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It wasn't pretty and the scoreline ended up flattering the home side, but Manchester United got the job done, seeing off Everton 4-0 at Old Trafford to keep pace wth rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier league table.

The Red Devils started brightly thanks to an early wonder-strike from right-back Antonio Valencia, but they struggled for large periods before a late rally saw José Mourinho's men rack up their third 4-0 victory of the season, with Romelu Lukaku scoring against his former side.

Wayne Rooney didn't get the fairytale return to his former stamping ground that he was hoping for, but the former England captain put in a solid shift, leading the line for the Toffees who were very much in the game until the final ten minutes.

We studied the tactics on display by both sides at Old Trafford and here are the five things we learned.

Pogba Absence Sees United Lose Quality And Control

United made a strong start to the game, enjoying a period of domination in the opening 25-30 minutes, keeping Everton pinned back and pressing high when out of possession.

However, once Ronald Koeman's men got a foothold, United struggled to exert the same kind of influence over proceedings.

The Red Devils were without Paul Pogba, the £89million man injured his hamstring on Champions League duty in midweek and could be out for up to 12 weeks according to reports. United unquestionably missed their star man's composure, quality and creativity.

Nemanja Matić and Marouane Fellaini started in central midfield and neither performed badly – Matić, in particular, had a good game. But when spaces began to open up, the United midfield was unable monopolise the ball, to take the sting out of the game when they were leading.

Ander Herrera's introduction in the second half, on for compatriot Juan Mata with 13 minutes to play, shifting United to a 4-3-3 from 4-2-3-1, helped remedy this issue. The Basque playmaker was able to get himself on the ball and string a handful of simple passes together in short succession, allowing his side time to breathe and find their shape.

If Pogba is out as long as feared, Herrera, who was the club's Player of the Year last season, might become a key figure once again.

Everton Found Joy Down United's Weak Left Side

Having impressed at right-back in midweek against Basel, registering an assist and adding genuine width to United's play, Ashley Young was rewarded with another start against the Toffees, though this time he was stationed on the left of the backline.

With 19-year-old Marcus Rashford on the left flank and Young, a converted winger, at left-back, the home side had plenty of attacking intent down that wing. They desperately lacked defensive knowhow, though, with Tom Davies and Cuco Martina constantly exploiting the United pair's propensity to leave space in behind.

Were it not for a couple of fine saves from de Gea and some wayward finishing from Everton, United could have been exposed by this shortcoming. Left-back is quickly becoming a problem area for the Red Devils, who need Luke Shaw to return to fitness and prove his international credentials as soon as possible.

Deep Defences Led To Open Encounter

From the very beginning, Everton's back-three and wing-backs were holding an incredibly deep defensive line. There is some sound reasoning behind this as the central defensive trident of Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams and Michael Keane are not especially quick, and leaving space in behind for Lukaku and Marcus Rashord to break into could've had devastating consequences.

But retreating so far only invites pressure and puts more space between a team's defence and attack, making it all the more difficult to counter-attack.

Man Utd 4-0 Everton: 5 Tactical Takeaways
Here we see how deep Everton were holding they defensive line in the build-up to the opening goal

Initially, United looked to take advantage of Everton‘s deep defence by pushing their own defensive line high and pressing the away side to maintain pressure.

But as the game wore on, United's line retreated, leaving a vast chasm between each side's backline, thus stretching the play to the point where the two midfields struggled to bridge the gap.

It can often be exciting viewing when a game becomes stretched in such a way, but it is rarely conducive to a high level of quality, as the midfield is left with too much ground to cover, the spacing between players becomes disjointed and the familiar passing options are not where they are expected to be.

In the end, this was to United‘s advantage: the Red Devils took advantage of Everton tiring, scoring three late goals, profiting from individual errors. The introductions of Jesse Lingard, who provided an assist for Lukaku, and Anthony Martial, whose brilliant skill won a penalty which he converted, added a directness to United's attack that proved too powerful for the Merseysiders in the closing stages.

Mkhitaryan Sought Space But Struggled To Take Advantage Of It

As has become his trademark style, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, once again starting in his favoured No.10 position, was regularly able to pick up pockets of space in between Everton's lines of defence and midfield, despite the best efforts of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye.

But the Armenian, who has been in scintillating form so far this season, leading the Premier League with five assists, was not at his effective and efficient best.

He still managed to complete two key passes, but this is some way below his average for the first four league games of the season (4.2). And he seemed to want to take too many touches of the ball, delaying a split-second too long to survey his options, leading to the space he had picked up being snuffed out.

He did, however, recover a degree of credit for his performance with the game's second goal, a neat finish from inside the penalty area after Lukaku's fine work outside the box put him through.

Retreating United Line Invited Everton On

In the first quarter of the game, United looked set for a relatively straightforward afternoon. Mourinho's side were in total control and Everton's combination of an uber-deep defensive line and an attack which lacked pace, appeared to present no trouble to the home side.

Man Utd 4-0 Everton: 5 Tactical Takeaways
The above image shows United's high line in the first half, with Eric Bailly immediately putting pressure on Wayne Rooney as the ball is played into the Everton man

However, as Schneiderlin and Gueye began to effectively plug gaps, and as Rooney came deeper to demand the ball and started to link well with Sigurðsson, Mourinho's men looked rattled.

Despite the Toffees lacking any real threat in behind until Dominic Calvert-Lewin's late introduction, United's defence retreated. Instead holding a high line and meeting the opposition attackers with pressure whenever they received the ball, the Red Devils dropped back, gifting Rooney et al the space they craved to link and create.

Man Utd 4-0 Everton: 5 Tactical Takeaways
Here we see how much deeper United were defending in the second half. Rooney (circled) is receiving the ball in a similar position to the previous image, but is now being afforded much more space and time

It takes a brave team to maintain a high defensive line in the face of an opponent growing in confidence, but that is what United needed to do here. Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Young and Valencia all had more than enough recovery pace to deal with any threat in behind, so dropping off only played into Everton‘s hands.

In the end, despite what, on the face of it, looks like an emphatic, resounding win for United, Everton edged possession with a 50.8 per cent share and had much more of a say in proceedings than it looked as though they would early on.


Premier League