United's defensive lapses result in comfortable Chelsea win

With Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie sidelined with injuries, it was always going to be important Manchester United limited defensive errors in order to have a shot at getting a result at Chelsea. Moyes would have expected goals to be tough to come by on the road against a team led by Jose Mourinho- a manager who is historically cautious in big games. Going behind would force United to open themselves up to get back in the contest against a Chelsea side comfortable defending for long stretches of time and playing on the counter. That Chelsea's second and third goals were the result of criminally poor defending from corner kicks meant the home side never really had to kick into their highest gear and play particularly well.

Moyes' side started brightly, particularly attacking down the channels. The fullbacks Evra and Rafael overlapped Young and Valencia well forcing Chelsea's wide attackers Hazard and Willian to defend deep in their own half. Januzaj drifted towards the left channel from his starting #10 position to create overloads on Ivanovic. Although United were unable to translate their early pressure into genuinely threatening opportunities, they were at least keeping Chelsea's dangerous attacking midfielders pinned into their own half.


Samuel Eto'o's opener came against the run of play and took a fortunate deflection. It was certainly a blow to the visitors but wasn't reflective of poor play from United. Chelsea asserted a bit more control after taking the lead but United showed attacking endeavor of their own creating a few decent half chances that indicated the contest was far from over. On 28 minutes Evra put a shot just wide of Cech's front post. Moments later Januzaj beat David Luiz to the end line but his cut back just eluded Welbeck lurking in the box. Then in the 38th Januzaj found Welbeck free 8 yards from goal but Azpilicueta did just enough to put him off, the shot rolling tamely into Cech's arms.

The game hinged on United's shockingly poor defending from a 45th minute Chelsea corner. Welbeck dealt with the initial ball in but it fell to Ramires outside the penalty area. United's players stepped forward collectively- as they should- but none actually bothered to check the Chelsea runners. Ramires played an easy ball to an unmarked Gary Cahill on the right edge of the box whose ball across the face of goal was easily poked in by Eto'o. Rafael was in the best position to step towards Cahill but inexplicably drifts into a more central area at the crucial moment.

From there it was game over. Chelsea were able to keep a compact organized shape at the back and attack with their front four, leaving Luiz and Ramires to sit in front of the back four and prevent United from countering. Chelsea under Mourinho have traditionally been excellent at protecting leads. United didn't have the creativity or quality in the attacking third to offer a serious threat. When Chelsea's third came from another display of poor set piece defending, any shred of doubt was lifted as to who the points were going to.

The result will of course increase pressure on Moyes. What he'll find so frustrating is that his thin squad didn't play badly for long stretches. Mistakes meant Chelsea didn't have to work as hard for the points as they probably should have based on the balance of play.

On the other side, Mourinho will be well pleased. He got three goals from a striker and his side were professional and ruthless. This had the hint of a Mourinho game under his first spell in charge at the club and his side are looking increasingly difficult to beat at the right time of the season.

Manchester United lack invention in final third; Mourinho gets subs wrong

Johan Cabaye's second half winner handed Manchester United a second successive home league defeat for the first time since 2002 and earned Newcastle their first win at Old Trafford since 1972. It is David Moyes third home defeat of the season. Manchester United have scored just 8 goals at Old Trafford, fewer home goals than both West Brom and bottom of the table Sunderland.

The problems today against Newcastle were familiar ones. Moyes' side lacked the invention and quality in the final third to break down an organized opponent.

With Wayne Rooney missing due to yellow card accumulation, Moyes opted for a 4-4-2 with a front pairing of Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez. Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones played in the middle of midfield with Nani on the left wing and Adnan Januzaj on the right.

Alan Pardew opted for a 4-2-3-1 giving Newcastle a man advantage in midfield. The visitors were able to use that advantage to control the game in the middle of the park. With Cheikh Tiote and Vurnon Anita protecting the back four, Manchester United's forays into the final third occurred in the channels and mainly throught Januzaj down the right. Newcastle's center backs Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini dealt with balls into the box from wide areas excellently and deserve a credit for their positioning.

