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article imageMan United turn to quick combination passes to unsettle Everton

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 3, 2016 in Sports
Manchester United’s derby win presented an opportunity to mount a late push for a place in the top four, and Louis van Gaal persisted with a youthful attack based on mobility and direct running against an unorthodox Everton XI.
Yet, despite the additional dynamism in United’s four attacking positions, the hosts still encountered difficulties in the final third. Jesse Lingard remained in a central role behind youngster Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata cut in from the right to deliver crosses, and Martial drifted centrally to shoot from the opposite flank.
But from an attacking perspective, United didn’t cope well with Everton’s pressing in the opening half. Michael Carrick was guilty of constantly misplacing passes in midfield in their third — even with minimal pressure applied — and the heavy reliance on replicating the attacking ploy displayed at the Etihad Stadium was evident.
Though, United’s double-pivot weren’t authoritative in possession, and Mata’s presence from the right was bleak, the hosts’ best chances stemmed through Martial’s movement into central positions. First, Martial’s swift combination passing with Lingard led to a shot that flew inches wide of the far post. Then, John Stones was forced to make an exceptional last-ditch tackle following the Frenchman combining with Rashford.
With United lacking penetration and creativity around the box, Martial’s quick passing and movement was the sole method of attack flustering Everton’s back-line. Everton, though, were less inclined to move forward as they featured in a flat 4-4-1-1 with Aaron Lennon playing behind Romelu Lukaku, whilst Ross Barkley sat in midfield with James McCarthy and the aid of Tom Cleverley from the left.
Van Gaal intended on limiting Everton’s ability to build attacks from the back by having Martial press Stones and cut off a passing lane for Seamus Coleman, with Marcos Rojo stepping tight to the Everton right-back. Ross Barkley was also pestered in deep midfield positions by Lingard and Morgan Schneiderlin, which forced the away side to play several hopeful long balls to Lukaku, who was eager to step deeper towards the ball opposed to spinning off his defender and charging into the channels.
Both statistically and stylistically, Everton have been far superior away from Goodison Park based on counter-attacks launched by Barkley and Romelu Lukaku. Here, though, Lennon played closer to Lukaku — possibly to exploit Blind’s lack of pace — but Everton were deprived of guile and incisive passing around the final third; Lennon’s unfamiliarity with the role was also exposed as he rarely drifted into pockets of space to receive possession.
Martinez’s men rarely tested David De Gea from open play, and it was Phil Jagielka who posed the biggest threat via corner-kicks: The Everton captain rattled the cross bar with a thunderous header, and in the latter stages of the second half forced the United keeper into an instinctive point-blank save. The other threat stemmed through Deulofeu’s running down the right — getting the better of Rojo and Chris Smalling — but the Spaniard’s crosses failed to connect with Lukaku.
Perhaps Deulofeu’s threat led to Van Gaal’s initial substitution at the start of the second half, which witnessed Timothy Fosu-Mensah replace Rojo in defence. The Dutch defender slotted into right-back — pushing Matteo Darmian to the opposite flank — and played an integral role in Martial’s winner.
"There were two games within a game," Martinez told BBC Sport. "Up until the goal, we were the team with a better tempo and we always looked a threat. 
"It's that sort of game that came down to small margins - the ball hitting the crossbar is the difference between us getting something out of the game."
Mata controlled Schneiderlin’s cross-field diagonal pass with his exceptional first-touch, and located Mensah in right half-space. The United striker combined superbly with the onrushing Mensah, which saw Martial direct the substitute’s cross past Joel Robles. In both phases Rojo was ineffective, but Mensah’s contribution to the winner was followed by several vital defensive clearances.
Van Gaal quickly replaced Carrick for his unusual careless use of possession for Ander Herrera, whereas Martinez turned to Kevin Mirallas for Deulofeu. Where United sought further control of the match with a mobile midfielder, Mirallas’ inclusion was aimed to provide support for Lukaku.
While Everton’s approach was logical on paper, here, the away side sat too deep, whereas Lennon didn’t offer support or aim to dart past Lukaku, who rarely varied his movement. The Everton striker was isolated upfront for large portions of the match — severely missing Barkley’s guile in the final third — and was comfortably outplayed by Daley Blind.
"I think it was more or less a stolen victory," Van Gaal told Sky Sports. "We didn't play so well. It looked like we were not fresh enough, despite the extra days to prepare. You do not know how the players are going to come back after the international break.
"They played a little bit different than we expected, and we had to change in the second half, and we got better.”
Although Everton pushed forward throughout the final half hour, neither side truly benefited in that regard — United’s youngsters didn’t offer a threat on the counter, whereas one attack via Stones’ forward passing served as the away side’s best move from open play. Van Gaal appears keen on resting United’s top four aspirations around a youthful attacking quartet, but they require variety in the final third to achieve the Dutchman’s projected goals.
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