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Match Analysis from My Seat (in India)

By Ajay Gopalswamy :  16/09/2007 :  Comments (5) :
I watched this game on the telly here in India, and although I am disappointed by the result, I believe that Sir Alex Ferguson must be feeling very lucky to have come away with three points.

Man Utd fielded a good side ? make no mistake about it. Probably as strong a side as they will field all season, but Everton stood up to them but it was not all physique. Our performance involved no small measure of skill as well. In fact, I think Man Utd had the edge over us physically: Vidic, Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Silvestre, Brown, Evra, Scholes; whereas we had quite a few lightweights in our team: Baines, Osman, Johnson, Hibbert, Pienaar & McFadden (when they came on). But to our credit, we were never out-muscled.

Any criticism of Hibbert for his performance is unfair, in my opinion. A modern-day full back has many roles to play: defending against opposition wingers/strikers and creating overlapping attack opportunities are two of the most important. In the first, Hibbert was fantastic in this game. He nullified the left-sided wing play of Man Utd almost completely. How many times did Evra manage to get a decent cross into the box? How many free kicks did he give away in dangerous positions? See what I mean?

In link-up play and attack, he was average, and his shortcomings are quite well known. However, against a team like Man Utd, which type of full back would you rather have: a good defensive bloke who does not cross well, or a great overlapping full back who goes up at the slightest opportunity, but leaves large gaps to be exposed at the back? I am convinced that, for this opposition, Hibbert was the right choice for the right-back role. Neville would have given away far too many free kicks near the penalty box, which would have exposed us to many more attacks.

By the way, the goal we conceded was not Hibbert?s fault. It was Yobo?s job to mark Vidic, but when Hibbert realized that Vidic was breaking away from Yobo, Hibbert did his gallant best to try and get to the ball. Great commitment from the lad ? most other players would have elected to play safe and let Yobo do his job.

Having said that in defence of Hibbert, if you compare Baines?s performance to Hibbert?s, Baines was miles and miles ahead in impact. Mainly because he had an equally good defensive performance (and he was defending a far superior player in Ronaldo), and he was going ahead and created great opportunities for our forward line. His darting play into the box, which resulted in Carrick being forced to foul him at the edge of the box, is an obvious example that comes to mind. Baines was definitely my man of the match (and also of the Star Sports pundits? team here in Asia).

About Arteta, again there is no straight-forward good/bad analysis. There are many aspects of a midfielder?s role on which they need to be judged: commitment in running back to defend, tackling, holding the ball, passing/crossing, dribbling past defenders, set-piece delivery, shots on goal. And, all the midfielders in a team do not need to possess all of these qualities. I think Arteta excelled yesterday in going back to defend, dribbling (remember the delightful dink that resulted in Silvestre injuring himself?), holding the ball up.

Where he was particularly poor yesterday was in his set-piece delivery. This has been noticeable for the past four games now, starting from the Reading game. His delivery into the box seems to have lost its magic. I don?t know if they have changed the ball, or he has not practiced this enough in training. But, this is one area that Moyes needs to work on with him. Once he gets it back, Arteta will be much more potent. On Saturday, he had a good overall game, but poor set-piece delivery let him down.

Osman was too anonymous in this game (although I must admit that I missed the ?disallowed? goal). Yes, he can come on in the last 15 minutes and create opportunities against tiring defenders, especially when we have a comfortable 2-goal cushion (how often is that ???). But, otherwise, his performances are below par in 4 games out of 5. Surely, Moyes will see that now.

Neville and Jagielka had a very decent defensive midfield game, they effectively kept Paul Scholes, Carrick, Ronaldo, Giigs and Tevez quiet for large parts of the game. But they were poor in creating attacking opportunities. It was noticeable that as soon as Neville came out of the game, Man Utd looked more assured in their possession and easily kept Everton off the ball. I like Jagielka, and I think he has the making of a solid midfield player, but he hasn?t done enough yet for us to be singing his praises.

Defensively, Yobo and Lescott had pretty solid games, except Yobo allowing Vidic in to score - but I think everybody knows that these are difficult setpieces to defend, when the ball is put in with pace and swing, and you have a strong centrehalf, who uses his head well ? figuratively and literally! But, no excuses; this is the 6th game now without a clean sheet, and surely that is a matter of concern to David Moyes, who has built his team on a defensive foundation.