Manchester United's inability to link play forward through the middle had plenty to do with the absence of Rooney. Van Persie lacked Rooney's energy and determination to get on the ball in the withdrawn striker role. Van Persie also lacks Rooney's directness dribbling through midfield. He attempted just one take on in the match. Playing Van Persie in the withdrawn role also meant he rarely found himself in the box where he's at his most dangerous. He didn't manage a single attempt on goal, an incredible stat for last season's Premier League leading goal scorer, and completed just 7 passes in the attacking third.


In the middle of midfield Jones and Cleverley didn't have particularly bad games. Indeed Jones was at times excellent with his defensive positioning and ability to protect the back four. However, both players are limited in what they can contribute in the attack and couldn't have been expected to provide the impetus or creativity going forward to create chances. As a result their roles in possession mainly involved funneling the ball into wide areas where the outside backs would look to overlap Nani and Januzaj tucking inside- another factor that contributed to their inability to vary their attacking approach and penetrate Newcastle through the middle of the pitch. You can see in the graphic below the number of horizontal passes into wide areas both Manchester United center midfielders made.


The extra midfielder also allowed Newcastle to control possession. They ended the contest with 54% possession, a slight but significant edge given they were an inferior team in terms of talent playing at the home of the league champions. Their goal was perhaps a bit opportunistic but Pardew's side deserves immense credit for their organization. The three center midfielders Anita, Tiote and Cabaye were all commanding in the middle of the pitch and the back four organized itself with aplomb. The performances of Debuchy and Williamson in particular deserve recognition. Debuchy was a menace getting forward from his right back position but he also had the pace and energy to make recovery runs.

Mourinho's move to 4-4-2 costly again
Stoke City shocked Chelsea with a 3-2 home win after being completely overrun for the first 40 minutes. For the third time this week Jose Mourinho's side allowed an opposition corner to bounce in the box without getting a touch on it and each time they were made to pay with a goal. John O'Shea and Phil Bardsley were able to tuck in from close range Wednesday for Sunderland, today Crouch scored in a similar fashion for Stoke. The inability to deal with set pieces will be a huge concern for Mourinho as it made the Sunderland contest more uncomfortable at the end than it should have been and shifted the momentum today against a Stoke side that was well and truly out of the game.

Not for the first time this season Mourinho was guilty of making questionable substitutions chasing a win with the game level. At 2-2 he brought on Frank Lampard for John Obi Mikel and Samuel Eto'o for Andre Schurrle and switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. He made a similar switch to 4-4-2 at home to West Brom with the score level at 1-1. As was the case in that earlier contest, the switch was meant to be a positive one but had adverse effects. By taking a man out of midfield Chelsea lost some of the possession dominance they'd been enjoying and found it more difficult to link play into the strikers. It also left them stretched on the break when they lost possession and were hit with a sucker punch just as they were in the West Brom game. The decision to remove Schurrle was particularly strange. He'd scored twice and hit the woodwork and generally seemed to be making a nuisance of himself whereas Juan Mata had had a quiet afternoon. This time around they didn't the Blues didn't have a suspect penalty to bail them out.

Organized United beat Arsenal in cagey contest

Robin Van Persie's first half header from a Wayne Rooney corner consigned Arsenal to their first league defeat since their opening day home loss to Aston Villa and closed the gap between the two sides to 5 points.

It was a contest with plenty of passion and organization from both sides but one that produced few genuine goal scoring opportunities or instances of stylish football. That the match ended with more yellow cards (5) than attempts on target (4) is indicative of the hard fought battles happening in midfield and lack of ideas in the final third. In truth the quality in possession was poor from both sides and it wasn't an especially entertaining contest.

Both sides opted for two central midfielders used to sitting just in front of the back four and defended in their own halves with compact banks of four. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini played the holding midfield positions in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 while Michael Carrick and Phil Jones played deep in midfield in United's 4-4-1-1. It was a sign both sides were concerned with the threat the opposition's attacking players posed in the seams between midfield and the back four. Both Arsene Wenger and David Moyes had the option of playing more of a box-to-box shuttler alongside a holder for a more attacking, proactive approach but chose the more cautious option. In Wenger's case he could have played Aaron Ramsey alongside either Arteta or Flamini. Moyes could have opted for Tom Cleverley alongside Carrick.

