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Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis | Spurs’ superior deep-lying midfield

Tottenham Hotspur took on Manchester United at the White Hart Lane, both fresh from disappointing league results. The home side had been absolutely thrashed the previous week by Manchester City, with 6 goals flying past them, while United were held away to Cardiff. Many were calling it a must win for both sides, the home side possibly more so. The result, though fair, didn’t do either side any favours.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis

FORMATION 2

Line ups created using Tactical Pad. Click here to know more.

 Line Ups

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Walker; Dawson; Chiriches; Verthongen; Sandro; Dembele; Lennon (Townsend 65′); Paulinho; Chadli (Sigurdsson 85′); Soldado (Defoe 72′)

Manchester United: De Gea; Smalling; Evans; Dawson; Evra; Cleverley; Jones; Kagawa (Young 84′); Welbeck (Hernandez 73′); Valencia (Nani 84′); Rooney

The one sided midfield battle

They often say games are won and lost in midfield; without trying to sound too dramatic, the midfield did have a telling contribution in this game. The two deep lying midfielders of both side never really went head to head, but this particular battle was won by the Spurs’ duo.

The system played by Sandro & Dembele provided adequate cover to Paulinho, allowing him to venture forward. Sandro and Dembele proved to be solid in midfield, which in contrast with Cleverley and Jones, was a superior performance. The Spurs attack easily slipped past United’s midfield, while United found it increasingly difficult to get past Sandro & Dembele.

MORE READING | Analysis: What has gone wrong with Spurs?

It resulted in Rooney dropping deeper than usual to support the midfield, leaving the attack barren. Welbeck did cut inside but barely had any effect. Sandro & Dembele’s strong display pulled an important spoke of United’s attack into a deep position (i.e. Wayne Rooney). Dembele made the most tackles on the pitch in the game at the Lane, with 6 successful tackles, while Sandro made the most interceptions- 4. Dembele also played the most number of passes among all the Spurs midfielders.

One more factor that Dembele & Sandro did have is their occasional attacking threat, one which was quite absent in United’s duo. Sandro & Dembele both have the ability of playing long through balls and getting a shot off as well, as the Brazilian midfielder proved. But again, for Sandro’s goal, United have to be at fault. They didn’t close him down quickly enough and he took his opportunity.

Sandro space given united

Sandro was given an incredible amount of space and time on the ball. Another point to be made is the thinking of Sandro to go for the shot. Most defensive midfielders would have passed the ball laterally to his team-mate, but he decided to take his shot on and it proved to be a good move. This feature was lacking in United’s midfielders.

Paulinho positioned higher up in the hole

One thing AVB got spot on in the game against United was the way he utilised his Brazilian midfielder, Paulinho. Unlike the previous game against Manchester City, where Paulinho took up a more deeper role alongside his countrymen Sandro, he was played higher up the pitch.

MORE READING | Manchester City 6-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Tactical Analysis

Andre Villas Boas decided to play Paulinho in the ‘hole’ behind Roberto Soldado. The beauty of playing Paulinho wasn’t (only) the extra creativity he offered, but rather the work-horse nature of his play that worked so well against United’s defence. Paulinho wasn’t deployed with the intention of being played as an attacking number 10; instead, he was played with the ideology that he could close down the deep lying United midfielder (Jones & Cleverley) and the defence, forcing them into errors and gaining possession. He was a constant threat when United had the ball in their own half. He offers this rare attribute, wherein despite being defensive minded he can be an excellent option to play behind the striker against a team like United that focuses on a strong central midfield/defensive balance.

Despite his defensive prowess that possibly went unnoticed, one should not take away anything from the creative/attacking side of his game. Paulinho was always quick to pick up the ball and participate in a counter attack. He had a surprising burst of pace and proved to be a difficult customer for the United defence.

Paulinho creative

Seen above is one incident showcasing the threat offered by Paulinho. After quickly winning possession, he played a one two with Soldado at the middle of the pitch, running at the United defence and threading a beautiful through ball to the Spanish striker, who failed to find the target.

