TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs MANCHESTER UNITED
United travelled to Spurs following a win over Everton and faced a team who believed that the league title was still within their grasp. The team Van Gaal selected looked relatively strong. The key word being relatively.
- United again demonstrated an inability to create significant chances and then collapsed after the first goal.
- A positive was the impressive performance of Fosu-Mensah. Put his stats in.
- Van Gaal talked of the importance of communication especially with defenders, so Smalling and Blind both being caught out of position and going for the same ball for Ali’s goal was a disappointment.
- The contrast in speed between the teams was very marked. United played at a slower tempo and Spurs energy levels should up United’s lack thereof.
- There was a lack of support to accompany the runs through the channels by Martial in the first half and Young in the second.
- Lingard, a quick winger played in the No10 role and Mata, a slow No10, played on the right where he struggled for the whole game to cope with the pace of Danny Rose.
It was good to see Fosu-Mensah starting and he showed why he merits such optimism from United fans whenever he is selected as the game panned out. He had a challenge on his right particularly with Eriksen drifting in, sometimes taking him with him. Fosu-Mensah showed good awareness, and aggression nullifying Eriksen, an underrated and key man for Tottenham and the United negated a number of dangerous moments in the game. The movement of Eriksen and Fosu-Mensah inside created space and an opportunity for Rose to pushed on. Mata shuffled back to cover this but he was occasionally at fault for not putting up a sufficient barrier. This didn’t improve add the half wore on with Rose’s pace proving a challenge for the Spaniard.
On the left hand side Rojo and Martial combined well and were more co-ordinated with the Argentinian lofting balls down the line behind Walker. There was insufficient support however to allow Martial to make the most of this in attack.
Tottenham’s impressive midfield duo of Dier and Dembele were notably tested by Lingard who pressed. He was part of and infact lead a decent and coordinated pressing from United. There was decent possession too, as short sharp exchanges saw United overcome Spurs equally aggressive pressing.
In terms of positioning Schneiderlin pushed much higher after the first 15 minutes, separating from Carrick. Further up he helped Lingard sit on Dembele and Dier as United went man-for-man.
Kane was having a quiet afternoon as Smalling followed him with a stalker like intent. Kane and Alli pivoted but the United defence looked comfortable. This led to the Spurs formation appearing quite flat especially when United’s defence became a three as the back line combined with De Gea in possession pulling Kane, Alli and Eriksen in. United were on top but didn’t make it pay creating little in the final third.
Then United’s pressing and tempo dropped and the mood in the ground shifted with it. United didn’t create a chance on goal during their period in the ascendency. This is a feature of this team.
The most fascinating aspect of the game in the first half was seeing how each team’s midfield two played a part in keeping the score at 0-0.
Young came on for Rashford at half-time and the consensus was that it should have been Mata whom he would replace . Even more of a surprise was that Young went central, so a straight positional swap for Rashford.
Rashford hadn’t had one of his better games and the connectivity with Martial wasn’t quite there but why remove a potential goal threat? This was very curious as was Van Gaal allowing Mata to continue to struggle for pace against Rose.
Rashford and Young runs
Young tried, he ran the channels hoping to disrupt Alberweireld and Vertonghen but a lack of support from his teammates meant he posed little threat when he got the ball, although he didn’t see that much of it.
When United did have the ball there was just not enough going forward. Like similar performances there was too much spread and not enough cut across in the build-up play. There was a standout moment when Martial cut across inside beating several men on a winding run only to see his shot saved by Lloris; he should have scored, he should have aimed for the corner. The positive from this was that it showed what a difference cutting in and being more direct could make.
With hindsight the game changed after Fosu-Mensah was taken off injured and replaced with Darmian.
His battling qualities and determination were missed and his teammates seemed to lose some of their intensity. Darmian also allowed himself to get dragged out of position and his aggression was clumsy resulting in fouls rather than decisive interventions. After an indecisive scramble in the middle of the pitch United allowed the ball to go out to the right where Eriksen played the ball across the box for Ali at the back to score. United had been in the game until this point but on 71 minutes the score was now 0-1.
At 0-0 you had a glimmer of hope that United would stay in the game but going behind shone a light on United’s lack of threat.
Then the house of cards came tumbling down as within the space of 5 minutes United went 2-0 then 3-0 down after Alderweireld scored a header from a free kick and Lamela scored the third. The defending was shocking for all three goals. The first was a shambles as a group formed away from the box with Smalling and Blind both drawn in with Darmian closing in too. This left a huge space for Eriksen who then found Alli with his cross ahead of Blind. The second goal showed how not to defend a header; note how Rojo turns his back to Alderweireld.
The away end emptied, so did our teams credibility.
The word relative comes to mind. In the first half United did alright but only relative to the lowered expectations we now have of this team. The fact that Spurs could firstly ride out United’s dominant period of the game and secondly still create the more clear cut chances during it shows that there are a number of constituent parts missing from this team. Does the spine of the team give you solidity? Is the forward line menacing enough: does it threaten? Do our wide players stretch the play and do they get enough crosses in, never mind enough quality crosses in.
The Dutchman persisted with Juan Mata on the right flank, despite his obvious inability to keep pace with Rose. That was surely a job for the younger, energetic, tactically disciplined Lingard, who remained in a central role.
This team feels like it is on a very slippery slope towards mediocrity with ambitions of a top four rather than pushing for Champions League finals or semi-finals. Post-Ferguson many records have tumbled and in this game it was no different. United had not lost in fourteen league visits to White Hart Lane, they have now.
Van Gaal remained positive about United’s Champions League spot bring secured. His optimism seems misplaced.