Following on from United’s clash with FC Barcelona they returned to face another old adversary, this time in the form of domestic rivals Arsenal.
Alex Ferguson came into the match with a number of injury concerns, the first of which was Andy Cole who would eventually be ruled of participating, however while Paul Scholes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were carrying knocks they were deemed fit enough to make the bench.
Coming into the United line up was Jesper Blomqvist on the left of midfield, alongside Nicky Butt who would partner Roy Kean in a central pairing. Ryan Giggs was moved into a striking role alongside Dwight Yorke, primarily dropping between the lines to link the play as an attacking midfielder.
Tony Adams would open the scoring after only 13 minutes, rising above Jaap Stam to head home from a Stephen Hughes free-kick, the young Arsenal central midfielder who was deputizing for the injured Emmanuel Petit in the Arsenal line up.
David Beckham would create United’s only major chance of the half, striking the post following a curling effort from just outside the Arsenal box.
Arsenal had looked a constant threat throughout the opening forty five minutes, with Marc Overmars threatening on the dribble as well as chances from Bergkamp and Parlour coming at the end of a flowing gunners move. Nicolas Anelka would double Arsenal’s lead just on the stroke of half time, when Marc Overmars chipped pass over the United backline provided the Frenchman an opportunity to evade the offside trap. After racing through on goal Schmeichel saved the initial effort, however Anelka quickly responded with a left footed strike into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 to Arsenal.
United’s chances of a second half fightback were weakened significantly just minutes after the restrart, when Graham Barber showed Nicky Butt a controversial red card on 51 minutes.
A poor back pass from Butt resulted in Anelka evading the pressure of Jaap Stam and sending Patrick Vieira racing through on goal, only for Nicky Butt to bring down his midfield opponent on the edge of the box as he made a late recovery tackle.
While it was certainly a lunge to block the ball there was no evidence of an aggressive motion, nor was the tackle preventing a goal scoring opportunity as Jaap Stam had made his way back at the same time. Barber’s haste to show Butt his second red card in consecutive games made little sense, but what was crystal clear was that United now had their work cut out for the remaining 40 minutes of play.
A chance on the counter from Blomqvist was expertly saved by David Seaman and was closely followed by a strike on goal from Nicolas Anelka, however this time Peter Schmeichel stood tall as the Frenchman flashed his chance past the post.
Anelka was later replaced by Arsenal’s newest signing Freddie Ljungberg, a Swedish international who had joined from Halmstads BK in a deal worth £3M. Even though he had featured for his national team against England just a few weeks before this match, there was little known of Ljungberg given this was his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt. After just five minutes of his debut he quickly worked his way into the hearts of the Arsenal fans, latching onto a Stephen Hughes through pass he lifted an effort over Schmeichel and into the United net. Replays show he was at least a yard offside prior to Hughes’ pass being made, however the goal was to stand and Arsenal were now 3-0 ahead.
Following Arsenal’s victory in the FA Charity Shield this was yet another body blow for Ferguson, who in suffering another defeat from their closest title rivals had to face the reality of yet again looking second best even before dropping to ten men.
With little time to dwell on the result United would return to Old Trafford in four days’ time, facing off against Liverpool in yet another crucial Premier League match.
United would take the lead after 20 minutes when Dennis Irwin calmly slotted home a penalty that had been awarded following Jason McAteer handling the ball while defending a United corner.
Liverpool had the ball in the net at the beginning of the second half, when a Patrick Berger strike was saved by Schmeichel and the rebound followed up by Karl Heinze Reidle. The German was quickly adjudged to be offside, which saw the scoreline remain at 1-0 to United.
Andy Cole would return to the action for United on the 70th minute, and in no time at all he was part of a counter attack that doubled his side’s lead. After picking up play on the left wing following a through pass from Dwigh Yorke, Andy Cole worked his way into the Liverpool box and drilled a low cross into the penalty spot area. Liverpool’s Norweigan full-back Stig Inge Bjornebye would slip at the back post, allowing the ball to fall to Paul Scholes who applied a world class left foot curling effort into the top corner. Not only did the strike bring Old Trafford to its feet, it secured an important win for United ahead of what was to be Arsenal’s first defeat of the season two days later when they fell 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday.