Manchester United looked slightly more dangerous in the opening exchanges enjoying more possession higher up the field than Arsenal. They advanced the ball into the attacking third mainly down the channels with both Rooney and Van Persie drifting into wide areas to create overloads for Arsenal's fullbacks and looked to get crosses in the box from these wide areas. They played 17 first half crosses to Arsenal's 8.


In this sense it was very much like a classic Alex Ferguson vs. Wenger contest from recent seasons. Manchester United used the width of the pitch while Arsenal looked to crowd the middle of midfield. Manchester United's goal came when Rooney drifted to the left flank and whipped in an excellent cross towards Van Persie that Vermaelen did well to clear for a corner. The two United forwards then of course combined for the opener on the ensuing corner.

Wenger's midfield trio of Ramsey, Ozil and Santi Cazorla was quite fluid. Both Ramsey and Cazorla tuck inside from their wide starting positions and the three frequently interchange positions. Usually this allows Arsenal to overload the opposition holding midfielders and control the game with possession. However, today the Gunners were unusually sloppy in possession and struggled to retain the ball. The positional interchanging of the three attacking midfielders is fine when Arsenal are bossing possession high up the pitch but can create big problems defensively when they're struggling to keep hold of the ball. It meant that when Arsenal turned the ball over, Cazorla, Ozil and Ramsey were frequently not in areas of the pitch where they could quickly recover into their proper defensive shape. Patrice Evra in particular was able to take advantage of Ramsey's narrow attacking position when United won the ball back, bombing down the left sideline into space.

Moyes was always a cautious manager when he had limited resources at Everton and has maintained that cautious approach at Manchester United in big games. After taking the lead United were careful not to get stretched, committing fewer bodies forward and maintaining a solid defensive shape. They defended in deep banks of four in the second half and despite three attacking substitutions from Arsenal, United's impressive defensive organization limited the away side's ability to find the space in the attacking third to create meaningful chances. United completed just 30 passes in the final third in the second half, illustrating that Moyes is more confident holding on to a one goal lead with an organized defensive approach than he is seeking out a second goal to kill the game off.


In the end that approach made for a less exciting encounter than many neutrals would have hoped but United will be unconcerned. Their third straight league win means that despite a rocky start to the campaign, they're now just 5 points off their league leading opponents today and are starting to find form.

Tactical Analysis: Manchester United 2-0 Crystal Palace

David Moyes picked up his first ever win at Old Trafford as Manchester United beat 10 man Crystal Palace 2-0. Kagisho Dikgacoi was sent off for Palace after being forced into a last ditch tackle on Ashley Young in first half stoppage time following a calamitous giveaway in front of the Palace penalty area by Mile Jedinak. The tackle resulted in a penalty though replays suggested the contact happened outside the box. Up to that point Palace had effectively frustrated United- Robin Van Persie's chest and volley off the woodwork from a great ball over the top by Rooney in the 39th minute was United's only gilt-edged opportunity of the half. Reduced to 10 men however, Palace couldn't get players high enough up the pitch to mount any sort of threat on David De Gea and it was job done for United by halftime.

Moyes made several personnel changes to the side that lost 1-0 two weekends ago at Anfield, though they used the normal 4-4-1-1 we've seen under Moyes. Fabio replaced Phil Jones at right back- his first appearance for United in over a year after spending last season on loan at QPR. Anderson replaced Tom Cleverley alongside Michael Carrick in the middle of midfield. Antonio Valencia was given the nod over Ryan Giggs on the right side of midfield and Wayne Rooney returned from a head gash injury to replace Danny Welbeck in the hole behind Van Persie.

Ian Holloway, who was watching from the bleachers while serving the second game of his two match ban, made one change to his Palace side that beat Sunderland 3-1 two weekends ago. Adrian Marriapa replaced Joel Ward at right back. Holloway also switched formations from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-5-1/4-3-3. Jedinak sat just in front of the back four as the deepest of a center midfield three with Dikgacoi to his right and Jose Campana to his left. Dwight Gayle played wide on the left rather than behind Chamakh where he'd been used against Sunderland.