Our new goalkeeper, Stefan Wessels, had a fairly quiet game; he did not have to make any spectacular saves, he looked confident in whatever he did and always seemed to be aware of where the goalpost was ? he seemed to instinctively know when the ball was going above the crossbar or on the wrong side of the verticals. His distribution was also good ? his quick release of the ball almost resulted in a goal for Everton, if Yakubu hadn?t been (wrongly) called in for a foul by Wiley. All in all, Wessels's performance was a positive outcome from this game; we will need him in the course of a long season, and the rest of the team would have felt assured about his display.

Yakubu, I thought, had a good game; he did not look lazy to me. He tried to create chances most of the time ? looks like he is being groomed by David Moyes into his favourite model of a striker ? hard working, ?all for one, one for all? spirit, and running all day long.

Which brings me to Andrew Johnson? It is clear to see that he has turned into one of our creative sparks ? almost a 5th midfielder in a 4-5-1 system. He works tirelessly for the cause, creates chances for others but lacks in confidence at the moment to score a goal by himself. (Sounds familiar?? Beattie, McFadden, now Johnson? Yakubu to follow???)

The positives out of this match: Baines and Wessels ? two very shrewd buys by Moyes this transfer season.

The worries from this match:

  • 6th game in a row without a clean sheet.
  • Another game where both our strikers failed to score.
  • Lack of self-belief that we can actually defeat the top team in the country, that cost us this game.
That self-belief was lacking starting from David Moyes?s team selection (Osman being played, an the in-form McFadden coming on as a last gasp desperate measure in the final 5 minutes of the game), and reflected in the player?s attitude.

All in all, a glorious opportunity to demonstrate our ambitions for this season was thrown away. But not a performance to be ashamed of. If the lessons can be learnt, it could still be a part of our development towards a Top 6 team ? otherwise, we could easily end up scrapping for the title of ?Best of the Rest? along with a bunch of other teams ? Blackburn, Villa, Man City, West Ham, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Tottenham.

Reader Comments

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Scott Flaherty
1   Posted 18/09/2007 at 13:03:29

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Good post glad you can see the positives.

Lets hope we can start eventually playing some nice looking football and win.

I expect Graveson and Cahill will have to be introduced for us to get to that point.

Have to say I am with the side argument for Phil Neville for Right back and Hibbert for cover/
Vincent Siow
2   Posted 18/09/2007 at 14:33:20

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Nice article Gopal. Well I’ve never been a fan of Hibbert as he has been far too inconsistent and always makes mistakes when he plays, costly ones at that. But I do agree he was one of the positives on Saturday.

For Arteta, I don’t think it is a case of him losing his magic, more the fact that we have no one in the box during open play! Yakubu and Johnson are clearly players which need the ball at their feet, not the head, and the only player capable of scoring in open play from the head, sadly, is only Cahill.

Wessels was outstanding and he looks a solid buy. And I also agree that Baines was fantastic. The way I see it, he’ll be in the England senior team this season!
Joe McMahon
3   Posted 18/09/2007 at 13:15:30

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Why us??? ...he belongs at Sheff Utd with Beattie, or at least Derby. It's all well having good players always injured, we really need a right back who can actually play. It's like Ball, Jeffers, Branch, Cadamatari, Barlow the list is endless. All of them hyped but with no actual product to show for it.
Nick Entwistle
4   Posted 18/09/2007 at 18:09:52

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Nice artical but your reasoning on Hibbert is false.
To compare him with the opposition’s number is pointless.
It’s not wabout hat Evra contributed to attack, it’s about Hibbert being encouraged to continuously come up to the half way line and punt the ball forward aimlessly. I can only presume ’encouraged’ because as he is so crap at it he would surely have been told to cut it out. We lose far too much possesion through this.
It is also not a case of ’either or’... "which type of full back would you rather have: a good defensive bloke who does not cross well, or a great overlapping full back who goes up at the slightest opportunity, but leaves large gaps to be exposed at the back?"
To make it black and white is appologetic. I want Hibbert the great defender to stop punting. Simple as. Have him find the nearest man.
Though if he is to punt up field, atleast put it in the box where strikers know it will roughly go, not try to pin point a pass to a runner just outside the box... it never happpens!
i like Hibbo but Nev for RB, Jags and Carsley mid field.
5   Posted 19/09/2007 at 23:54:58

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I agree with much of what you say. Interesting comments on Hibbert. Let’s face it - we all know his short-comings but he’s honest, hardworking and a blue to boot. We’ve been here before with Unsworth, Ferguson and - to go back to my childhood - John Baily and Mick Lyons. I would love to see Hibbert develop as a player in a successful team - but I think with a fully fit squad he is only cover for that position. Having said that, how big will that Goodison roar be when he eventually gets his first goal. Come on Hibbo - we all love you!!

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