United closed out the month of September with a return to Champions League action, travelling to the Olympiastadion in Munich to face FC Bayern on matchday two of the group stage.
Teddy Sheringham returned to the line up to partner Dwight Yorke in attack, while Ryan Giggs missed out through injury and was replaced by Jesper Blomqvist.
FC Bayern would take the lead on 11 minutes in controversial fashion, when Brazilian Giovane Elber slotted past Peter Schmeichel with consummate ease. Replays later showed that the give and go move that set up the goal included three passes between Carsten Jancker, Elber and Hasan Salihamidzic that were all offside, further adding to the sense of injustice United felt at going behind.
They didn’t have long to wait to get back on level terms, as on 30 minutes Dwight Yorke converted a move which began with David Beckham intercepting a Lothar Matthaus pass, which led to a wonderfully flighted cross to the back post for United’s Trinidadian striker to finish.
Three minutes into the second half and United scored once more, Yorke again involved when he headed a pass into Paul Scholes who then controlled the ball past Matthaus and skipped past Oliver Kahn before turning the ball into an empty net.
Despite controlling much of the remainder of the second half, a long throw from Bayern’s French full back Bixente Lizarazu in the 90th minute led to a calamitous error from Peter Schmeichel that led to the Germans drawing level. Iranian striker Ali Daei was the target at the edge of the six yard box, however following Schmeichel’s failure to collect the cross, Giovane Elber was presented with a tap in from a few yards out and the Brazilian did not miss.
The result coincided with FC Barcelona winning 2-0 against Brondby at the Nou Camp, two goals from Sonny Anderson would put the Catalan’s top of Group D, leaving United in a precarious third position headed into matchday three.
United returned to league action three days after their draw in Munich with yet another road trip, this time heading to the south coast to face Southampton who were winless after seven matches and rooted to the bottom of the table.
The Dell hadn’t been a happy hunting ground for United in recent years, however as Ferguson reshuffled his attack to pair Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke his formidable new front line would make light work in putting United 2-0 ahead by the hour mark.
With the points all but secured United substitute Jordi Cruyff would make it 3-0, scoring after only two minutes into a 72nd minute substitute cameo appearance.
As United moved to 2nd place following their win in Southampton, the players would then head off to participate with their respective countries in the latest international break.
England would kick off their Euro 2000 qualifying double header with a 0-0 draw against Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium, with Paul Scholes and Gary Neville making the starting eleven and Teddy Sheringham making a late substitute appearance in the second half.
Both Michael Owen and Alan Shearer went close for England, but a resolute Bulgaria side led by captain Hristo Stoichkov held their own to claim a valuable point.
England travelled to the Stade Josy Barthel to face Luxembourg in the second half of the double header, with David Beckham returning to the England line up following the end of his international suspension. Beckham would take his place in midfield beside Paul Scholes, with Phil Neville the only other United player to take part in the match, coming in at left wing back to replace the injured Andy Hinchcliffe and Graeme Le Saux.
The match wasn’t without incident, with Luxembourg missing a first half penalty that denied them an early lead. Michael Owen soon got England on track with a goal on 20 minutes, which was soon followed by a Shearer penalty to give England a 2-0 advantage. A late goal from Gareth Southgate rounded things off at 3-0, but the result still left England in third place behind Poland and Sweden after the opening three matches.
Just three days after the international break the Premier League would resume once more, with United taking on Joe Kinnear’s Wimbledon at Old Trafford.
Andy Cole would open the scoring for United on 19 minutes, however Jason Euell capitalized on some more suspect United defending to bring the score back level on the half hour mark. A marauding run forward from Ryan Giggs, who had been deployed as a central midfielder for the match, would end with a headed finish at the back post following a wonderful cross from Jesper Blomqvist.
United carried the momentum into the second half, with David Beckham, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole all scoring to secure a resounding 5-1 victory, putting them within three points of league leaders Aston Villa.
On Matchday three of the Champions League Copenhagen was the destination for United’s next encounter, taking on Brondby at the Parken Stadium in front of a raucous 40,000 capacity crowd.
Ryan Giggs would once again open the scoring for United, this time deputizing on the right of midfield for an injured David Beckham. The Welshman latched onto a mistake from Brondby keeper Mogen Krogh who had dropped a Wes Brown cross, presenting him with a simple tap in.