Starting XIs: Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace, 9/14/13
Prior to the sending off, the key tactical feature was Palace's defensive shape. The front three of Chamakh, Gayle and Puncheon would put pressure on United's back four higher up the field while Campana, Jedinak and Dikgacoi sat deeper in the middle as a compact midfield bank of three and would shift to whatever side of the field the ball was on. The two screen shots below are taken 6 seconds apart and show Palace's defensive rotation from the midfield and front 3.

Forward and midfield banks of three for Palace


The shape meant Palace were quite narrow defensively and left United's weak side wide midfielder in plenty of space to receive long crossfield passes. Ashley Young in particular found himself in acres of space on the left flank. Collecting the ball on the weak side allowed Young to take on Adrian Mariappa 1 v. 1 down the left side. When Young took the ball inside it allowed space for Evra to overlap. In the 19th minute Carrick hit a crossfield ball to Young wide on the left. He was able to beat Mariappa into the box but was then booked for a dive when there appeared to be minimal contact from Gabiddon's challenge. Although nothing came of it, the move showed Palace were most vulnerable when United were able to quickly switch the point of attack. The image below shows the moment just as Carrick is preparing to hit the diagonal ball to Young. Mariappa is tucked inside helping his center backs with the movement of Rooney and Van Persie. Puncheon is higher up the pitch in a narrow position to give Palace an extra body in the middle of midfield. For a player with Carrick's vision and passing ability it's an easy diagonal ball into Young.

Carrick switches point of attack to Young.
However, United were disappointing down the left and should have done more from that flank to trouble Palace. Young lacked the directness to run past the isolated Mariappa and get to the byline and too often his delivery from wide areas was poor. He managed just 2 successful take ons from 6 attempts down the left and none of his 8 crosses were successful. Although generally a right winger, this may have been an interesting game to see Wilfried Zaha play on the left as his ability to take on defenders could have been useful in getting passed Mariappa thereby forcing Gabiddon to step to ball and leave space in the box for runs from Rooney and Van Persie.


Disappointingly for the neutral observer, the direction of the game hinged on a lack of concentration from Jedinak (who had otherwise played quite well in the first half). His square pass to no one 25 yards from his own goal sent Young through on goal. Dikgacoi didn't have much of a choice but to lunge from behind and when he caught Young referee John Moss didn't had no option but to brandish the red. Van Persie dispatched the penalty and from there it was game over.

Down to 10, Palace played a 4-4-1, defending in two deep banks of four. With the extra man, United were easily able to keep possession high up the pitch. When Palace did win the ball back, they were so deep their only option for an outlet pass forward was a long and hopeful one into Chamakh. United could simply press the Palace fullbacks, forcing them to hit the long balls early into Chamakh that were comfortably dealt with by Vidic and Ferdinand. 

United were comfortable in the second half if not altogether inspiring. They still don't seem to have the balance quite right in midfield and the wide play hasn't been good enough all season. Rooney's second half free kick was genuinely world class but it may be a slight concern for United that they couldn't be more ruthless against a newly promoted side down to ten men at Old Trafford.

5 questions to consider ahead of this weekend's Premier League fixtures

1. Will Ozil start? 
With Tomas Rosicky set to miss Arsenal's Saturday clash at Sunderland with a thigh injury he picked up on international duty with the Czech Republic, there's a strong chance Mesut Ozil will start in his first appearance for the Gunners. Wenger could alternatively opt to bring in Mathieu Flamini to play deeper in midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey and push Jack Wilshere into the #10 role. However, against a Sunderland side likely to set up defensively, the prospect of a center midfield trio with as much creativity and attacking ability as Ramsey, Wilshere and Ozil would likely appeal to Wenger. An attacking six of Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud offers the prospect of some truly exciting attacking football. Sunderland's 5 goals against are tied for the worst in the Premier League and the atmosphere is a little stale around the Stadium of Light with Paolo Di Canio continuing to publicly call out his own players- they'll need to be organized and get a big boost from the home crowd to have a chance at getting something out of this one.

