Hi, welcome to my new column: “The Charles Critiques”. Each week, I’ll try to offer you in-depth tactical/statistical analysis related to Manchester United, as well as a regular “Premier League statistical power ranking” on a monthly basis.
This week, Manchester United enjoyed a comfortable home win against Basel whereas Everton, who will face the Red Devils on Sunday, suffered a big loss in Italy versus Atalanta on Thursday’s Europa League clash.
Both games highlighted some tactical aspects which could be key features in the upcoming game this weekend.
In the following paragraphs, I will discuss them.
POGBA’S INJURY AND MOURINHO’S REPLACEMENTS
The French midfielder’s hamstring issue was certainly unexpected but it didn’t leave Jose Mourinho unprepared: the absence of United’s second best playmaker this season (he has averaged 2.3 key passes per game so far) is a big blow of course, but nevertheless, the league leaders have different attacking options. On paper, Marouane Fellaini should substitute the Frenchman, but with Ander Herrera having missed out on Tuesday’s match, one could suggest that the Spaniard – arguably United’s best player last season – will have benefited of some rest and could be deployed alongside Nemanja Matic in a central midfield role.
FELLAINI AND RASHFORD’S IMPACTS FROM THE BENCH
The former broke the deadlock on Tuesday while the latter killed the game in the final minutes: both were crucial from the bench against Leicester, overturning what could have otherwise been a frustrating Saturday afternoon against the Foxes.
Marcus Rashford is in excellent form and could give Mourinho headaches for a place in the starting XI.
His pace and directness on the ball, but also his composure in front of goal, could be vital against Everton’s 3-4-2-1 formation which doesn’t boast the quickest players in the league.
As for Fellaini, his use would be mainly strategical to a possible tactical plan by Mourinho based on Everton’s clear difficulties in build up play so far.
EVERTON’S STRUGGLES WITH THE BALL AND HOW TO CAPITALIZE ON THEM
Everton this season are implementing a possession-based style of play under Ronald Koeman.
Their build up from the back has been relatively poor: bad decision-making from the centre backs, as well as a clear lack of verticality, have made the Toffees’ offensive phase very sterile: 42% of their actions happened in the middle third (3rd highest rate in the league) and they have only managed 8.8 shots per game (the 17th lowest amount in the league).
At the same time, they are 6th in the league in terms of long balls played (74 so far) and have only scored 2 goals from open play: both were netted home by Wayne Rooney, who is also their primary creator this season (1.8 key passes per game). These numbers are significant of how Everton have struggled to create chances this season; despite a 4-2-3-1 switch by Koeman in order to put all his attacking midfielders on the pitch and improve buildup play, the team’s shape still has poor balance: when in possession there are too many flat, horizontal players; when out of possession, they lack compactness and expose their defence too many times (only 5 teams have conceded more shots per game in the first 4 matches): this was evident again on Thursday in two of the three goals they conceded against Atalanta.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR UNITED?
We can expect Mourinho to opt for a direct, counter-attacking football: the power and pace of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Rashford, as well as the aerial threat posed by Fellaini could expose the fragility of Everton’s system: no team has capitalised on attacking transitions (2 goals scored from counterattacks) and set pieces (4 goals scored) more than Jose’s men so far; there is a sense that United have what it takes to outmuscle Everton without necessarily dominating possession and tempo of the game.
After last week’s draw against Stoke City, one should expect some corrections from the Portuguese tactician: the return of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly, United’s solid defensive partnership, is positive news for the Red Devils, as the two have the physical attributes required to tame Sandro Ramirez upfront.
It should be an interesting game, it could get quite boring if United stick with a medium-low block and Everton don’t manage to play penetrative, vertical passes through the middle, but expect a couple of big moments from the home side on fast breaks.