For those of you who have regularly read my analysis following United’s performances this season, what I’m about to write may feel like groundhog day. After the defeats to Olympiakos, Liverpool and City I remember writing that it could not get any worse for United, but I genuinely feel as if today is as bad as it can get. Officially unable to qualify for the Champions League, and easily beaten by Everton, what more can go wrong?
Crystal Palace won at Goodison Park in midweek while we barely threatened the Everton goal. You don’t need me to tell you that Crystal Palace do not have better players than us, but what they do have is a tactically conscious manager who set up his team with a perfectly executed game plan. Fast forward to today and the soon-to-be deposed Champions are swept aside by a side that may or may not finish in the top four this season. It’s the manner of the defeat rather than defeat itself which has many United fans wondering where we go from here.
In the first half United set up very positively in the opening exchanges, and until Everton scored it felt as if Moyes had learnt from previous mistakes against the better sides. United had a lot of the ball, and were advanced with it. There was good link up between Kagawa and Mata, and United seemed comfortable in the initial exchanges. The problem for United was the lack of penetration in the side, with no one willing to run in behind the Everton defence to cause them a real problem.
In the opening 25 minutes at Goodison Park United completed 177 passes, and were really dictating the flow of possession. The problem lies in the fact that only one pass was completed to a United man in the penalty area, and only a handful more in dangerous areas in the final third. Juan Mata was doing his best to orchestrate things for United, but the system that was employed played right into Everton’s hands, who were set up to counter United once the possession broke down.
The reason it became so easy for Everton to hit United on the break all stems from the lack of vertical movement in United’s attacking play. Not only did it become a hindrance going forward but it left United over-exposed defensively. With no one running beyond Rooney, everyone wanted the ball to feet, and that resulted in excessive sideward passes and the lightweight Kagawa and Mata being pressed ferociously in order to win the ball back. Once those passes were intercepted Everton had the players to break with pace and power. Lukaku, Mirallas and Barkley in particular were able to punish United in transition from defence to attack, getting beyond United’s defensive shield of Carrick and Fletcher and often outnumbering the United defence 3 v 2 and 4 v 3 and creating chances for fun.
The second Everton goal is a prime example of what went wrong for United today. Fletcher played the ball into Mata, who was pressured immediately and lost the ball to Baines. Baines and Naismith worked the ball out to Seamus Coleman who fed Mirallas and his excellent finish made it 2-0. It was an excellent counter attack and Everton fully deserved the goal but it was handed to them by sluggish and tame football from United.
Watching the game today it was obvious to see what this team needs. We have plenty of players who excel in the number 10 role, but very few who are capable of finishing the chances that those players could create. The game today was crying out for Danny Welbeck’s pace, not necessarily from a wide position but maybe as the number nine. Right now United struggle with goals from midfield and pace in transition. The starting XI today needs someone like Marco Reus or Pedro. Someone who can provide that burst of pace and score goals from wide areas. The technical term for someone like that is an inverted or central winger and right now the current crop of attacking midfielders do not bring the required qualities to the table.
Away from player selection there are bigger problems afoot for United. Today was the 10th defeat in 22 games in all competitions in 2014. That is simply unheard of for United in the modern era, and is an appalling statistic, regardless of the rebuilding job that Moyes claims is needed. It has reached the point where every win feels irrelevant and every defeat is could have far-reaching consequences. When it gets to that point for club and manager, you have to start worrying. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the beginning of the end for Moyes at United, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if someone else was in charge next season.
By Adem Berkay
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