Focus: Can Manchester United restrict Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku?
Bastian Schweinsteiger has found adjusting to the tempo of the Premier League more difficult than many had presumed, most notably by pressing awkwardly and exposing his team-mates in Manchester United’s last two games. A trip to Goodison Park, where Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku storm through the centre of the pitch, is a worrying prospect for Louis van Gaal.
Schweinsteiger’s positional confusion is understandable given his age, lack of experience in English football, recent string of injuries, and the fact that he spent 17 years in the same division before his recent switch. Against Arsenal, Michael Carrick and Schweinsteiger were too slow for such a high-tempo match and failed to synchronise effectively; at times the two players could be found stood in a line, at others leaving 30 yards between one another. Though less documented in the media, it was a similar story against Wolfsburg a few days before.
The opening 20 minutes against Arsenal passed Schweinsteiger by (left), and his Wolfsburg performance was not much better (right).
More erroneous pressing or miscommunication in midfield against Everton will play into Roberto Martinez’s hands. Everton's star performers Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku have scored or assisted 10 of Everton’s 12 goals this season and, more often than last year, attempt to drive directly through the middle of the pitch when counter-attacking opportunities emerge.
The Toffees' improved transitional speed is reflected in the statistics: Barkley is attempting 4.5 long balls per game, up from 2.7 in 2014/15, and Lukaku is involved in 6.6 aerial duels per game, up from 5.0 in 2014/15.
Lukaku’s passes received against West Brom (left) and Barkley’s passes against Spurs (right) highlight how much of Everton’s game now involves long balls.
Martinez’s side are now more capable of pouring forward on the counter, most notably via these two players: 30% of Everton’s attacks come through the centre of the pitch (fourth highest in division), and 49.6% of their key passes are from central zones (compared with 16.9% from the left flank and 30.9% from the right flank).
Everton’s chances created against Swansea (left) and Chelsea (right) show how often they create openings from central areas.
Since it's likely that large gaps will persist in United’s midfield, and Van Gaal’s team are dispossessed 15.8 times per match (most in the division), it seems plausible that Everton will give Schweinsteiger yet another awkward afternoon.