Everton and Manchester United came into Matchday 28 of the Premier League on the back of a recent resurgence in form. Both Carlo Ancelotti and Ole Gunnar Solskjær have brought in a feel-good factor back to their respective clubs and were looking to grab another win to stretch it further. This fixture last season saw the Toffees thrash the red devils 4-0 so it was therefore no surprise that the visitors came into this game with an itch to set the record straight.
What followed was 90 minutes of fast-paced, attacking football, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Not short of pieces of brilliance, goalkeeping errors, and of course VAR controversy, the game did absolutely deserve a winner. This tactical analysis will examine the gameplan adopted by both teams, the tactics deployed, and what could possibly have helped the game have a winner.
Everton lined up with the traditional 4–4–2 formation. They made five changes to the side that lost to Arsenal last matchday, with the most notable being the return of Andre Gomes to the starting line-up after three months of injury.
Michael Keane and Mason Holgate started in the heart of the defence, with Séamus Coleman & Leighton Baines playing as full-backs. While the centre-halves sat deep and held their position narrow through most part of the game, the full-backs played early crosses and stayed just inside the halfway line.
Partnering with Andre Gomes in the midfield was Tom Davies. Theo Walcott and Gylfi Sigurðsson played out wide, often cutting in from the wider spaces trying to overload the frontline, alongside Calvert-Lewin & Richarlison. When off possession, they narrowed in, to match the extra number that United had in the midfield.
Manchester United formed a 4–3–1–2, making just the one change by bringing in Scott McTominay who started for the first time since Boxing Day.
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire played their role as ball-playing central defenders, more so the latter who often took darting runs with the ball to start attacks to the Everton half. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw played as full-backs and ran up and down the line almost doubling up as wingers.
Scott McTominay started alongside Fred and Nemanja Matic. Matic held his position as the anchor of the midfield, and Fred and McTominay often surged up to support the attacks. Bruno Fernandes took up a number 10-esque position between the midfield and the forward line of Mason Greenwood and Antony Martial.
Understandably, the game may be known for the mistakes made by the goalkeepers from both teams – with De Gea’s howler outdoing Pickford’s poor hand-eye coordination.
An analysis of the tactics deployed by both the teams, shows they are quite similar in certain aspects, especially if you look at the seasonal averages.
- Both the teams generally look to keep more possession than the opponents.
- Both have a marginal difference in the average passes per possession and average passes per minute – United averaging 0.9 & 0.87 more than Everton in both aspects.
- They even have a marginally different PPDA with United averaging 0.87 more than Everton. This indicates that they apply a slightly slower/lower press than Everton.
- A key differentiator in their play apart from the setup is the use of long balls in the gameplay – Everton average 3.58% more long passes than United.
This game, however, saw both teams trying to play a similar brand of football:
- Both teams moved the ball quickly. This is indicated by numbers of 3.63 (United) and 2.96 (Everton) for average passes per possession.
- Given the low number of average passes per possession, their quest for moving the ball forward was characterised by long passes as indicated by long pass percentages of 11.24% (United) and 11.56% (Everton). It is interesting to note that United usually has a 7.98% long pass percentage, and the increase in the same indicates a tactical tweak by the manager. Their long passes increased from 8% in the first half to 15% in the second, in a bid to grab a winner.
- Both have similar PPDA – 9.76 (United) and 9.31 (Everton), indicating they both were prepared to press higher than they normally do.
From the above observations, it seems as though the plan (for both teams) was to move the ball quickly forward, through long balls when in possession and press cautiously high, to win the ball back quickly, when not in possession. Repeat possession tactic.
As mentioned earlier, the game almost seemed like it was being played by fraternal twins 1 v 1, if not identical twins. Similar styles of play, characteristic to one and mimicked by the other. Could United have taken all three points if they had been able to execute their tactics? Let’s take a look at the tactical analysis of the game.
Long balls come short?
Manchester United attempted more long passes and completed fewer than Everton. Per the statistics, while Everton enjoyed a 59% success rate of long passes (58% season average), United were at a meagre 34%. Interesting to note that of United’s 16 successful long passes, only three made it to a striker – Martial.
This indicates the lack of effectiveness in creating attacking chances by their long balls. As opposed to Manchester United’s three, Everton’s strikers were involved in 14 out of the 22 successful long passes (they attempted a total of 37).
In the above image, we can see how most long balls played by Everton found their way to Calvert-Lewin. Some even originating from the backline.
In the above image, we can see how Everton’s long balls also made it to Richarlison’s feet. What does stand out in the two pictures, however, is the fact that Calvert-Lewin is their preferred target for long balls.
While Everton went with the long ball approach from the whistle, United only began to use it more after the restart. The percentage of long passes rose in the second half for United because their full-backs were pushed back by Everton, and made the team resort to long balls. A tweak in tactics saw the percentage after the restart go up from 8% long passes to 15% long passes.
Martial and Greenwood had a rather quiet game. Stats show that between the Manchester United strike pair, they managed only three shots on target with the latter getting a solitary one. This could be attributed to a couple of reasons. First, the plan to have long balls create attacks did not go as planned, as mentioned earlier. Second, while Martial played up and close to the Everton box, Greenwood played much deeper – almost close to the midfield. To make matters worse, even Bruno Fernandes and Martial weren’t linked closely enough. Between Fernandes and Martial, they exchanged just three passes, and Greenwood – Martial only two. We consider these three players in particular as they form the main attacking threat for United.
In the above picture, we can see how far apart Martial (9) is positioned from both Fernandes (18) & Greenwood (26).
Third, aware of Martial and Greenwood’s ability to get behind the defence, Everton played with slightly deeper centre backs. Holgate, in particular, played the role of a cover defender. Add to that the fact that United’s front three hardly got any play together.
It is no secret that David De Gea has single-handedly won United many of games. He’s been the first goalkeeper to win the Sir Matt Busby player of the year award, the first to win it three times in a row, and also has the most number of wins (4). However, recent errors have cast doubt on the Spain international’s goalkeeping prowess. The howler against Everton in this game means that he has now made the joint-most errors leading directly to a goal since the start of the 2018-19 season.
De Gea was on the ball for eight seconds and took three touches before his clearance ricocheted off Calvert-Lewin’s flying boot and into the net. Just to put this into context, the man had Lindelof, Maguire, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, and Matic, all available to him for a short pass which seemed like the initial intent. The delay in decision-making cost De Gea and United dearly.
In the above image, we can see the number of options De Gea had available before his slow decision-making cost United a goal. However lucky the hosts may have been, it did come on the back of a De Gea howler.
The analysis reveals that the tactics deployed saw both teams draw the game which promised so much. A lack of quality finishing, saw both teams take a point each. One could also argue that a lack of quality goalkeeping, saw both teams take a point each. Either way, it was a game that deserved a winner. The first half was Manchester United’s and second belonged to Everton. A positive for Manchester United to take away would be Maguire’s presence in their backline. The central defender was a rock with 15 clearances and 5 aerial duels won, dominating the Everton frontline. Both Carlo Ancelotti and Ole Gunnar Solskjær would want to push for continental qualification if the resurgence in form continues.