(UPDATE: Ozil missed Arsenal's training session today with an illness but will travel with the team to Sunderland. Per Mertesacker also missed with illness and will not travel). 

2. West Ham vs. Southampton: who will win out in clash of styles?
The intrigue of this game is that it pairs two sides with two very different playing styles. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce places far more emphasis on territory than possession. His side is 16th in the league in average possession with 44.4% and have been outpossessed in all three of their opening fixtures. Those stats are particularly startling given two of those games were at home to Cardiff and Stoke, a newly promoted side and a side infamous for its inability to retain the ball (they were also outpossessed at Newcastle in match week 2). West Ham are organized and difficult to break down defensively. They shuttle the ball into wide areas, cross early and often and look for knock downs. They've attacked through the middle of the pitch less than any team this season. The loss to injury of towering forward Andy Carroll and talented crossers Joe Cole and Stewart Downing will certainly hurt West Ham's ability to play their preferred style effectively. Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side on the other hand currently sits third in the league in terms of average possession. They prefer a more patient, passing attack. The striking partnership of Dani Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert failed to produce a goal in Southampton's loss to Norwich two weekends ago so it'll be interesting to see if Pochettino goes with both those two up front again or decides to go with just one striker. In that loss at Norwich they struggled to defend the flanks which could provide West Ham opportunities to get crosses into the box to Modibo Maiga and Kevin Nolan. West Ham haven't won on their travels since March 2- with a depleted squad that's unlikely to change Sunday. Still, this should be an entertaining game for the clash of footballing philosophies on display.

3. Will Martinez be brave against Chelsea?
Roberto Martinez is a far more proactive manager than his predecessor at Everton David Moyes. Whereas Moyes tends to react to the strengths of each opposition and organize his squad accordingly, Martinez focuses more on his own team's approach. Martinez's Wigan side played Chelsea in the opening fixture of last season and he showed he was unafraid to play expansive, attacking football. Wigan finished the match with more possession but were picked apart twice on the counter in the opening 10 minutes and Chelsea held on for a fairly comfortable 2-0 win. Herein lies the crucial question with Martinez. His sides generally play a brand of football that is attractive on the eye but is he willing to adjust his style to achieve better results? So far his Everton side lead the league in possession yet have managed just three draws. While much of that can be blamed on players getting used to the new system and the lack of an in form striker, questions remain regarding whether Martinez can combine style with substance. If his side continue the trend of bossing possession Saturday against Chelsea, they'll have to be extremely cautious about being caught on the counter. The Blues have a gaggle of talented midfielders capable of reeking havoc on the break and in Jose Mourinho a manager more comfortable playing a counter-attacking style. New signings James McCarthy and Gareth Barry will provide options for Martinez in the middle of midfield after the departure of Marouane Fellaini but on loan striker Romelu Lukaku will be unavailable to play against his parent club. It'll also be interesting to see whether Willian and Samuel Eto'o get their first minutes for Chelsea.

4. Will Kagawa play?
Since the appointment of David Moyes at Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa has played just 7 minutes of competitive football after coming on as a late substitute in the community shield. Moyes has instead opted to use Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck in Kagawa's preferred role behind main striker Robin Van Persie. A 0-0 draw to Chelsea followed by a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool saw Manchester United fail to score in successive games for the first time since August 2007. The lack of offensive output has many wondering why Moyes has refused to field a player with the creative ability of Kagawa. Concerns over Kagawa's ability to defend have been suggested and against stronger sides like Chelsea and Liverpool perhaps Moyes wanted first and foremost to ensure his side had a strong defensive shape. This wouldn't be a huge surprise given Moyes has always been a fairly reactive, conservative manager. However, with newly promoted Crystal Palace coming to Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney sidelined with an injury, not giving Kagawa a shot would make little sense this weekend.
  