Giggs second was an identical goal to his opener against Wimbledon, in that Blomqvist sent over a wonderful cross from the left wing and Ryan Giggs headed home a powerful header at the back post.
Dwight Yorke showed terrific control just inside the opposition half and then set up an opportunity at the top of the Brondby box, an excusite first touch from Andy Cole was quickly followed by a pinpoint finish to put United 3-0 ahead after only 28 minutes.
While Brondby managed to pull one back just before half-time, following a mistake from Peter Schmeichel as he failed to save a routine strike from Kim Daugaard’s free kick, United made light work of the contest in the second half as they continued their ruthless form in front of goal.
Roy Keane would finish off a wonderful passing move to put United 4-1 ahead, which was followed by some expert finishes by Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completing the rout at six goals.
On the stroke of full time Brondby would pull the score back to 6-2, when legendary Danish striker Ebbe Sand slotted home the rebound after Peter Schmeichel had saved Ruben Bagger’s initial effort.
United’s next league match would take place at Pride Park, taking on Jim Smith’s Derby side who were locked in a mid-table battle with 6 other sides on similar point totals.
A disappointing United performance appeared to have been capped off with a Derby winner on 74 minutes, when Deon Burton turned home a finish past Peter Schmeichel following a Daryl Powell cross.
Ferguson would make a triple substitution on 81 minutes, replacing Gary Neville, Niky Butt and Ryan Giggs with Jordi Cruyff, Jesper Blomqvist and Paul Scholes.
As United piled numbers forward in search of an equalizer, Wes Brown would swing in a ball that found Jordi Cruyff at the top of the box. His combination with Andy Cole culminated in the Dutchman unleashing a left foot strike that flew through two Derby defenders and into the bottom corner past a stranded Russell Hoult.
Cruyff’s second goal of the season would go on to give United a valuable point, especially with close rivals Arsenal gaining ground after a win at Blackburn and table toppers Aston Villa dropping points at home to Leicester.
The following midweek United would enter the Worthington League Cup at the 3rd round stage, taking on Division 1 strugglers Bury FC who were led by the enigmatic Neil Warnock. Alex Ferguson would use this match as an opportunity to ring the changes after a busy run of matches, choosing to field a youthful side that included five players from the reserves.
Despite Bury holding United to 0-0 in the regulation 90 minutes, two extra time goals from the Norweigan duo of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Erik Nevland were enough for United to advance to the next round.
Everton vs Manchester United Match Analysis
The scene of today’s match analysis comes from Goodison Park, where United’s hosts found themselves firmly in the grip of a relegation dog fight.
Starting Line Ups:
Walter Smith had taken over as Everton boss in the summer of 1998, following a heartbreaking end to his 12-year tenure at Rangers with a season that finished trophyless at the end of a fateful quest for 10 League titles in a row.
While Smith had become accustomed to managing a successful side in Scotland, his work would certainly be cut out for him on Merseyside, as he was coming to replace Howard Kendall who had saved Everton from relegation on goal difference on the final day of the 97/98 Premier League season.
Throughout the early months of the 98/99 campaign Smith strengthened his squad with no fewer than six first team regulars, some of whom were viewed as very shrewd pieces of business.
His first two imports joined from Ligue 1, the first being John Collins from Monaco who Smith would have known well from his time at Celtic, and Olivier Dacourt who joined from Strasbourg in a deal worth £3M. The duo would go on to form a solid partnership in Everton’s central midfield area.
Smith bolstered his defence with several key signings, the first of which being David Unsworth after capitalizing on the move when his initial transfer from West Ham to Aston Villa had fallen through at the last minute. Marco Materazzi was then added from a Serie A side Perugia, a club Smith knew well having signed Rino Gattuso and Marco Negri for Rangers just twelve months earlier. Alec Cleland was the final defensive signing, with the reliable full-back joining from Rangers on freedom of contract.
England Under 21 goalkeeper Steve Simonsen was also brought in from Tranmere Rovers for a significant fee, primarily to provide competition for Norwegian goalkeeper Thomas Mhyre.
Smith’s final signing came in October of 1998 when Ibrahima Bakayoko joined for £4.5M from Montpellier, a striker more famous on British shores among the Championship Manager video game community.
