TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR VS MANCHESTER UNITED
01.12.2013

United travelled to Spurs, a place where they have not lost at since 2001, on the back of a pleasing victory against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

PERSONNEL

In: Cleverley, Welbeck.
Out: Giggs, Nani.

KEY POINTS

  • United’s slow start – this has been going in waves in games. Cardiff slow – Fulham fast
  • The wall jumping on Kyle Walker’s free kick was disappointing
  • Cleverley and how his poor positioning allowed Sandro too much space to turn and score Spurs’ second goal
  • Lennon’s ability to cause Evra issues was obvious
  • United’s pressing game continues to develop significantly under Moyes
  • Is Cleverley capable of supporting United’s new pressing game; not just to win the ball back but to actually do something productive with it?

FIRST HALF

United didn’t get off to the most convincing start, something Rooney echoed in the post match interview, but there were signs of the pressing game that Moyes is developing. A number of times we saw Rooney pressing but unlike the game against Cardiff where there was a severe disconnect between the midfielders and strikers, here Rooney was backed up by Valencia, Welbeck and Jones (even Smalling). This put United on the front foot and quickly in possession of the ball high up the pitch.

However, the opportunities created by this pressing game were not taken advantage of nearly enough. As the image below shows, the number of failed crosses from the right is a concern and there is sufficient exasperation towards Valencia’s crossing success!

UTD CROSSING               FIRST HALF

Source: Squawka

Spurs’ first goal was disappointing as the question was why did the wall jump? An error that you wouldn’t expect from the players; de Gea’s annoyance was obvious and understandable.

Boom! United managed to get back into the game through man of the season, Rooney, who fortuitously scored from a deflection off Walker. The first thing to note about this goal was the position of Jones to get his cross in and the fact that it was successful. Rooney’s high line paid off; this was a continual feature of the game.

Aaron Lennon’s start after returning from injury caused Evra some real issues as his continual cutting inside meant saw Evra put onto his weaker side but also tested decisively on his pace.

OPENING THE MIDDLE

Spurs’ forward ‘two’ of Paulinho and Soldado showed plenty of movement and were good at opening up space in the middle to try and take advantage of Lennon ‘s superiority over Evra as the image above shows.

OPENING THE MIDDLE_HIGHER UP

As a prelude of things to come we saw this Spurs movement, this time further up the pitch, cause issues to Cleverley’s positioning. As Jones was predominantly playing or at least finding himself higher, it meant Cleverley drifted in and often failed to track the Spurs midfield runners.

SECOND HALF

SECOND HALF       CLEVERLEY MARKING

Quality teams/players make sound decisions consistently and often. So on 49 minutes in, Cleverley took a free kick five yards forward from the spot of the infringement. This was quickly pulled back by Mike Dean and United lost the tempo following a positive and quicker start to the half. High level clinical thinking is required at this level, to eliminate even the minor errors of the game.

Tottenham took the lead again following a great strike from Sandro which rendered de Gea motionless. When the build up play for this goal is considered we should be asking questions of Cleverley, did he allow Sandro too much space to turn thus allowing him to come inside to shoot using his preferred foot? Would it have been better to force him away from goal and perhaps allow Evans to track him and Cleverley take Evans’ man Paulinho? A tricky situation considering the distance that had to be made up to cover him but a threat would have been reduced much more.

When either Evans or Vidic were in possession of the ball from the back both were kept busy by the pressing of Soldado and Paulinho. This was in stark contrast to the lack of pressing by Leverkusen’s front three in the Champions League match on Wednesday.

Boom! United needed a quick way back into the game which came very quickly in the form a smart break which started with a hard tackle by Vidic and a great pass by Rooney into the channel which Welbeck exploited. This is what Welbeck is good at and what he adds to the team, in this way he is different to our other strikers. He can work the channel, has the confidence to take the ball and move it around the box and go out wide if the pass demanded or defenders positioning demanded it. It was during this type of run that Lloris brought him down deliberately and the subsequent penalty was duly dispatched by Rooney. 2-2.

With Welbeck on the left wing we saw two different styles. On the right, Valencia was taking up a starting position much further out toward the touchline yet Welbeck was more inclined to move infield and create space for Evra to attack. This space was not pillaged as often as it should have been and the graphics below shows just how much space the United left had to attack.

SPURS PLAYER INFLUENCE     HEAT MAP UTD

Source: FourFourTwo                                          Source: Squawka

A substitution was made by Spurs in which Lennon came off for Townsend, one to aid Lennon who is coming back from an injury and two, to try and take Evra further infield (a natural tendency) and get shorter interplay, either with the strikers or Walker bombing forward. This was made more obvious as Defoe came on and looked to pick up the balls behind the defence and in the channels; Spurs wanted to be more direct, yet still as a 4-2-3-1.

This was an exciting game and it was typified by the way both teams were closing down the space and trying to reduce the opportunity for the second ball. United were beginning to lose that connection with Rooney and Moyes responded by taking Welbeck off and bringing Hernandez on, who played closer to Rooney. Yet as the game wore on both teams looked unsure as to whether they should go for it or settle.

Settle they both did.

CONCLUSION

United played well but so did Spurs. White Hart Lane has become rich pickings for United in the last decade and it was disappointing to not see that run extended. The feature of this campaign in terms of league form is the number of draws; can we crack this pattern and turn them into wins?

This can be helped by the other players taking their opportunities when presented; Smalling in this game, Anderson in the last one as two examples.

This clinical streak needs to be developed by Welbeck in the box too. He should have done better after leaving Michael Dawson in his wake near the corner flag (an amazing piece of play and persistence) but he could not pick out Rooney after skipping into the box.

Could the introduction of the of Young and Nani have happened sooner to stretch the game as United had lost a bit of penetration in the final phase and were allowing the game to become lop sided to the right. Nani can change wings but it is rare to see Young tried on the right, perhaps this needs to be developed.