Manchester United 2 Tottenham 3 : Story Of A Match
Blogger, philosopher, lifelong mate, never wants a passer-by to pass him by. Blogging at www.holtamania.com on all things Norwich and here with monthly Story of a Match pieces, bre...
It was a stunning 3-2 victory for Spurs over Manchester United on Saturday. But how did Tottenham break their drought at Old Trafford? Today on the blog Matt Wallace from Holtamania breaks down a match where the stats didn't quite tell the story.
The late game on Saturday saw AVB’s Spurs make the trip north to Old Trafford. It’s fair to say that both teams have made inconsistent starts to the season – some good results mixed with a couple of poor performances, so it was a result both needed. Man Utd, to keep pace with Chelsea at the top, and Spurs just to get near that top four.
Both teams lined up with four man midfields and lone strikers supported my someone advanced – Kagawa for Man Utd and Dempsey for Spurs. However the make-up of each midfield was quite different and led to quite an unusual set of stats.
Man Utd started with both Scholes and Carrick in central midfield, and Giggs not far away on the flank, and for some this set alarm bells ringing immediately. The gaping hole in United’s midfield, exposed by strong, dominant midfielders of opposing teams, was present once again. While Carrick and Scholes are able to control the game, dominate passing and keep things ticking over, their relative lack of speed and strength make them prey for certain sorts of opponent.
Just look at the passing stats. I’ve never quite seen numbers like this when the two teams are quite close in ability. Differences like this usually come from minnows taking on big teams, not two teams both gunning for the Champions League and more.
700 attempted passes to 243. Tottenham’s completed passes, 188, is less than Norwich managed while being hammered by Liverpool. It’s eye opening dominance from Man Utd, coming mainly from the second half, part inspired by a tactical switch which saw them play 2 strikers and part inspired by Spurs deciding to sit back on a one goal lead and try and soak up pressure.
Scholes and Carrick were the instigators of this, but Evans and Ferdinand both had high individual passing numbers too. They were simply allowed to have the ball while Spurs set up to absorb pressure and make quick attacks through Bale, Lennon and Defoe.
Things got off to a good start after just a minute when Vertonghen was allowed to drift through and his shot was deflected in. For the rest of the first half play was more or less even.
Scholes & Nani
Man Utd looked stuttering as they tried to break down the Spurs midfield axis of Dembele and Sandro, a pair of players who had specific roles and stuck to them perfectly. Scholes was the player everything went through but aside from him, there wasn’t a lot of impetus, creativity or guile.
Here you can see Scholes’ passes into the attacking third. He was unable to penetrate through the middle, for reasons I’ll explain shortly, and so was forced to play out wide – overwhelmingly to the right where Nani was stationed. Nani, on receiving these balls, proceeded to do not very much with them. Time after time he was closed down by the excellent Vertonghen or his crosses were swatted away by the Spurs backline.
Dembele & Sandro
The reason for United’s bluntness is simple; Dembele and Sandro. They were a wall in front of that back four, mopping up any through balls, cutting out any attacks and then launching them into attacks of their own.
Between them they won 11 out of 12 tackles, all but one inside their own half and mostly central. They were taking the pressure off Caulker and Gallas and forcing United to go wide, seemingly comfortable with the matchups they had out wide; Walker on Giggs and Vertonghen on Nani.
And they were right to be.
Taking On The Opposition
Neither Giggs or Nani were comfortable taking on their opponent, preferring to pass their way into the box or hit crosses in, rather than take them on and make a threatening run. Compare this to the way Spurs tried to use their pace and directness to get at Evra in particular – they, like everyone, will remember the job Lennon has done on him in the past and were trying to replicate it.
They didn’t have a great deal of success but it was a clear strength of theirs and they were prepared to try and use it. It had the added bonus of keeping the United fullbacks pegged back, constantly afraid of the pace at Spurs’ disposal.
These two elements, their excellent central midfield and the pace of certain players, worked in tandem for their second goal, a superbly destructive run through central midfield by Dembele finished off by the pace and precision of Bale (helped considerably by the excellent off the ball running by Defoe).
This is the other side to Dembele’s game, one he’s demonstrated in plenty of games for Fulham in the past, and made him the worst sort of opponent for United yesterday. He was the sort of player they were not set up to handle – a strong, dominant, technically good central midfielder. He could get his foot on the ball and sweep past Carrick and Scholes like they were not there. Nowhere else in the game was this more evident than in Spurs’ second, and it was a great assist.
Rooney & RVP
In the second half, things began to change, and Rooney was brought on for Giggs. This meant Kagawa took up a position wide left, while Rooney joined RVP up front. United looked more comfortable at this point, and it didn’t take long for them to get back in the game, and it highlighted probably the only real flaw in Spurs’ gameplan yesterday – their inability to track runners, especially from wide positions.
The first goal came from a cross on the right, this time from Rooney and he found Nani, who’s crosses from that position had been so poor. Nani finished the chance off and United were back in the mix, but it was Spurs inability to really track Nani coming in from this wide position which left them exposed.
The same thing happened just a minute or so later (though separated by Dempsey’s goal – another example of United being afraid of Spurs’ pace). This time the threat came from the left, with Walker not keeping tabs on Kagawa who came inside and slotted away for United’s second. They were the two main blots on Spurs’ afternoon, and things they will have to be prepared for in future.
The effectiveness of Nani and Kagawa in coming in from wide positions was making up for Rooney and RVP’s tendency to drop deep.
Because of the excellent performances of Sandro and Dembele in protecting the Tottenham backline, the two United forwards were forced to come deeper in search of the ball, as the picture above of their received passes shows. Only on a couple of occasions did they pick up the ball in the penalty area, and Rooney in particular acted as link man between midfield and attack. It is a testament to the discipline of Spurs’ midfield that United were forced to play around them in this way.
Those who only see the stats of this game will see a performance that United dominated and Spurs were lucky to get anything from, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story.
Spurs’ tactical ideas were spot on from the start and the players stuck to their jobs throughout. The performances of Dembele and Sandro in particular were excellent, but they were supported across the team, and ultimately it was a hard fought win that should see some of the ridiculous pressure on AVB from certain newspapers abate.
To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog Holtamania.com
Also dont forget to follow him on Twitter : @Holtamania
And to do your own match analysis visit FourFourTwo.com StatsZone and download their StatsZone App today.
You must be logged in to post a comment! Sign up + or log in in the top right corner.
Ferguson had an offer of €60 million rejected for Juventus midfield duo Marchisio and Vidal this summer.
He knows where the team weakness lies and not having brought anyone in means they will eventually fall behind in the running for silverware once again this season. It is not an easy ride as it used to be for them now that there's money buying quality players in the Premier League.
It is unrealistic to think that a January signing can be any good to make up for the low quality in midfield.
This makes Rooney a key player for United as he drops far down the pitch to collect the ball and create danger.
I agree with the final remark about AVB being given some breathing space by the press. Unbelievable and ignorant defence of Redknapp as they see AVB as having been unjustly appointed in place of the English manager. The truth is AVB has studied football and is trying to teach it to his players. Redknapp was way behind when it came to tactics but he was a man who opened his heart to journalists. They think it is their duty to avenge their friend's departure.