’s defenders had a better game, ultimately, it was luck that got the Manchester club through unscathed.

United started brightly in 4-1-4-1 formation, with Darren Fletcher playing as a dedicated holding midfielder, and central midfielders – Tom Cleverley and Wayne Rooney – combining well with the wide-men – Danny Welbeck and Ji-Sung Park – to support Javier Hernández in attack.

United’s wide-men were playing not as out-and-out  wingers, but as wide midfielders – a defensive ploy, with United’s players  working diligently to cover and regain possession. The central midfielders and wide-men overloaded Everton in the middle of the park, and converted the advantage into a goal. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.

Perhaps mindful of the recent 6-1 defeat, the United defence retreated to a very deep line – almost at the edge of the Reds’ penalty area. The giant gap between the defence and central midfield was simply too much for Fletcher to cover and Everton took advantage. With the Fletcher’s presence, and wide-men tucking in, United could have kept a higher line and compact shape.

After all, Everton lacked pace and the balls over the top were more or less innocuous. If anything, playing a deep line against Everton was perilous given Marouane Fellaini’s ability to win aerial balls in dangerous areas. Better opponents would have taken advantage.

Perhaps, with Jonny Evans and David de Gea in the side, two excellent distributors of the ball, Sir Alex Ferguson believed he could get away with a gap between the lines by instructing the pair to launch quick balls forward. But Hernández is hardly a target man. Slight in build and stature, the Mexican was quickly relieved of the ball by Everton defenders. Given the set up, Dimitar Berbatov would have been the better choice. Welbeck or Wayne Rooney could have dropped deep to link between midfield and attack, while providing some physicality up top.

One positive aspect of United’s more defensive approach was Fletcher’s coverage. The Scot dropped deep to form a temporary back-three at times, which allowed United’s the full-backs to attack. It is no coincidence that Patrice Evra provided the cross from which Hernández scored.

Yet, the most peculiar feature of the system was Rooney being deployed as a central midfielder. Many fans have campaigned for this deployment, and just as many argued against it. The Englishman combined well with Cleverley and worked hard throughout. The trio of Fletcher, Cleverley and Rooney holds much potential. Each player has a clear role – Fletcher holds, Cleverley passes and Rooney attacks. Cleverley and Rooney are versatile players who can dovetail between the two roles. Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs can also fit in multiple roles – Carrick can hold and pass whereas Giggs can pass and attack – allowing Ferguson to rotate and keep players fresh.

One worry, of course, is that Rooney’s deployment as a midfielder limits his goal scoring prowess but that needs not be the case. Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard have scored plenty from a similar position on the pitch. In the Everton game though, Rooney was limited to single attempt at goal.

Again, the deep line is to blame. To make full use of Rooney as a central midfielder, United’s defence must play a high line and keep the space between the lines compact. This will allow the English international to spend less time defending and more time bombing forward. The wide-men should also be pushed higher up the pitch to allow the former Everton striker to hit his trademark cross-field passes. With Carrick and Anderson out-of-favour, fans should expect to see Rooney as a central midfielder more often; he’s a brilliant forward but he has the potential to be an outstanding midfielder, given the right set-up.

However, from the tactical point-of-view, the system used against Everton didn’t make much sense. Just as players are blamed for poor results, the manager is also culpable. This column has lauded Ferguson’s tactical acumen many times but, on this occasion, the Scot got things wrong. Better teams than Everton would have exploited United’s weaknesses. With Manchester City so rampant, the Reds cannot afford to slip up. Ferguson must do better!

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  1. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    “However, from the tactical point-of-view, the system used against Everton didn’t make much sense. Just as players are blamed for poor results, the manager is also culpable. This column has lauded Ferguson’s tactical acumen many times but, on this occasion, the Scot got things wrong. Better teams than Everton would have exploited United’s weaknesses. With Manchester City so rampant, the Reds cannot afford to slip up. Ferguson must do better!”
    The absolute height of arrogance…
    Fuckin hell… if you spouted that rubbish to any of the players, or management… they’d shit themselves with laughter…
    What have you won in your grand, illustrious career… that you could make such a statement?

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

    • says

      What exactly are you saying, or questioning here. Surely you are not saying any of the following:

      1. that we can afford to slip up
      2. that Ferguson doesn’t make tactical errors
      3. that Man City, scoring 6, 5 and 3 in consectutive games, top of the league only having dropped 2 points aren’t running rampant
      4. that for someone to criticise a football player or manager, they must not only play or manage but be better at it than who they are criticising (and so, by this logic a manager who wasn’t that good as a player cannot criticise the performance of his own player who happens to be a better player than he ever was)

      The thought of any United player or manager shitting himself with laughter is a bit disturbing: what right have they to laugh at us after losing 6-1 to City? In fact, they should be doing a Medieval style penance, praying that we forgive them for the biggest fuck up ever by players wearing the sacred red shirt.

