Manchester United 3 Tottenham 0: United party like it’s 2008

The starting line ups

With 9 days to go before the end of the transfer window Spurs travelled to Old Trafford, which is already an unhappy hunting ground for them, with the uncertainty of star player Luka Modric’s future dangling over them. Manchester United had their own worries after being dealt a double blow in the game against West Brom as the injury bug bit both starting centrebacks Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and questions were being asked about their young Spanish goal keeper David De Gea.

United’s dynamic attack

United started the better of the two teams putting Spurs under early pressure by moving the ball quickly and getting it into dangerous positions to create goal-scoring opportunities. They seemed determined to target Spurs young right-back Kyle Walker with majority of their attacks going down that flank in the first half. In the build up they would attempt to play an early ball to out to that flank in order for Ashley Young or Nani to try and get the better of the right-back in a 1v1 situation and whip in a cross. When the opportunity to capitalise from a quick build up wasn’t on the home team displayed the free flowing, interchanging of positions attack that Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have brought back from 2007/08. The wingers tucked in and played centrally or even doubled up on a single wing and the forwards took up deeper positions or played on the flank if it was left vacant by one of the wide men. One of the midfielders at times even joined in the rotation of positions. What this created was overloads either on the wings or in the midfield. Spurs played with 2 centre midfielders and United took advantage of this by making it a 3v2 situation in this area always. This overload would mostly consist of the one central midfielder who got forward, a striker who has dropped deep and winger tucked in. Quick passing in this area usually allowed them to find the spare man who then had the time and space to shoot from outside the area or raise his head to pick a pass with limited pressure on the ball. Observe Nani become the extra man in midfield and get a free uncontested shot off in the video below.

The 2 midfielders are preoccupied with Rooney (striker dropped deep), Cleverley (midfielder advancing forward) and Benoit Assou- Ekotto, who job it would have been to follow Nani inside, has his hands full with Welbeck who interchanged with the Portuguese winger. Also note that Cleverley ended up being one of the two furthest forward United players.

This free flowing attacking strategy worked well for the Red Devils (as it did in their previous 2 games) due to the universality of their attacking players. Rooney and Welbeck can both lead the line and play the support striker role or even on both flanks. Young and Nani also can play in either wide areas or behind the striker and can chip in with goals so won’t mind having to run on to a final ball. Both Cleverly and Anderson are very much comfortable having to play slightly higher up the park than their centre midfield positions with the former being no slouch on flanks. This versatility meant that each one of the attacking players could have found space in various parts of the attacking 1/3 and be comfortable to make a play when given the ball. Tottenham’s defense to an extent dealt well with United’s attack well with for the majority of the first half.  An audacious Young headed attempt and a Tom Cleverley shot from outside the 18 yard area.

Tottenham’s response

In the defensive phase Manchester United chose to press Spurs only when they crossed the half line in an attempt to force them to commit men forward and capitalise on the space left behind. Spurs used a slow, patient build up and waited for openings appeared to penetrate the home team’s defense. Their was some rotating of positions similar to United with Nico Krancjar advancing forward, Jermaine Defoe dropping to the midfield to receive possession and Rafael Van der Vaart floating all over the pitch to help with the build up, overload the wings and to get to the end of final balls. Bale also drifted inside from time to time to capitalise on space between the lines. However the reasons why United’s attacking play worked and theirs didn’t was their ball movement was too slow to give the defense any sort of problems, their fullbacks were more cautious (so they were undermanned in the attacking 1/3) and United’s attack had a much better understanding amongst themselves. Tottenham though did try to play some quick combinations and also tried to transition from defense to attack to catch their hosts on the counter attack. In terms of chances they were limited to shots from outside the 18 yard area and weak efforts that ended up straight to De Gea. United’s young centre-back pairing of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans did well to protect the young goalkeeper by cutting off attempts made to play in Jermaine Defoe. Jones, who made his first start for United also did an excellent job transitioning the defense to attack quickly with some wonderful runs (with the ball) out from the back after winning the ball back epitomising United’s tactics on the night, quick movement of the ball forward and overloads in attack.

The diagrams below shows United’s dominance in the 1st half.

The above diagrams shows the comparison of where Manchester United (top) and Tottenham (bottom) attempted clearances. Spurs attempted 9 clearances inside their penalty area while United attempted only 4.

This diagram shows which areas of the pitch Tottenham (top) and Manchester United (bottom) made passes from. United had the comparative advantage in the attacking 1/3. 24% of their passes where played in this area in comparison to Spurs' 16%.

United turn on the style

In the early stages of the half Manchester United attempted to resume their dominance but it was Spurs who would threatened in the early minutes on on the counter attack. Soon after the match turned into an all United affair. The home team’s fluidity got progressively better as Spurs began to become more careless in possession and more gaps started to appear in their defense. United capitalised on this and really turned on the style.

In the video below Manchester United’s fluidity in attack can be seen (observe the various positions and roles picked up by different players) as well as their quick transitions from defense to attack to create goal scoring opportunities.

Harry Redknapp eventually switch to a 4-4-2 by bringing on Roman Pluychenko for midfielder Kyle Livermore and dropping Van Der Vaart to the midfield but this was to no avail as Spurs were out of it both mentally and physically and never really look up to mounting a proper comeback.

The synopsis of the second half was United started too get success (score goals) with the football they were playing as Tottenham drifted more and more out of the match


This was an exemplary performance by Manchester United as they continue to display the type of football that they want to play this season, which is a completely 180 degree opposite of the boxy and predictable attack from the last two years (which Ferguson implemented for the team to deal with the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez).

Tottenham, on the other hand, who just weren’t ready for this game (after their first game was cancelled and their squad clearly unsettled due to the transfer window) would not be too bothered about the loss and would hope that they have a clear view of the way forward for their team as the transfer window draws to an end by time they play Manchester City on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter @jabari53


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