5. Can Liverpool continue unbeaten run?
Brendan Rodgers' side has shown tremendous character opening the season with three difficult wins- an away victory over Aston Villa sandwiched between home wins over Stoke and Manchester United. It's the first time Liverpool have opened a league campaign with three wins since the 1994-95 season. All three wins of those wins have ended in a 1-0 scoreline and the Reds have had to dig deep in each. These were the type of fixtures they were dropping points in last season, points they'll need to pick up to have chance at a top four finish this campaign. They're the only side yet to have conceded. Daniel Sturridge is starting to show his promise having netted all three game winners. Rodgers managed to strengthen his side on transfer deadline day adding French center back Mamadou Sakho and winger Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea. It took Liverpool until October 20 to reach 9 points last season so there's plenty of reason for optimism at Anfield this time around, particularly given the strong form they showed in the second half of last season.

In traveling to Swansea Monday night they'll face another talented opponent. The Swans owe much of their current 16th place standing to a difficult run of opening fixtures, having opened the season with a home loss to champions Manchester United before being beaten by Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They managed their first win of the campaign 2-0 over West Brom at the Hawthornes two weekends ago and will look to use that win and a boisterous home crowd to motivate them Monday night. The Welsh side did however manage just 6 home league wins last season- the 7th fewest in the league.

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea: Spoils shared in cagey affair; Rooney speculation put to bed?

Chelsea and Manchester United played out a cautious 0-0 draw in David Moyes' first league game at Old Trafford. Moyes' side had the better of the chances but with both teams reluctant to leave themselves exposed on the break, a draw seemed an inevitability.

In truth, the most intriguing part of the contest was probably the team sheets. With Wayne Rooney's future still uncertain, Moyes made a major statement by giving the England international the start against a Chelsea team he'd asked to be transferred to. Moyes appears to have every intention of keeping his wantaway forward and that Rooney looked United's brightest player will only add to the likelihood he stays at United.

Perhaps Jose Mourinho was trying to send a message of his own to Rooney with his team selection. The Chelsea manager opted to play without a true striker and instead employed Andre Schurrle furthest up the pitch with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne as the three attacking midfielders. It seems unlikely the Chelsea boss would use such a big fixture as an opportunity to signal to Rooney that he'd be the first choice striker at Chelsea but with Mourinho you can't rule out the possibility.

In his post match interview he said the decision was a tactical one and that he had thought the mobility of playing four attacking midfielders would cause United more problems than playing with a point man up top. Whatever his reasoning, he appears resigned to Rooney staying put after telling reporters he can't see the forward leaving after the outpouring of support he got from United fans this evening.

I had written a post late last week suggesting the arrival of Willian could have serious implications for Juan Mata's playing time and there will be further speculation today about the Spaniard's future under Mourinho after he couldn't get a starting position in a starting lineup that featured four attacking midfielders. Mourinho did rubbish questions speculating on the future of Mata after the game, telling reporters he's suffering from a knock and wasn't going anywhere. However, he started against Aston Villa midweek and didn't appear to be suffering from any injury.

Quick thoughts on tactics
  • Chelsea defended fairly deep and appeared to be looking to break quickly on the counter with their four pacey, energetic attacking midfielders De Bruyne, Hazard, Oscar and Schurrle. However, without a target striker they lacked a focal point in attack and an outlet forward when they won the ball back in midfield. They were also hurt by some untidy passing when they had chances to advance the ball forward quickly.
  • United haven't changed much about their style under Moyes. They still play 4-4-1-1 and use plenty of width. Today, with Chelsea defending compact and narrow, United's best route into the final third was through the channels. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra overlapped Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. The final ball was often lacking however and Moyes introduced Ashley Young to provide a better delivery in from wide areas. 
  • Chelsea were well set up to deal with crosses sent in from the channels. Centerbacks John Terry and Gary Cahill are far more comfortable sitting deep and heading away balls whipped into the box than when opposition players are running in behind them. Chelsea were forced into making a few important blocks but overall they weren't really troubled.


Tactical Analysis: Everton 0-0 Southampton

Click for larger image
Southampton earned a point in Mauricio Pochettino's first game in charge following the sacking of Nigel Adkins. It was a less dour contest than the 0-0 scoreline suggests but there was a profound lack of quality in the final third from both teams, summed up by Nikica Jelavic's second half whiff from 10 yards out.

