Everton annihilated a pitiful Manchester United side, who failed to harness the handful of goal-scoring chances they created over the course of 90 minutes, despite enjoying as much as 59% ball possession.
Goals from James McCarthy, John Stones and Kevin Mirallas gave the hosts a resounding 3-0 victory, avenging for the 1-2 defeat they suffered at Old Trafford earlier in this Barclays Premier League season.
Manchester United came into this game on the back of 4 wins and 1 defeat in their last 5 games; the Toffees, on the other hand, were unbeaten in their last 5 league fixtures.
The Red Devils, though, having played a good brand of football and won against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City over the last couple of months, were the favourites going into the game against Roberto Martinez’s side.
Louis van Gaal made only one change to his side that narrowly lost to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend, bringing in Daley Blind for Radamel Falcao and playing the Dutchman as his side’s midfield pivot, with Wayne Rooney playing as the solitary striker.
Martinez, for his part, made a couple of changes to the side that defeated Burnley last weekend: Romelu Lukaku replaced Arouna Kone upfront and 33-year old Leon Osman came in place of Mirallas, to add experience to the home side’s midfield.
The visitors took control of the game right from kickoff, dominating possession and asking defensive questions of the hosts who were well organised and challenged United to find a way through them.
The likes of Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera found space between Everton’s midfield and backline during the early exchanges, but their efforts on goal were tame and profligate.
Martinez’s side had a clear game plan that they executed well too. In possession, they were mindful that the visitors would throw players forward and, if they defended well, there were chances to be had on the counterattack.
The first goal of the game went perfectly to plan for Everton who, having defended a cross from Juan Mata on United’s right-hand-side, had Ross Barkley and McCarthy racing away from midfield, with the United players hesitant to make a tackle or get close to them.
Seamus Coleman, who made the run forward from right-back, failed to pick out Lukaku on the far side, but his incomplete cross fell straight into the path of McCarthy who went straight through two United defenders in the box and finished off the chance calmly despite being partially out of balance.
Van Gaal’s side had their chances between Everton’s swift counter-attacks, but never did Tim Howard find himself under pressure.
Mata, for the first time in a while, wasn’t at his incisive best. The Spaniard completed 90% of his passes on the evening, but failed to create any clear-cut chances throughout his 63-minute vigil in the middle.
Also, the Red Devils, without Michael Carrick in the side, didn’t have a player who could play those penetrative passes and test out the double-layered Everton backline that had an easy game against a really good United side.
In the 35th minute of the game, the hosts harnessed some flimsy defending from Antonio Valencia who, marking Stones on the edge of the box for an Everton corner, let the defender get away from him, only to find the ball headed into David de Gea’s goal for the second time on the day.
It was that sort of a day for Manchester United, whose defensive game wasn’t up to the mark and were punished for it by Everton.
Even after going 2-0 up, the home side maintained their defensive discipline, denying Manchester United space in the middle areas and defending the crosses that were swung in from the left and right-hand sides efficiently.
United attempted a whopping 32 crosses in all, including those from set-piece situations, but the Phil Jagielka-led backline dealt with them superbly.
Right at the beginning of the second half, van Gaal took off Fellaini, who wasn’t having one of his best days on his return to Goodison Park and replaced the Belgian with Falcao, pulling Rooney into midfield.
The inception of Falcao didn’t bring about any attacking impetus to the visitors who, as the title of this article suggests, were clueless in the way they built their attacks to break down a very well-drilled Everton backline.
Ashley Young, who has been one of their key personnel in recent months, didn’t find much joy on Everton’s right-hand-side. Coleman and Aaron Lennon nullified the Englishman, who failed to complete even one of his three attempted take-ons, while completing only three of his nine attempted crosses on the evening.
United kept probing in the Everton’s half but the hosts kept finding joy on the counterattack, though they were rather fortunate for their third goal that involved a contentious off-side decision not given by the linesman.
Barkley tried picking out Lukaku who, in a bid to run in behind United’s rearguard, had got into an offside position and despite the striker making the attempt to go for the ball, the lineman’s flag stayed down.
Mirallas, who was in an onside position, had the presence of mind to cash in on the opportunity, and the Belgian scored a good goal to pile on the misery for the visitors.
The scoreline remained at 3-0 in favour of the hosts at the end of 90 minutes, with Rooney suffering a knee injury, the extent of which is still unknown, during the closing stages of the game.
It is for the second time in two weeks that the van Gaalacticos have lost to a side setup to play on the counterattack, while also not being able to score a goal over 180 minutes of Premier League action. Everton, though, succeeded in their defensive game plan, partly because United didn’t take their chances, and kept their 4th clean sheet in the last 6 Premier League fixtures.