Do not, I repeat DO NOT hoof the ball from defence to attack! A pass played from defence to attack in the air is: (A) predictable and therefore easy to defend, (B) difficult for your attackers to control and as a result YOU LOSE POSSESSION!!!
If you give up possession easily against good footballers they will create chances against you. The more times you hoof the ball upfield and consequently lose possession, the more chances you will indirectly hand to your opponents. As a result, it becomes almost impossible to keep a clean sheet as they will eventually and inevitably score a goal if you keep giving them possession of the ball.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at our opponents and assess where they may have possible weaknesses:
1. Van der Saar – aged 39, slow off his line, can’t jump. Therefore, (a) play passes in behind their back four for our forwards to run onto. Such passes must be played FROM MIDFIELD! I know we haven’t seen one for a long time, but please at least try to play a pass on the ground for a forward to run onto. With this in mind we must play with pace upfront – therefore we must play with two attackers. Saha, Vaughan, and Anichebe all have pace. To play with just Yakubu on his own upfront would be a capitulation and unforgiveable (incidentally to play Yakubu upfront and Fellaini off him against Arsenal was astonishing – no pace and what an insult to the other attackers to play Fellaini in that role).
(b) Ensure that Arteta and Pienaar vary their positions, on occasions, and play slightly infield, away from the touchline and closer to central midfield when we are in possession of the ball. From those positions they can look to play straighter balls in behind the Man Utd back four, or play chipped and weighted passes over their back four. Furthermore, give them freedom to swap their positions with each other and Osman. Man Utd will almost certainly expect Arteta to be on the right wing and Pienaar on the left wing. I’d give them something to think about straight from the start and swap them over. Arteta on the left wing enables him to play straighter passes with his right foot and more importantly greater opportunities to strike shots from outside the box as he cuts infield from the left.
(c) Play corners or free kicks high and beyond the goal to be headed back into the front of goal area in the hope it falls to one of our players. VDS won’t come for them, he never does, because he knows he can’t jump (he’s too old).
2. Ferdinand – pressure him when he’s in possession. He can be great but he’s prone to errors. With this in mind this could be the sort of game to play Vaughan to harass Ferdinand. He always gives 100% and at least we’d know he wouldn’t meekly accept defeat like some of the players who I could name. Whoever plays with Yakubu should play up against Man Utd backline looking to break beyond and behind them. But also he will be required to run the channels to give midfielders options. Yakubu should drop deep , in “the hole “ away from Man Utd’s central defenders – he’s got the ability to retain possession in this position and can play short passes well. Also can turn and look for a shot from distance.
3. Brown – he doesn’t like being pressured. Not a great first touch on him. Stay close to him when we are defending and try to close him down quickly as soon as he receives the ball. With luck he may lose possession in a dangerous position and give us a chance.
4. Evra – brilliant and athletic attacking fullback. But therein lies his weakness. I’ve never seen a fullback advance so often so high upfield and more often than not into opposition’s penalty area. As soon as he does this the whole team should be looking for it. One of our forwards should then drop into position to the right side of central midfield. As soon as we regain possession that forward should start a diagonal run at pace into the channel where Evra should be. A long pass over the top of Man Utd midfield into that channel should be hit immediately once we regain possession. A Man Utd central defender is likely to try to come across to cover but they’ll be running at pace. If there is a clumsy touch in the box when running at pace then there is always a chance of a penalty (and a sending off). If our forward can beat that central defender he will be in on goal with a chance. Midfielders should get themselves into position to pick up any lose balls on the edge of the box.
5. Central midfield – (a) A definite weakness for ManUtd at present. Scholes and Hargreaves injured. Fletcher an average player. O’Shea a central defender playing out of position. Anderson, inconsistent. Giggs, may possibly play central midfield due to injuries – again not his position and very poor defensively (he can’t tackle). His great asset is running with pace. Not enough room in central midfield to do this. So whichever of them plays we can compete against them.
(b) So who should we play there? We MUST play a defensive midfielder in front of our back four to try to nullify Man Utd’s attacking talents. Rodwell or Castillo must play. Fellaini and Neville are too slow and just not acceptable in that position as they are guaranteed to give free kicks away on the edge of our box (a form of football suicide against Man Utd with Ronaldo, Rooney and Berbatov all brilliant free kick takers).Osman, if on form, gives support to the attack but only play him for 60/70 mins. After that he’s invariably a spent force. I’d have Fellaini on the bench and look to bring him on at that point.
So much for Man Utd’s weaknesses, what about dealing with their strengths?
1. Ronaldo – Baines played him very well last year so he must play, he has quick feet and great balance to match Ronaldo. Lescott is having a troublesome season and the last thing he needs is a poor game against Ronaldo. Also Baines’s delivery into the box can be excellent so there is always the chance he may create a goal. Also he should be allowed to take some of our freekicks rather than predictably letting Arteta take them all.
2. Left wing for Man Utd is likely to be Park or Giggs. Both use pace to attack opposition’s right back. Neville is too slow so Hibbert must play.
3. Since they’ve been managed by Ferguson Man Utd have always been outstanding on the break. Therefore our fullbacks MUST play defensively. They must concentrate on their defensive position even when we are attacking. Man Utd always look to play on the break , just look at the positions Ronaldo and Rooney take up when the opposition are attacking – they look for open space to the wings or just infield away from the touchline. Our fullbacks must be alert to this and stay close to them.
Incidentally, when did Everton last score a goal on the break? Does DM do any training with the team in this respect?
4.Rooney and Berbatov – I think in Jagielka and Lescott we have two central defenders who can match them but they must get cover from our defensive central midfielder, i.e. Rodwell or Castillo. In any event I don’t think Rooney has ever played well against us as his heart is not in it when he plays us. Berbatov can be lethargic so we can deal with him.
To conclude, I believe we can win this game but we must have a positive tactical plan to:
(a) take advantage of situations which will arise in the game, and
(b) create positions where we can cause Man Utd problems.
Hoofball and the over reliance on Arteta creating a chance will simply not work. Surely, after so many failures against the big 4, Moyes must try something different.
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