Unfortunately, as the game wore on, Paulinho’s game dropped and he was less and less effective. He, however, showed a lot of promise and could possibly used more often in such a role by AVB.

Nothing down the left for United

Manchester United's lack of attacking threat down the left. Via squawka.com

Manchester United’s lack of attacking threat down the left. Via squawka.com

Regular watchers of Manchester United would be accustomed to the sight of one of the deep lying midfielders passing the ball out to Evra on the left wing. Faced with packed defences more often than not, it’s United’s outlet ball so to speak. The Frenchman’s form may have dipped over the years but his willingness to bomb forward hasn’t waned. However, yesterday proved to be one of the rare games in which he contained himself. This can be mainly attributed to the fact that Lennon troubled him right from the beginning of the game (as he has done on previous occasions when the 2 sides have faced each other).

Kagawa hardly stayed out wide. Via squawka.com

Kagawa hardly stayed out wide. Via squawka.com

United started with Danny Welbeck on the left flank before he moved in field and Japanese International Kagawa shifted out wide. Neither of them are natural wingers. With Kagawa preferring to cut in-field and Evra not going forward in his customary fashion, United’s heat map has a distorted look with the left hand side surprisingly bare.

Chiriches covering Vertonghen

Tottenham have always been known for their attacking wing-backs, and this game was no different. With United’s main attacking threat coming from the right wing, Vertonghen didn’t have the best of games defensively. He needed cover and the Romanian centre back provided just that. On multiple occasions when Valencia found space and bypassed Vertonghen, Chiriches was on hand to cover for his defensive partner.

Chiriches covered for Vertonghen on multiple occasions via squawka.com

Chiriches covered for Vertonghen on multiple occasions. Via squawka.com

The heat map shown above is telling and reinforces the point. From a Manchester United point of view , the main avenue of attack was down the right and they’ll be disappointed that Valencia couldn’t capitalize but more on that later. This covering provided by Chiriches allowed Verthongen the liberty to venture forward, as the Belgian was assured of back-up.

On the other side, Walker had a more difficult task. The Englishman regularly attacked but was also required to fall-back and support the defence. The cover provided by Chiriches to Verthongen wasn’t provided by Dawson for Walker. It didn’t prove to be too difficult to handle as United failed to take advantage of this on the left hand side.

Valencia ineffective down the right despite being offered space

With United’s attack concentrated on the right hand side, it was a good chance for Antonio Valencia to have a telling effect on the game. We’ve already enumerated on how Chiriches did well to provide cover for Vertonghen but that’s no excuse for Valencia. In fact going past the fullback and then having a run at the centre back who’s been pulled out of position is pretty much the ideal situation for a winger. There’s space in the box for the forwards to make their runs and the attacking unit have to make such situations count. Unfortunately, the Ecuadorian’s radar was well off on the day as shown below.

Only 1 out of Valencia's 11 crosses were successful. Via squawka.com

Only 1 out of Valencia’s 11 crosses were successful. Via squawka.com

The United winger would have been helped if Rafael was fit enough to start the game but at the end of the day there’s no hiding from the fact that his final delivery was poor. In a game where there was space on offer for him to run into, he could and should have been United’s main man.

Before we conclude, we have to show Vidic’s incredible tackle against Spurs that led to United’s penalty. Enjoy!

Conclusion

3 much needed points were on offer but neither side did enough to snatch the victory. As the home side, Spurs would’ve been the more aggrieved with the result especially considering the manner of the goals conceded, both of which were avoidable. For Manchester United, a point away at White Hart Lane in isolation is no means a bad result but 2 consecutive draws after a lukewarm start mean that the gap between them and the leaders Arsenal is slowly but surely widening.

By Sami Faizullah and Arnab Ray

Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @OOTB_football and like us on Facebook. We’re on Google+ and Tumblr as well for those interested.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR OTHER TACTICAL ANALYSES

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