Throughout the morning of the match the mood turned amongst Evertonians. From a cocktail of excitement, nerves and anticipation, to the awful news. Former player and thrice manager, Everton legend Howard Kendall had died at the age of 69.  A man who has entertained successive generations- a third of the fabled ‘Holy Trinity’, who guided the club to his first league title as a manager at just thirty eight, and would go on to return to manage the love of his life another two times. And how we loved him. Kendall spanned the generations of our families, with memories for grandparents through to eventually their grandchildren. A true Everton legend. A top fella, too, by all accounts. It speaks volumes of the man to enjoy all the professional successes he did, but those who knew him were quick to talk of the nice man, friend, confidant they had lost, rather than the exquisite player and genius manager he was. What an incredible legacy, RIP Howard. Thanks for taking the Toffees to the top, thanks for all the memories you gave my (and everyone else’s) grandparents, parents, cousins and others, that we have had regaled to us over the years. You made them all bristle with pride, and I’m sorry I never got the opportunity to tell you that, though I’m sure plenty did.

Onto the game, returning from injury were Seamus Coleman and John Stones in defence, Funes Mori particularly unfortunate to drop to the bench after his impressive performances, but back came the best young centre half around. Steven Naismith got the nod out wide along with a rare start for Aaron Lennon. Gerard Deulofeu dropped to the bench and Kevin Mirallas was amongst the substitutes as he returned from his ban…


Naismith was again deeper than Barkley when we were out of possession, like against Liverpool. Just as we spoke about after the Liverpool game, Naismith struggled with an unfamiliar position, and his play with the ball was no better. He would go on to be substituted at half time. It’s striking how similar the average positions actually are, especially when considering the joy United got down the Everton flanks (particularly Anthony Martial who gave Seamus Coleman a difficult afternoon), and to think of how much space United’s midfielders managed to find between the lines of Everton defence and midfield. In short, whilst both sides were clearly set up to play the same way, only one side managed to impose themselves on the game and play the way you might have expected. United.

Everton made a nervy start to the game. The tempo was poor and United were starving us of any space to play. In contrast, Everton were passive in defence, affording United time and space with simple passes from United’s defenders able to find their midfielders in space…


Allowing Juan Mata (or any other attacking United player) this much of the pitch to work with, under no pressure on the ball, is asking for trouble.

It felt like every time Everton got the ball forward, it was a long ball up to Lukaku who was doing well up against Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, picking up where he left off in the bullying of Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel in the derby. The problem for Everton when playing a quick ball up to Lukaku like this against United (as they had tried with some success against Liverpool), is that Louis Van Gaal had seen the tactic coming. His side were well prepared, and sunk very deep without the ball…


In this picture, every United player is behind the ball, making it difficult for a ball into Lukaku to cause the kind of havoc it has against Liverpool at times. United were tight, organised, and looking to hit Everton on the break. This is a tactic we saw frequently last year and on occasions this season. It would prove to be Everton’s downfall once more. Lacking any real width on the pitch, any real creativity between the lines, the lack of movement in Everton’s attacking play made life easier for United who pressed in the right areas. An all too familiar story was about to be re told in front of a packed Goodison Park.

Not long after, and United would take the lead. Ander Herrera was able to cut inside and strike a fierce effort on goal. It was close to Tim Howard who helped it on it’s way. Corner to United, their first of the game. Everton’s achillies heel. One of them, anyway. Everton weren’t set and United were given an easy short corner (which feels like an all too frequent occurrence)…


By the time the ball was returned to Juan Mata, he could clip a ball into the box under no pressure. Everton failed to clear their lines, Steven Naismith heading straight into the air. As Naismith went for the second header Everton appealed for a foul from Wayne Rooney on Naismith. The ball then managed to find its way to Morgan Schneiderlin who swept the ball past Tim Howard, who made himself as small as possible and flopped out of the way of the ball…


Minutes later and it was 2-0. A chance of complete simplicity. A nervy Seamus Coleman had rushed from his right back position to try and tackle Martial, only to foul the ex-Monaco striker. As the referee waved play on, Marcus Rojo had free reign down the Everton right


Ander Herrera, appealing for a foul with his arms raised in the picture, sees the opportunity unfolding, and heads for goal


John Stones (circled) heads wide to try to halt Rojo’s progress down the wing, leaving Everton three on two…. Jagielka and Galloway covering Rooney, Herrera and Mata. Galloway just didn’t have the chance to get back goal side of Herrera after Coleman’s rash decision. Considering how well Ty Browning played in Coleman’s absence, and the Irishman’s spotty form over the last twelve months or so, this was not an ideal way to reintroduce yourself into the team. Rojo’s cross was perfect and Herrera couldn’t miss. In the blink of an eye, two nil to United. Clinical stuff from a side coming off the back of a thumping against Arsenal. Considering how well organised United had looked to this point, a goal advantage was always going to be difficult, but even this early into the game, you knew it would be almost impossible for Everton from here on.