Despite the new faces brought into the club Everton struggled to shake off their tag as relegation candidates in the early part of the season, with two away wins at Nottingham Forest and Wimbledon the only major positives in a slow start under Walter Smith.
Six draws and two defeats made up the remainder of their league form guide, but it was their failure to score in any of their five matches at Goodison park that would have worried fans the most.
Lining up alongside new signings Unsworth and Materazzi were Dave Watson and Craig Short in the Everton back line, two experienced no nonsense defenders who were by this point seasoned campaigners at the club.
With Smith selecting four de facto center backs the midfield would have to do a lot of heavy lifting in attack, both in the creation of chances and to support of Everton’s target striker.
Michael Ball and Danny Cadermarteri were selected alongside Collins and Dacourt in midfield, which was perhaps out of necessity rather than comfort. While Ball is a highly regarded England U21 he is a full back operating in wide midfield, probably doing so given the quality of his deliveries from wide areas. Similarly, Cadermarteri exhibits all the skill sets of a wide forward in the modern game, but in 1998 he was a central striker that was being deployed out wide due to his pace and propensity to attack in 1v1 duels.
Bakayoko supported Duncan Ferguson at the top of Everton’s 4-4-2, a partnership that was built around two players who were diametrically opposed. Ferguson’s aggressive target man style saw him attack the ball well in the air, but he would also pull apart opposition defenses by targeting their weakest link. Bakayoko was a far more skillful operator, however his role was to attack second balls during the chaos Ferguson had created within the opposition back line, then use his dribbling ability to fashion scoring opportunities from inside the box.
The injury to Ronnie Johnsen at the start of September was always going to be a significant one for United, especially as Jaap Stam was still finding his feet in English football.
Ferguson had used Henning Berg at center back as Johnsen’s short-term replacement, however following the six goals the back line shipped against FC Barcelona and Arsenal in the middle of September Ferguson turned to Gary Neville.
Even though Gary Neville had become an established right back by this point, he began life as a center back with United’s youth teams so clearly carried Ferguson’s confidence in moving him inside.
The ever-reliable Phil Neville began featuring in the United lineup at right back, but with the injury to Dennis Irwin we would see Phil Neville switch sides allowing for the introduction of Wes Brown as first team right back.
Ferguson would name an unchanged back line to the one which lined up at Pride Park, opting to field both Brown and Phile Neville at full back with Neville and Stam taking part in their seventh game together as a central pairing.
In midfield we would see two changes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs dropping out and Jesper Blomqvist and Paul Scholes returning, with Roy Keane and David Beckham making up the rest of the central four.
Cole and Yorke continued to partner each other in attack, a duo that while still in it’s infancy looked so natural, complimented by the fact they had scored a combined 11 goals already this season.
First Half Tactical Analysis
Everton Attack Play
It was clear from the opening exchanges that Walter Smith had identified Gary Neville as a potential weakness in the United backline, so would position Duncan Ferguson on his side and have Unsworth and Materazzi flight diagonal balls into that area as an entry point of the attack.
Danny Cadermarteri was also positioned high on the right wing, providing Everton with attacking width in the hope they could isolate Phil Neville in a 1v1 scenario.
United Attacking Shape
We saw a return to the inverted movements of the United players that had been witnessed in our first match analysis against Arsenal. Beckham and Blomqvist moved into central positions at times, doing so to provide more angles in which to penetrate Everton’s zonal defensive shape. This opened space for Phil Neville and Wes Brown to advance into the midfield line and create width in United’s attack play, stretching Everton’s defensive lines so central players such as Scholes could penetrate forward into the final third from deep.
United Opening Goal
In a move that began by Roy Keane dropping into a deeper central midfield position, he provides a penetrative pass into the feet of Andy Cole who drops off the high line with pressure from Marco Materazzi. As the Everton backline contorts to cover Materazzi stepping forward, we see the damage United’s narrow positioning is causing Everton with the next pass, as Cole squares the ball to Blomqvist who is standing completely free between Everton’s midfield and defense.
As Cadermarteri hasn’t recovered to pick him up and Craig Short has chosen to stay connected with his backline, Blomqvist now has the freedom to play a return pass into Cole who spins to cross the ball over to Paul Scholes at the back post.