Southampton were much the better side in the first half but weren't clinical enough in front of goal as they failed to convert a host of decent opportunities. Everton created the better chances in the second half but didn't do enough to deserve the win.

Pochettino recalled Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert to the starting 11 meaning Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis, starters in the 2-2 midweek draw with Chelsea, were left on the substitutes bench. David Moyes' only change to the side that drew 0-0 with Swansea was to replace Victor Anichebe with Steven Naismith at right midfield.

First Half
The most interesting tactical feature of the first half was Southampton's pressing and their defensive positioning against Everton's favored left flank.

The Saints' four most advanced players Puncheon, Ramirez, Del Prado and Lambert looked to quickly close down Neville, Osman, Jagielka and Distin in Everton's defensive half. You could hear Pochettino through the television mics urging his players to press high up the field. The strategy made sense- the Neville-Osman midfield combination isn't especially fluid and too often there was a large gap between the two and Fellaini. As a result, Everton struggled to link play with its more advanced players through the middle. Without being afforded the time and space to play comfortably between their center backs and holding midfielders, Everton's only passing option up the field was often a long ball from the back towards Fellaini. The Saints' pressing allowed them to nick possession in Everton's half and spring dangerous attacking moves. The graphic below shows passes received by Fellaini in the opening half, many of which came from long balls, and Southampton's first half interceptions.




At times this season Everton have used long balls into Fellaini to great effect. He's able to use his size to hold off opposition defenders and flick balls on for the striker or wingers making narrow runs in behind. This strategy was largely responsible for the Toffees season-opening win over Manchester United, when the Belgian used his physical advantage to bully Michael Carrick in the center of the park (due to injuries Carrick was playing out of position at center back that evening). However, against a side sitting towards the bottom of the table, Moyes surely wouldn't have expected his side to be so outplayed in the center of the pitch.

That Everton's deficiencies in the center of the pitch were so noticeable is attributable to how effectively Southampton defended Peinaar and Baines down the left channel. The Toffees rarely rely on their central midfielders to provide the link between defense and offense- instead they advance the ball into the attacking third through the combination play of Baines and Peinaar on the left. Peinaar frequently tucks inside from the left, forcing the opposition right back in field with him and allowing space for Baines to overlap near the touchline and whip in crosses.

Southampton employed a clever defensive approach that denied Baines opportunities to overlap into space. Rather than having the right back Nathaniel Clyne track Peinaar in field, thereby opening space for Baines to overlap down the wing, Jack Cork shifted to his right from center midfield to pick up Peinaar when he came in field. This allowed Clyne to sit deeper and deny any passes into Baines high up the field. As a result, Baines was forced to receive the ball in much deeper areas than he's used to in the first half, denying him the opportunity to get in positions to apply his trademark crosses. He didn't complete a pass in the attacking third in the first half and managed just one cross from open play from a deep position (the other two crosses in the graphic below were a corner and an Everton free kick in the middle of the pitch near the halfway line).



Rickie Lambert lacks the pace to get in behind defenses. Everton therefore played a high defensive line to keep him away from the box where his size and strength can be put to greater use. However, their pressing and efficient use of the channels enabled them to create some decent opportunities. They frequently looked for Lambert peeling off to the back post to knock the ball back across the six.

Second half
The game began to shift towards David Moyes' side after he was forced to make a 58th minute substitution for Seamus Coleman after the right back suffered an injury. Moyes brought on Anichebe to replace Coleman; Neville dropped to right back, Fellaini dropped to a deeper midfield role alongside Osman and Anichebe went up top alongside Jelavic in a 4-4-2. Fellaini's switch to a deeper role, which he views as his best position, immediately made Everton more fluid in midfield, with the Belgian offering more attacking thrust than Neville. After a poor outing Jelavic was replaced in the 67th minute by Kevin Mirallas- making his first appearance since Dec. 9 after being sidelined by injury. Everton moved back into more of a 4-2-3-1 with Mirallas playing off of Anichebe. The move further increased Everton's fluidity in midfield and the tempo of their play noticeably grew. Mirallas's movement in between the lines was good- however his lack of match sharpness showed as he missed a good opportunity after controlling the ball well and misplaced a few passes.