Narrow, slow, unimaginative, and lacking any real quality: Everton were unable to ask any real questions of United. On the odd occasion we did manage to work the ball forward (other than hoofing it), it was so slow, United were able to crowd out the areas Everton wanted to play in with bodies behind the ball…


It could have been worse to Everton and Roberto Martinez before half time came, Martinez who has had a good record against United in his time at Everton. In this fixture last season, van Gaal’s United lost 3-0 and were outplayed that day. On Saturday, his tactics were spot on, and the inadequacies of Everton’s against him were clear. I could post numerous pictures of how deep United were playing, with men behind the ball, they were compact and Everton were unable to break them down. Everton’s high line almost brought about a third on the stroke of half time as Rooney timed his run well…


Rooney was sent clear in this picture, receiving a pass from Darmian down the United right. As Rooney turned for goal he could have shot, but the angle being slightly unfavourable, he tried to cut the ball back to Martial and his shot was blocked. Too easy from Everton. It was worked from back to front by United with no Everton player going near it to challenge the ball- passive defence from a side two goals down.


Rooney’s run is simple, across the pitch from Stones (circled) to Jagielka, bent along the line until the ball is released. Stones stays and appeals for offside, Jagielka doesn’t appear to get a shout from his partner that there is a run in behind him. Schoolboy stuff. Worryingly, although Stones and Jagielka clearly enjoy playing alongside one another, this isn’t the first time they’ve been caught out by a simple ball with poor communication between the two to blame…


Against Spurs, Harry Kane was sent clear against a high Everton line. Although he didn’t score, you couldn’t wish for a better chance as a striker and it’s fair to say communication between Everton’s centre halves was to blame in this instance, too- Stones stepping up and Jagielka not- they weren’t on the same page again here.

Everton started the second half the brighter. A couple of decent free kicks into the box from Barkley went unrewarded (at this point I should tell you: Everton are the only side in the league not to have scored from a set piece yet… Conceded a few, though) and a drilled Lennon cross found it’s way to Lukaku,  who drew a save at the feet of David De Gea.

Fifteen minutes into the second half and it’s been Everton asking all the questions, so of course, Manchester United make it 3-0. And it’s another cheap goal to concede.


Jagielka has tried to play a forward pass and been easily picked off my Morgan Schneiderlin. Schneiderlin plays the ball to Herrera on the right wing who plays the ball to Rooney in behind. From an Everton perspective, you fear the worst from this point, with Rooney clear in a one on one. Rooney has struggled for form, and has had many United fans questioning whether he should be in the side at all- his finish is tame. The unconvincing near post push of a striker without confidence. It’s Rooney’s lucky day as the ever accommodating Tim Howard flops to the ground, falling (not diving) the opposite way to the ball…


Another dreadful goal to concede. Poor from Jagielka, although it’s about the only foot he’s put wrong all season. Howard? Loyalty to him will only last so long, and Martinez can’t afford his ‘keeper much more protection than he’s already offered. The only saving grace of this woeful goal is that our fate was likely already sealed by this point, in spite of our lively start to the second half.

Rooney would be sent free in the second half, although it was when we were three down and taking risks to make something happen. That being said, on the odd occasion we did manage to get the ball into the box at three nil down, well…


We hadn’t committed enough forward, much to the frustration of Seamus Coleman who had put the cross in. It was a disjointed Everton performance more in keeping with some of the stuff we saw last year.

The last twenty minutes drifted away, players making mental errors, and giving the ball away cheaply as they stared defeat in the face. United were the consummate professionals with the ultimate know how- their manager had set their team up superbly to counter Everton and exploit our weaknesses, their players were equally as astute. Little fouls to kill Everton moves, taking their time over re-starts, never committing too many forward, and remaining a threat on the break with the pace of Martial and substitute Jesse Lingard.

United were excellent, pressing in the right areas, starving Everton of space, the fluidity of their runners when in possession is something Everton never really came to terms with. As soon as Everton were comfortable in possession, they dropped a very deep line and made it difficult, their midfielders putting in a real effort to press one on one. Everton lacked the movement and invention to counter it. I’ve been asking for Everton to play the ball up to Lukaku quicker on occasions, and they tried that yesterday, just as they had in the previous game against Liverpool. United were ready for that though, and because they were dropping so deep when Everton were in possession, it made lots of the long balls into their half pointless. See this graphic of incomplete long Everton passes from yesterday…


The shame of it is, it was obvious our tactics weren’t going to work yesterday, but adjustments never came. Out wide, Naismith and Barkley are unfamiliar with the wide role while Kone needs to play closer to Lukaku (especially when chasing a game). Lennon underwhelmed and displayed the kind of understandable rust his lack of minutes would dictate. If only we had two good wingers sat on the bench. It was a poor day for Barry, McCarthy and Barkley who each failed to provide any service or support of any substance to Lukaku who did well but was let down by his team. It’s not that we tried to play an exceptionally high amount of long balls (69- 4th highest on the season), or that our pass completion rate was particularly bad (80% 6th on the season- 18% of balls played by us being long balls: tied 4th on the season), it’s that it was so obvious from so early on that our tactics were doomed to fail, but no notable adjustments came. The deep defence took away the long ball, and we didn’t have the movement and creativity to trouble United’s press defence when in possession (where’s Yarmolenko when you need him? Or Deulofeu. Or Mirallas). Static, slow, unimaginative football against one of the better sides in the league just won’t cut it. But it wasn’t the real loss of the day, that came earlier. A bad day at the office. Arsenal (away) up next. Easy.

RIP Howard, thanks for everything.


For more questionable logic, you can find me here on twitter @EvertonMusings

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