Scholes first time deft touch finds Yorke unmarked inside the box, and despite an impressive save from Mhyre after his first attempt his rebound into the empty net puts United 1-0 ahead.
As well as providing quality from between the lines Blomqvist was equally adept in wide areas. We saw during moments of build up that by stretching the space on the outside of Everton’s right back Craig Short, he had the sharpness to evade pressure and whip balls into the box for Yorke and Cole to attack. Laterally we also saw Blomqvist’s threat in transition when he showed terrific pace to evade the recovery run of Danny Cadermarteri on the wing, before cutting inside to cross the ball in a move that ended up in Beckham swinging a ball into the box and Craig Short turning the ball into his own net.
Deadly Strike Partnership
While this was only their fourth league match as a duo, it was evident throughout this match that Yorke and Cole were a very natural fit for each other. In the earlier clips we saw their ability to complement each other by dropping off the high line, drawing pressure from the center backs, while the other would make runs to expose the vacated space between or behind the defensive line.
Laterally we also saw the beginning of a give and go pattern whereby they could combine with each other to expose the space behind the back line. Not only does this force the opposition defense to hold the line and step out toward the ball, it also pulls the opposition full backs inside thus opening space on the flanks for United to attack should they wish to.
United Defensive Fragility
While United were in control for large parts of the first half, Everton were able to expose a weak point in the United defensive structure and create some goal scoring opportunities.
As United’s defense and midfield dropped back into a narrow shape in transition, Everton exposed the spaces between the lines on two occasions to set up crossing situations.
The first of which began with a ball into John Collins, who’s pass out wide to Michael Ball resulted in an unopposed cross into the front post. A similar move occurred on the right-hand side, creating a crossing opportunity for Cadermarteri to find Duncan Ferguson inside the box who narrowly missed the resulting header.
Everton eventually capitalized on a cross into the box, this time following a Michael Ball whipped free kick to the back post. Alongside several Everton targets Duncan Ferguson rose above Roy Keane and powered home a header to half United’s lead.
While the score line had this match finely poised at the end of the opening forty five minutes, United were the side that looked like it had more gears to go through.
Everton’s back line consisting of four center backs provided a solid enough base in defense but going forward the lack of support saw them rely heavily on 1 or 2 individuals to excel in moments of transition.
In Cadermarteri and Bakayoko they have players who can carry the ball well over distances, but with only Ferguson and Collins attacking the box their options are heavily limited if United can mark them effectively.
United on the other hand appear to have a far better balance between attack and defense, using their defensive shape in which to create chances in transition as well as winning the ball and controlling the tempo of the match with their build up play.
Second Half Tactical Analysis
Everton started the half very brightly, with more players now assigned to supporting roles in the attack. Walter Smith had given Craig Short more license in which to overlap on the right flank, alongside reducing the defensive responsibility of Danny Cadermarteri so he was a more consistent threat in transition. Olivier Dacourt was also given more freedom to support the attack, with Everton’s back line positioned higher to condense the space behind the midfield.
Everton’s best opportunity came as a result of Cadermarteri dribbling toward the endline before cutting back a cross toward John Collins, who’s subsequent effort struck Peter Schmeichel’s post. Any hope of an Everton equalizer slowly dissipated after this chance, but Cadermarteri remained a threat for Everton throughout the remainder of the game.
United In Transition
With a 2-1 lead to protect United were able to sit tight at the beginning of the half, knowing that should Everton come forward and attack that there would be gaps they could expose on the counter. One such area presented itself on Everton’s right side, which United ruthlessly exposed on the hour mark.
John Collins brought the ball out of Everton’s defensive third, at which point full back Craig Short had moved forward to get into position to overload on the right side. Collins pass into Dacourt preceded a switch of play to the right side, however an interception by Keane and Stam led to a turnover in midfield leaving Everton woefully exposed. Scholes picked up possession inside the center circle and drove a pass out to Blomqvist on the left wing.
With Short out of position this left Everton one short at the back, so when Watson moved out to press the ball Andy Cole was left free to move inside the box and receive a through ball from Blomqvist. The England international only needed one touch to apply a precision finish, putting United 3-1 ahead as his shot cannoned in off the post.