Southampton's press was less effective in the second half. In the opening 45 minutes they won 7 tackles and 9 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. In the second half they managed 4 tackles and 5 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. As a result, they were unable to spring the same types of quick attacks they created in the first half and failed to register a shot on goal in the second 45 minutes.

Conclusion
Southampton were stronger in the first half; Everton were better in the second. Both sides had opportunities to win the game but both lacked composure in front of goal. In the end it was probably a fair result.

Pochettino will likely be the more pleased of the two managers. His side were well organized and showed good energy levels to press for the majority of the game. More clinical finishing would have given his team a massive three points, but a difficult point to a top five side should be applauded.

Moyes will rue another missed opportunity at 3 points. He'd have viewed this as a good chance to cut into Tottenham's lead in the race for fourth. It's his sides 11th draw of the season, tied with Stoke for most in the Premier League.

Everton 3-0 Swansea: Everton attack down left and exploit Fellaini's aerial ability

Everton used Marauane Fellaini's height advantage on dead balls and attacked almost entirely down the left through Leighton Baines and Steven Peinaar in a dominant 3-0 win over Swansea at Liberty Stadium.

David Moyes' side set out in a 4-4-1-1 with Victor Anichebe getting the start at center forward for the injured Nikica Jelavic with Fellaini tucked in behind him. Swansea played their normal 4-2-3-1 with Pablo Hernandez given the start on the right over Nathan Dyer and Leon Britton left on the subs bench.

Everton Press
Defensively, Everton pressed the Swansea back four with Anichebe, Peinaar, Fellaini, and right midfielder Kevin Mirallas. Leon Osman and Phil Neville sat deeper in the center of the midfield closer to the Toffees' back four. This created a gap between the four players pressing and the two holding midfielders but it wasn't space Swansea was able to exploit. The high pressing of Everton's four most advanced players prevented Swansea from settling into any sort of a rhythm in the attacking third of the field. The Swans completed 322 passes in the game, just 29 fewer than Everton, but only 69 of those were in the attacking third (21%). Everton were happy to allow the Swansea back four to pass the ball sideways amongst themselves and the Welsh side rarely looked like penetrating into the attacking third.

Everton Attack
Going forward, Everton focused its attack on the left side of the pitch where Baines and Peinaar combined throughout the afternoon with some tidy interchanges. The two accounted for the second and fourth most pass combinations in the game- there were 15 Baines to Peinaar combinations and 14 Peinaar to Baines combinations. Often Anichebe would drift to the left as well, overloading the right side of the Swansea defense while Fellaini would move into the center of the box, offering a dangerous physical presence to feed the ball into. The graphic below shows Everton's passes in the final third. Notice the number of those that occurred down the left hand side.



Interestingly, Everton's one goal that didn't result from a set piece came from a rare counter down the right flank. Fellaini won the ball deep in his own half and found an outlet pass to Peinaar who had drifted to the opposite side of the field. The South African found Mirallas bursting through the middle and the Belgian tucked it home.

Moyes also clearly set out to exploit Fellaini's height on set pieces, as he did in their season opening win over Manchester United. Any free kick the Toffees earned within 50 yards of the goal they'd get numbers into the box and lump it to the back post for Fellaini. Swansea had a miserable time dealing with the tall Belgian all afternoon and the tactic bore fruit for Everton in the 22nd minute when Fellaini won a high dead ball at the back post and flicked on for Anichebe who finished from 6 yards out to open the scoring. Replays showed Fellaini had clearly handled the ball into the path of Anichebe but the defending was poor from Ashley Williams to allow Fellaini to get the initial touch with his chest. The Belgian would go on to score himself in the 82nd minute, heading in another set piece from the left side at the front post.

Conclusion
Everton's four man high press prevented Swansea from getting any sort of meaningful possession in the attacking third. Swansea were entirely unable to cope with Baines and Peinaar down Everton's left side and failed to deal with aerial challenges with Fellaini. In the end the home side was fortunate it was only 3-0 as Anichebe was guilty of missing a couple of very good opportunities. Moyes will be thrilled with his side's performance as they continue their uncharacteristically bright start to the season.