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Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 2 Manchester United: Spurs right the wrongs from the Etihad

Tactical expert Chris Hearn examines the tactics that Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas and Manchester United boss David Moyes employed in the entertaining 2-2 draw.

David Moyes and Andre Villas Boas – Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United

Manchester United visited White Hart Lane and the champions had to come from behind twice to deny Spurs all three points.

Wayne Rooney netted twice for the visitors, once via the spot, while Kyle Walker opened the scoring via a free kick and Sandro hit an unstoppable 25 yard strike past the hapless David de Gea.

Spurs winless run against United at White Hart Lane continued, their last triumph coming in 2001. This result also extended David Moyes’ side’s unbeaten streak to 11 games in all competitions.

Vladimir Chiriches returned in the centre of defence next to Michael Dawson, who completed the full 90 minutes against Tromso during the week. Nacer Chadli replaced Erik Lamela and Moussa Dembele came in for Lewis Holtby

Robin van Persie has scored six goals and assisted five more in his last eight Premier League starts against Spurs, but would be without his services as he recovers from a groin injury.

Danny Welbeck took his place in the side, while Tom Cleverley was preferred to Marouane Fellaini who started in the 5-0 away win at Leverkusen midweek. Nemanja Vidic returned from a concussion and took the captains armband.

While Andre Villas-Boas offered a shot at redemption to a large portion of the side that was demolished at the Etihad last week, David Moyes would have stressed the importance of keeping pace with high-flying Arsenal.

Both teams had different motivations coming into this fixture, but both set out for a win in what was a truly gripping game of football.

I’ll focus on the games star performers and main instances, while offering a possible solution to the issues that surfaced for both teams.


Tottenham set up in their usual 4-2-3-1 which featured Paulinho at the top of a midfield diamond with Sandro and Dembele the deeper of the trio. In wide positions, where they were expertly exploited by Manchester City, Villas-Boas had selected Chadli because of his strength and defensive discipline, something that was lacking down Tottenham’s left against Manchester City.

Manchester United also played their usual 4-2-3-1. Shinji Kagawa played in his preferred central position behind the striker, Rooney. Chris Smalling was called upon at right-back after his recent impressive performances, as Rafael Da Silva recovers from an ankle injury.

Michael Carrick was unavailable due to injury, so United lack that real probing midfield passer from deep, so the pressure was on United’s attacking quartet to create for themselves which i’ll discuss further later on.

Rooney continues to grow

When Robin van Persie is not in the line up, the natural thing for Moyes to do is to play Rooney centrally as the focal point in attack. Both players are highly effective but their styles differ greatly.

Wayne Rooney Passing – Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United

Rooney has a tendency to drop deep to receive possession and orchestrate the play, this is amplified when Carrick does not play, as United lack that creative outlet from deep as I mentioned earlier. As is seen on occasion with Cesc Fabregas for Spain, or Lionel Messi at Barcelona, the false nine can be an incredibly effective tool at disrupting the opposing teams’ marking system while getting wide men into goalscoring opportunities as they make diagonal inward runs.

This was seen as Welbeck darted into a central area as Rooney collected the ball wide left, as Spurs right back Walker was left up the pitch with the defence exposed. Rooney played a ball in behind the Spurs defence towards Welbeck and Tottenham goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, was adjudged to have fouled the Englishman.

This instance, coupled with the finish of a real centre forward in the first half, showed his ability to play in as many as four roles in the one game. This is illustrated by his heat map.

Wayne Rooney Heatmap – Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester UnitedPaulinho’s drive forces United to lose shape

Since his £17m signing from Corinthians, he has shown the versatility and quality expected of such a lofty price tag. His tempo was such, that when United were in the ascendency, their deeper midfielders (Jones and Cleverley) did not fully commit to the attacks such was the threat of the Brazilian on the break.

He won the foul which led to Walker’s goal and occupied Jonny Evans which meant he could not assist Cleverley. The 24-year-old was pressuring Sandro, as he put Spurs ahead with that sumptuous strike after gaining a yard on his opponent.

Paulinho Passing – Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester UnitedHad the defensive line been higher, this goal would not have happened, Paulinho will not get an assist for this contribution but it was definitely a telling one nonetheless.

Apart from his own individual contributions, this midfield looks at its best when Paulinho has this role to play, as his aggressive forward pressing and intelligent running has the capability to run any defence ragged.

Tottenham conclusion

They needed a reaction after the mauling they suffered last week, and with improved performances from their defenders who worked efficiently in tandem with Dembele and Sandro, who did a great job of stifling United’s attacking intent.

The North-London side will be aggrieved that they gave away they would consider to be two fairly ‘soft’ goals, as both were avoidable. We learnt that Dembele must start, and the criticism of Jan Vertonghen at left-back is without foundation, as he put in a very decent shift for the home side.

Two away trips to Sunderland and Fulham, as well as a home tie against Liverpool represent a chance at a push up the table, if minor tweaks can be made to their defensive game plan which will be made easier once Chiriches fully settles into the side.

Manchester United conclusion

Considering their phenomenal record at White Hart Lane and Spurs recent league form, they will consider this result as two points dropped, rather than one gained. On the balance of the game a draw was a fair result, which saw both sides cancel each other out in the latter stages rather than either team seriously threatening to win the game.

A creative outlet is needed in the deep midfield area when Carrick does not play, whether that means bringing someone into the squad in January or groom a youth talent to fill the void. They dominated possession but failed to create enough opportunities to win this game.

My own thoughts on the current landscape of Premier League Football

As has been previously seen this season, this fixture noted the continuing evolution of the Premier League. The all end to end style is there for all to see, but teams are becoming accustomed to use that as a plan B rather than their only game plan. Opting for a less expansive, more measured approach.  This was typified by the substitutions made late on which showed that neither manager wanted to alter their shape. While there were six attacking players brought on from the bench

This improvement, particularly seen in the top teams of the league which Spurs and United definitely are despite their ladder position, will help the clubs to progress further in European competition, where English clubs have suffered in recent years.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Chris Hearn (ChrisHearn08) for Outside 90
Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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