From the restart Everton launched an attack down the right side, resulting in a corner kick being awarded after Phil Neville had blocked Danny Cadermarteri’s cross. Going in search of a second goal Walter Smith left only Olivier Dacourt back to defend, a decision that he would be left to rue after Roy Keane’s headed clearance.
When John Collins was dispossessed following a fresh air shot in response to Keane’s clearance, Beckham suddenly found himself on the halfway line in a 1v1 against Dacourt as both Blomqvist and Yorke lay unmarked on the left wing.
A cultured through pass from Beckham to Blomqvist was expertly finished by United’s new Swedish winger, heading home into an empty net after his initial chipped effort had clipped the legs of Thomas Mhyre. Two goals in a matter of minutes put United 4-1 ahead and killed off any hopes of an Everton revival.
United Attacking Structure
As Everton retreated into a more defensive position following United’s quickfire double, we saw a return to the advanced positioning of Wes Brown and Phil Neville when United were in possession.
As both full backs moved forward into almost midfield positions, this was complemented by the inversion of Beckham into a deeper central midfield role in front of Everton’s midfield line, with Blomqvist and Yorke working as Pseudo-Attacking midfielders behind Everton’s midfield line.
On the left side, the buildup of play allowed Phil Neville the opportunity to make penetrating runs on the overlap off the ball. Whereas on the right side United used the space between central midfield and the right wing to create a passing lane to Wes Brown. By maintaining the width, Brown now had the time and space to attack his opponent, David Unsworth, on the dribble in a 1v1 duel.
Freedom of Goodison Park
In the closing stages of the second half United toyed with their opponents, quickly popping the ball across the field using one and two touch passes.
While Everton continued to admirably press their opponent, their lack of discipline led to a collapse in defensive shape which resulted in a chance on goal for Paul Scholes.
After picking up the ball totally unmarked in central midfield, he drove toward the Everton goal and unleashed a strike that cannoned back off Thomas Mhyre’s post. While United were unable to capitalize upon the rebound fortunately for Everton the final whistle would blow some thirty seconds later, ending the contest at 4-1.
This was a very strong performance from United, who were able to handle the direct approach presented by Everton and from it create attacks of their own. Alex Ferguson’s side operate in a highly efficient collective collaboration, each working in service of a teammate to forge a terrific balance between defense and attack. They relish the hard work required to exceed in transition, the dogged in between stage where winners and losers are typically separated.
In Part 2 of this series, I listed several areas of concern within United’s performance against Arsenal in the Charity Shield to help gauge the team’s development throughout the season. From this match with Everton, it was clear that United have made some advancements throughout the twenty games they have taken part in so far, in particular they have better answers to the questions, “Who provides the width when building forward?” and “Can United’s strikers penetrate centrally when using this narrow system?”
In the first clip below we see the lack of movement that occurs when United break Arsenal’s midfield line. When Scholes finds Butt Arsenal can contain the ball movement of the next pass by condensing the space around the ball, forcing Keane to then take a shot from distance. With a lack of width from the full backs and no movement to break into the box, it makes play slightly predictable albeit Arsenal are a very well organized defensive unit.
In the second clip we see two features that have significantly improved within Ferguson’s narrow 4-4-2 structure, the first of which being Yorke’s penetrative movement as soon as Blomqvist picks up the ball. By pulling Materazzi toward then away from the ball it opens a central pocket for Blomqvist to dribble into, a move which ends up with Andy Cole receiving a through pass.
The next phase of the attack sees Keane find Blomqvist between the lines once more, this time Phil Neville reacts by making a penetrative run forward to provide width on the flank. While the move doesn’t come to fruition, what we see here is United’s movement pulling Everton out of their set defensive shape and providing their attackers with multiple options as they seek a way to enter the final third.
This increase in width and penetration certainly augers well for United, especially when a high percentage of their opponents will resort to low pressure defensive systems that are designed to crowd out their attack.
This victory would take United to the top of the Premier League table for the first time this season, enabled further by Aston Villa dropping points due to a 2-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Join us next time as we continue to analyze United’s journey to domestic and European success, where we will breakdown a busy November schedule that includes two crunch Champions League matches and a visit by their local rivals from across the Pennines.