Manchester United travel to Liverpool today, to face an Everton side that has had a positive start to the season earning 13 points in eight games. A home win today would move Everton, currently in seventh place, above United in the league table. This is a big game for both teams, as a win for Everton would have them right in the battle for the European spots, whereas United need to bounce back from the awful defeat at the Emirates if they are to make a serious challenge for the title and hang on to their spot in the top four. This post will focus on mainly Everton and their underlying numbers on a team level, as well as who´s actually doing what in the 2015/2016 version of Everton, but will touch upon Uniteds numbers on a team level as well.
United and Everton have something in common this season. Both teams have had good or at least decent starts to the season points wise, but both are showing some seriously underwhelming underlying numbers. As far as creating expected goals goes, United have the 11th highest expected goals tally created from open play so far, with Everton in 14th. It is early days indeed, and the amount of time a team has spent either winning or losing will have a big impact on these numbers, but United seriously need to step up if they are to maintain their spot in the top 4. Everton have scored 12 goals from amodest ExpG tally of about 7.6 goals, and have probably been a bit fortunate in the attacking end of the pitch.
If you choose to look pass shots and focus on passes completed into the danger zone instead, things are looking a little bit better for both sides, but still far from great. United have managed just under 5.4 passes into their opponents danger zone per game, some way from the 8.9 passes completed per game by Arsenal (leauge leaders in this category) and only the eighth best record in the league. Everton are in 11th, completing 4.9 passes into their opponents danger zone per game.
United have been getting a lot of credit for their defensive displays this season, and for a while their defensive numbers were indeed quite impressive, but that might unfortunately have changed. Away to Southampton, United conceded 13 passes into the danger zone (league average is just over 5) and two goals, and the defensive display in the opening 20 minutes of the game at the Emirates wasn´t exactly taken out of the handbook for defensive play either. The ”good” news is that Everton are doing even worse. United in 10th have conceded only 1.4 expected goals more than Bournemouth that have conceded the second least expected goals, whereas Everton in 11th have conceded 1.5 more expected goals than United.
United are right in the middle of the league when it comes to conceding passes into the danger zone as well. Quite unimpressing, but again, Evertons defensive display is far worse. In fact, Everton have conceded the same amount of passes into their danger zone as Steve McClarens Newcastle, and the only two teams to concede more passes into the danger zone so far this season are West Ham and Sunderland.
Now lets focus on Everton and their attacking numbers. It´s no great surprise to see that Romelu Lukaku is taking the most shots out of the Everton players with meaningful playing time (minimum 270 mins played), followed by Ross Barkley who´s taking almost three shots per game so far. Behind those two, there´s quite a drop off to Arouna Koné who´s taken the 3rd most shots with 1.93 per 90 and Steven Naismith with 1.89 shots per 90 minutes played.
However, when you take shot quality into consideration and look at expected goals instead of just raw shot numbers, Ross Barkley falls down the ladder implying that he shoots a lot from poor positions (could you imagine?). Lukaku is posting a very solid 0.4 ExpG90 an Naismith an acceptable 0.25 ExpG90.
With key passes, a similar story arises. Tom Cleverley has made the most key passes per 90 minutes played, but when you adjust for the quality of the shots that he is assisting, his ExpAss90 doesn´t even make the top 5 in the team. Ross Barkley, who has the 2nd most key passes, seems to be providing not only the most, but also the best shots for his team mates.
Everton under Roberto Martinez have a reputation for being a possession oriented side. but eight games into the 2015/2016 season, ten(!) teams have attempted more passes than Everton (United have attempted the most passes of all teams), among those ten teams are sides such as Norwich and Bournemouth.
The density plot below (created with code from @jalapic) shows Evertons attempted passes this season. Unlike Wolfsburg, that I wrote a scout report on before their visit to Old Trafford, Everton seems to do most of their passing in central areas occupied by their defensive midfielders.
If we look at the number of passes each player make per 90 minutes played, the top list pretty much consists of only central players and Seamus Coleman, with Gareth Barry seeing most of the ball.
The chart below shows passes in the final third, where Ross Barkley again stands out as the main playmaker in Evertons attack, alongside Tom Cleverley, though the latter has only registered 311 minutes of playing time so far, compared to the 720 minutes racked up by Barkley.
To sum it all up, Everton and United both are posting pretty poor numbers so far this season, though game states are still very much at play, in particular when looking at the shooting numbers.
In last seasons encounter at Goodison Park, Everton were happy to let United possess the ball, and countered United to pieces winning, 3-0. Given van Gaals love of the ball and the fact that Everton seems less possession oriented this season than what we´ve become accustomed to, they are likely to try something similar this year, which might make it harder for United to exploit the defensive weaknesses of Everton, as they might sit deeper than usual and allow less space and fewer passes into the danger zone.
I´m yet to be convinced by this seasons version of Manchester United, and this would be a very nice time for the team prove me wrong. Please do so!