Manchester United 1-0 Everton: United dominate but leave it late
Another poacher’s goal from Javier Hernandez, and another late victory for Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson made many changes to his side, bringing in Darron Gibson and Johnny Evans for rare starts. Wayne Rooney played off Javier Hernandez.
David Moyes was without Johnny Heitinga, so brought Jack Rodwell into the central midfield zone alongside Phil Neville, with Tony Hibbert at right-back. Tim Cahill was on the bench.
The game went through three distinct stages: (a) in the first half, United were all over Everton and should have scored a few goals (b) for the first twenty minutes of the second, the game was much more even and (c) Ferguson’s substitutions helped United stamp their authority on the match once again in the final stages.
In the first half, the ball spent barely any time in Manchester United’s half of the pitch. The tactical battle was almost entirely about United’s front four against Everton’s defence and two holding midfielders – and though United frequently found space and created promising situations, their final ball into the box was often wasteful.
Everton have generally got things right away from home against the top sides this season – when Gareth Bale mania was in full force, Moyes produced a clever plan to nullify Tottenham at White Hart Lane, he set up very well at the Emirates to deny Arsenal the dominance they’re used to at home – before Everton faded late on, his tactics away at Manchester City produced a great defensive display and a 2-1 win, and he also beat Chelsea in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.
Here, however, they had problems in the first half, and Their main problems stemmed from the pace of Hernandez. Everton are usually good at keeping it tight between the lines, but the Mexican’s sheer pace forced Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin deeper. (They would also have been well aware that they were opened up by United earlier in the season at Goodison Park by Dimitar Berbatov running onto a through ball and finishing well, so they quickly dropped deep.)
Of course, this opened up space for Rooney, who played ‘in the hole’, in the role he’s mastered in recent weeks, particularly in the games against Chelsea. Phil Neville was Everton’s deepest midfielder, to the right, and Jack Rodwell moved higher up the pitch towards the left, so Rooney found space by moving into the inside-right channel, between the lines. Rodwell was slow to close Rooney down.
In fact, most of Everton’s problems occurred in that zone of the pitch. Leighton Baines is one of Everton’s best attacking threats, but as we’ve noted throughout the season, Everton are also vulnerable down that side of the pitch defensively. As Baines tried to move forward into the attack, both Rooney and Hernandez moved in behind, and United were keen to hit balls into that space – see the opportunity for Nani that came after Antonio Valencia outmuscled Baines.
Nani was disappointing – Tony Hibbert looked vulnerable early on but eventually got into the game and defended well. Nani can play on either side, but he remains much better on the right – when used on the left, he’s too keen to come inside and use his right foot, making him much more predictable. His delivery here was poor.
Moyes got little from Jermaine Beckford or Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, so brought on Victor Anichebe with Tim Cahill just off him. Anichebe moved to the left and helped pin back Fabio, whilst Leon Osman on that side also did a good defensive job. With John O’Shea hardly a great attacking outlet on the other side, United were much less dangerous with less drive from full-back.
Rodwell also picked up his game and was much more aware of Rooney’s movement in behind him. He couldn’t afford to drop goalside of Rooney and completely concede the midfield battle to United, so instead worked on preventing balls from the midfielders and full-backs being played into Rooney. United suddenly looked a little nervous, and Everton held the ball better.
United rally late on
A couple of factors combined to get United back in the game. Fitness was key – on a very hot day, United had 61% of possession, and Everton had to work very hard without the ball. Equally important, though, was United’s ability to change the game from the bench.
Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs came on for Nani and Gibson in the most eye-catching moves, but equally important was Patrice Evra’s introduction for O’Shea. With first Nani and then Rooney playing on the left and always looking to bring the ball inside, Evra stretched the play, made United more dynamic when spreading play to the flanks (Anderson should be praised for consistently good, positive diagonal balls) and from 70 minutes onwards they were all over Everton again.
Despite all the changes, it was Valencia down the right, the main battleground early on in the game, that produced the goal. He put pressure on Distin to win the ball, dragged the Frenchman out to the flank, and then his deflected cross found Hernandez at the far post for what we can start to call a ‘classic’ Hernandez goal.
A few changes established United’s position in the ascendency, but equally their persistence and commitment to their usual tactics – get the ball out wide, and get men into the box – proved crucial at the end of the game. The good movement from Hernandez, Owen and Rooney inside the penalty area was particularly notable.
Moyes’ switches midway through the game allowed Everton to compete – but making two changes so early meant he couldn’t react to United’s three attack-minded substitutions in the second half.Manchester United 1-0 Everton: United dominate but leave it late