      What gets me — is that this is the match in which we are supposed to show that the 6-1 was a blip, that mighty United are still roaring like lions — and we get an undistinguished 1-0 win in which we were `lucky’ and somewhat outplayed. Did this set the 6-1 straight? Did it show United are back? I don’t think so.

    • says

      Come on Alf – everybody’s entitled to an opinion. Or is only praise valid? Frankly I think the ‘management and players’ would laugh at 100% of everything we all say on here. Ferguson doesn’t respect the opinion of anybody in the media full stop. And fans… well they can fuck off and support Chelsea if they don’t like it.

  2. PabloBrown says

    Utd were lucky against Everton,Utd did look dangerous from time to time,but on the whole Everton were the better side. The only reason Utd came away with anything,was because Everton’s strikers are shite.

  3. RedAlert260599 says

    I think I’ll change my name to “I blame the Glazers”. It’ll save me typing it in each time I post.
    Maybe Rooney was right last year. He could see the lack of investment. I wonder if he regrets doing a u-turn?
    If it wasn’t the Muppets at the top I’d look forward to a year in the doldrums. A trophy-less season and even a 5th place finish. It might wake the Yanks up and make them realise they have to invest to keep their cash cow paying out. FFS! WE NEED A MIDFIELD YOU SLIMEY YANKY BSTDS!

  4. denton davey says

    “Given the set up, Dimitar Berbatov would have been the better choice.”

    No way. Period. Dimmy is the fourth-choice striker for a reason – he’s taller than LittleMikey; otherwise he’d be firth-choice.

  5. says

    Let me suggest something that sounds a bit crazy: we should answer the humiliation of the 6-1 thrashing not by desperately trying to avoid it ever happening again but by trying to get a few 6-1 type wins of our own. At the beginning of the season all the talk was about the two Manchester clubs decimating the opposition — that the title coming down to a sort of highnoon shoot-out between us and City, where we win 5-4 at OT and draw 3-3 at the Eithad. They are ravenous for blood, and we, now commited to the attritional 1-0 and 2-1 win, are scared shitless of a scratch. How on Earth are we going to catch them if they are into blitzkrieging all before them, and we are into the art of chosing players specifically to cover up for the deficiencies of other players. When they are thinking a few more of these steamroller victories and there won’t be a side left in England that hasn’t secretly accepted that they will be champions. And we are playing safety first.

    I wonder what would have happened if the City team coming to OT somehow accidentally stepped through a wormhole and found themselves up against the 94 Utd Double winning team — the team which didn’t allow the opposition to pass through, still less run through the midfield. And managed by a brilliant manager in his prime, not old and on the slippery slope to squandering his legacy.

  6. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    rooney was too deep and the widemen too narrow, meaning we had five in cm failing to do what the other top teams have at most three doing

    and worse than that I reckon fergies already told jones to reign in the forward charges, phase one of turning him into oshea complete

    • says

      cap – some fucker left an iTunes review of the podcast saying we are glory hunting bastards that would switch to City soon… hmmm

  7. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Ed said:
    Come on Alf – everybody’s entitled to an opinion. Or is only praise valid? Frankly I think the ‘management and players’ would laugh at 100% of everything we all say on here. Ferguson doesn’t respect the opinion of anybody in the media full stop. And fans… well they can fuck off and support Chelsea if they don’t like it.

    I didn’t see an opinion there… I saw a lecture from some numpty who thinks he knows more about the game than Ferguson.

  8. Yang says

    Think The flaw of the analysis omitting Everton side of story. Everton had good record against United at Goodison Park. If you look at the game Everton press very well. They close down so fast that United was forced to pass in many occasions. and they counter through wide area.

    Welbeck have done very good job covering wing back, Park nullified Bains. I think Fergie know that Everton main threat will come from wide area so he select line up very well.

    Offensively speaking, Op is spot on but you need to talk defensive part of game too. united nick early goal so there is no need to push on too much I think.

  9. Sidsidney says

    I missed the games against Everton and Galati because I was up a mountain in Scotland

    So Rooney played in midfield, and we were still shit

    At least it shows they’re trying new things in that position – everything but sign a good midfielder

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