Everton Vs Manchester United Starting line ups
The starting line ups were as above. United opted for a 4-3-3 variant whilst Everton were set up to operate within a 4-4-1-1. Kagawa was pushed forward leaving Scholes and Cleverley to play from deeper positions. Carrick was played at centre back whilst Antonio Valencia was put in at right back. The season is only a game old and United are already looking to have injury woes to rival those of a couple of seasons ago.
Everton opted to play Fellaini just behind Jelavic and let him run rampant. Distin and Jagielka were paired in defence while Pienaar was played in tandem with Baines.
It was no surprise then to see most of the Everton threat coming down that left side in the early exchanges. As soon as Nani picked up that yellow card, he was pretty much spent as any sort of defensive cover for Valencia, not trusting himself to pick up a needless second.
It was here that Baines and Pienaar focused their early efforts, winning a few free kicks on that side and making penetrating runs at Valencia and in the channel where Carrick was playing. Baines delivery was fantastic for the whole evening and Pienaar and Fellaini took their cue from the diminutive fullback. Fellaini striking the post on fourteen minutes and Pienaar having his effort tipped round the post. United were struggling to cope at one point but de Gea pulled off a string of good saves to keep the scores level.
We can also take a look at Baines delivery below and can see that from his set pieces alone Everton were able to carve out a significant number of chances against United.
Aerial dominance of Everton
Everton were able to dominate aerially at both ends of the pitch. While United were comfortable in possession up until midfield they lacked the ability to hold up the ball when it was played, providing easy meat and drink for Jagielka and Distin.
While Distin had an outstanding game for Everton he was solidly backed up by his partner Jagielka in clearing aerial bombardments and repelling any airborne threats. I possibly would have expected Welbeck to give a better account fo himself but he was outgunned for large portions of the game.
In contrast, the standout performer in United’s defence was Vidic – no surprises. But it was almost a one man show back there. He didn’t get anywhere near the same level of support as Distin and we can see Carrick had a very limited impact or influence playing where he did. Valencia arguably would have made a better makeshift centre back with Rafael at right back on the evidence below.
If we take a look at the aerial duel statistics, we can see that United won 40% of their duels whereas Everton managed a whopping 60% in comparison – a differential of 20% improvement.
Leading on from above, we have to discuss Fellaini’s performance. There are games when players are unplayable and Fellaini slotted right into this bracket last night. Everything was fantastic about him. Not only his dominance in the air but his movement as well. The small midfield pairing of Scholes and Cleverley had no aerial presence to contest with.
And when dropping off he often found himself against Evra and Carrick. Valencia gave a better account of himself against Fellaini as did Vidic but ultimately he was winning things with embarrassing ease at times. Some of the chest takedowns to one touch keep up and layoff were almost taunting United at times.
He eventually rose to head home Gibson’s corner and while it was Carrick who was directly opposing him, it would be fair to say that bar two United players the result would have been the same no matter who was contesting the ball with him.
Where did it go wrong for United?
Whilst United were second best for a large portion of the game, they still had enough in their locker to give a good account of themselves. On another day the effort cleared off the line would have gone in, Rooney possibly would have stroked his effort in the bottom corner instead of at Howard and they would have escaped with a point or more.
One of the problems United encountered was up front as mentioned. They didn’t have enough of a presence to hold onto the ball. From defence up to midfield they have a great short game going between the players and Kagawa looks to have immediately slotted in and found a comfortable hole to fill.
We can see the heavy interlinked play coming together between a knit of players here (image via StatsZone app above to the right detailing player combinations).
And this was not an issue as the possession stats backup.
This leads me onto another feature of United’s play I thought was missing until the latter stages of the game. At times it looked as though the option to cross was refused. For a team that put in 1018 crosses last season it was definitely odd. First half crossing stats are shown to the left.
Then when they started to look better on the seventy minute mark, Valencia was getting wide more, Evra was providing more crosses from wide areas and if we just compare the numbers between first and second half we see a major difference:
So the question is why the deviation? Did United feel they wouldn’t get much joy in the air (backed up by relevant stats above) or were they nervous about leaving the right side empty by pushing Valencia up? Any Thoughts? (Post below)
This brings us nicely onto Valencia now, if we take a look at the player influence infographs we can see despite being at right back Valencia was still one of United’s most prominent players.
Wasted at right back – certainly. Although after a few early scares he did eventually get a handle on Baines and managed to contain him. We can also see from the image that United are pretty stable and progressive until they hit that halfway line. Then it all seems to go a bit quiet from there to the opposition penalty box. No one was really taking a lead as Fellaini did to be the focal point of the attack.
On the flip side, the lack of standout influences in Everton’s defence suggest not a great deal of concerted pressure was thrown at them – they mopped up what did come at them at sporadic times and – bar one or two incidents – with relative ease as well. It’s clear why Ferguson has gone for Van Persie, but I don’t think he is a true physical presence which is what United really need I feel in games like this. Welbeck looks like he could get there but isn’t ready for the mantle yet.
And lastly: Kagawa
Kagawa’s debut was always going to be a talking point to end on for United fans. We cans see from the passing stats that him and Rooney look to have a great understanding already and some excellent link up play at times.
He was also the most creative influence on the pitch.
He had a tidy debut and if he had better outlets on the flanks at times it could have been a different story for United. As it was, a good sharp slap early on in the season will steel them for the marathon ahead. Whilst for Everton? A convincing win on the opening day of the league? If this is their marker then it could be a good season for the blue half of Merseyside.
Note: iPhone images taken from FourFourTwo Statszone App
The rest of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.
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