In the eighth week of the Premier League, fourth-placed Everton face off against Manchester United ruing in 15th place. 

Manchester United come off a 1-0 loss to Arsenal conceding a penalty to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. United were bossed in the midfield against Arteta’s 3-4-3 and have had a dismal start to the entire season overall, only beating Brighton and Newcastle United and losing to Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal, while drawing to Chelsea.

Everton, meanwhile, don’t come in great form either. They lost 2-1 to Newcastle from a Callum Wilson brace but also scored a goal with Dominic Calvert-Lewin netting one in the dying minutes of the game. The Toffees have won four so far – against Brighton, West Brom, Tottenham Hotspurs and Crystal Palace, but then drew to Liverpool and lost to Newcastle and Southampton.

Last season, when these two sides faced off, they drew 1-1 in both Goodison Park and Old Trafford with goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Bruno Fernandes in the more recent game in March 2020. The earlier game in December 2019 saw goals from Mason Greenwood and an own-goal from Manchester United centre-back Victor Lindelöf.

This tactical analysis will look at how Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Carlo Ancelloti might set up and the tactics they will use in this game. This analysis will also look at both sides’ previous games and what they should learn from them.

Expected Lineups

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis tactics
Expected Lineups for Everton vs Manchester United

Manchester United (Red): 4-4-2 Diamond

This lineup has given Solskjaer a lot of success and I expect him to go with the same structure once again. David De Gea starts in goal with Harry Maguire and Lindelöf in front of him. At left-back, considering that Alex Telles tested positive for the coronavirus, Luke Shaw should start in that position. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been great at right-back and should complete the defence.

The midfield is where Solksjaer has his problems to pick players. He has recently opted for the 4-4-2 diamond and it has brought him moderate success. I expect him to continue that formation. The holding midfielder should be Nemanja Matić, who has brought stability in that position. Fred, the workhorse, should start in right central midfield while Fernandes starts in the attacking midfield position behind the attackers. The debate is for the player that should start in right central midfield. Generally, Paul Pogba has started in the previous games but has been poor in those games. I believe that Donny van de Beek should start in that position because of his great performances as a substitute.

The attack is fairly straightforward, with Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford predicted to start. 

Everton (Blue): 4-3-3

Ancelloti’s Toffees should start with their standard 4-3-3 formation. In goal, I expect English international Jordan Pickford to start. Their usual central defence pair of Michael Keane and Yerry Mina should start in this game as well. After Lucas Digne was sent off against Southampton, he returns for this game against the Red Devils and should immediately start. To complete the defence, Seamus Coleman will start at right-back.

Everton’s midfield has been great so far this season and should continue with their usual lineup. The Brazilian Allan should start as the holding midfielder and will be flanked by ex-Barcelona man André Gomes and new signing Abdoulaye Doucoure. 

In attack, James Rodríguez should start at right-wing after his absence against Newcastle due to an injury. Meanwhile, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has been in hot form this season, should start as the striker. Considering Richarlison is suspended for this game, I expect Alex Iwobi to start in the left-wing to complete the Blues.

How could Manchester United defend

Manchester United’s defence and pressing against Arsenal in their previous game was mostly solid. They played with a high block and triggered the press after the ball went wide on either side. When pressing the opponents, they formed a lopsided pentagon as seen below:

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis Tactics
Manchester United’s pressing formation.

The pentagon involves the two forwards, Rashford and Greenwood, the attacking midfielder (Fernandes in most cases) and the two central midfielders. The interesting part about this press is that the players tend to take their positions based on the position of the ball and not the position of their opponents. Here, the ball is between the left half-space and left-wing, and that’s where the players are positioned. Greenwood attacks the player on the ball while Rashford is positioned near the other two central defenders to get onto any passes. This forces Tierney to pass the ball back to Leno. Fernandes is still marking one of the midfielders in the double pivot and against a team like Everton that employ a holding midfielder in Allan, it will most likely be Fernandes’ job to track Allan. Meanwhile, the two midfielders to the left and right will have to occupy Doucoure and Gomes. 

The important pressing triggers for Manchester United are the back passes to the defenders. This is done by the wide players stepping out to face the opposition’s full-backs and the central players attacking the players in the centre and in the half-spaces. This would, in turn, close off passing lanes forward and force the defenders to pass back to the goalkeeper. This form of pressure worked against Chelsea, where Edouard Mendy mishit a pass to Thiago Silva due to the immense pressure from the forward line. 

The main problem in the defensive part of Manchester United’s game is their see-sawing defensive abilities. In their games against Paris Saint-Germain, players like Wan-Bissaka and Axel Tuanzebe put in a great defensive shift. However, there are games like United’s recent Champions League matchup against Istanbul Başakşehir where United have been poor in defending their goal. We can see an example below:

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis Tactics
Manchester United’s horrible defensive positioning against İstanbul Başakşehir

Here, United (in black and white) are defending from a cross from Istanbul. However, we can see that there are two Istanbul players wide open and are ready to receive the ball. This is poor defensive positioning on the part of United and if they concede many opportunities like this, Calvert-Lewin will be ready to pounce.

Everton’s attacking tactics

In attack, Everton have been better than before, with 15 goals this season and have the fifth-highest goals scored in the league. The crucial dynamic of Everton in attack this season has been on the right side with Rodríguez, Coleman and Doucoure. They engage in rotations with various passing variations with the three players switching positions regularly. The first is with the midfielder (Doucoure) dropping into the right half-space with Rodríguez dropping deeper into the centre. Coleman provides the width in this formation and acts as a passing option by overlapping as seen below:

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis Tactics
Everton’s Passing Triangles on the right side

Rodríguez’s objective here is to cross the ball to Digne with Richarlison making a run into the box. However, Coleman also remains unmarked and can be ready to make a run on the edge of the box and give Calvert-Lewin a heading option. The beauty of the positional switches that take place is that there are no fixed positions for the players. Coleman can underlap based on the situation while Doucoure goes wide while Rodríguez stays centrally. 

Another important passing dynamic is conducted by Rodríguez as we will see below.

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis Tactics
James switching the ball to Digne in the central third of the pitch

Here, Rodríguez makes a long ball by switching it to Digne on the far side from right to left. This play occurs regularly as the full-back is in a lot of space to get to the ball and run around with it. This play works well against teams that try to heavily press the player on the ball. Another important reason to switch the ball is that the opposition generally mark and press the right-hand side, overloading players.

In the central part of the pitch, this works to reduce the pressure on one side of the pitch and switch it to the other. This decreases the overall pressing intensity and number of pressers as they are spread out more on the pitch. This works differently in attacking positions, however, as we can see below:

English Premier League 2020/21: Everton vs Manchester United - Tactical Preview analysis Tactics
James switching the ball to Digne in advanced positions on the pitch

When Rodríguez switches the ball out wide, Digne makes an overlapping run to get the ball. The pass generally clears three to four defenders well and works to penetrate the opposition’s midfield lines. Richarlison meanwhile, makes a timed run into the ball to drag the opposition’s left-back and to overload the left half-space in the box. This is how the Colombian unlocks deeper defences with his pinpoint long passes. 

Conclusion

In this tactical analysis, we saw how Manchester United might be defending and how Everton might attack. Everton are a punishing side that can score a lot of goals on their day. The entire game is based on which Manchester United shows up. If the well-structured side shows up, Manchester United will take the win. But if the weak-willed side shows up, I would say that Everton will win.