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Tactical Analysis

Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Tactical Analysis | United find quality on the right too late

In a fixture that’s never really short of passion, Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United. Neither side has lit up the league with their performances this season, with the winner of this match finishing the gameweek in lowly 6th place. This was probably why the win was so important to both managers, as the sides went all out to grab the crucial 3 points.

Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Made using Tactical Pad.

Made using Tactical Pad.

Line Ups

Manchester United: De Gea; Smalling (Kagawa, 61); Vidic; Evans; Evra; Carrick (Hernandez, 61); Cleverley (Young, 84); Valencia; Rooney; Januzaj; Welbeck

Tottenham: Lloris; Walker; Dawson; Chiriches; Rose; Lennon; Capoue (Bentaleb, 64); Dembele; Eriksen; Adebayor (Chadli, 70); Soldado (Kane, 75).

United play down the right

Tottenham lined up with 2 forwards in a 4-4-2 shape, as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 that United started with. Eriksen was on the left side of the midfield while defending just ahead of Danny Rose. This presented a fine avenue for Manchester United to attack. Eriksen isn’t a player who is renowned for his defensive work or defensive abilities. On top of that, he had a sort of a free role going forward, which meant that he was always in a race to get back to his position. This effectively created a 2 vs 1 situation on the right wing and United had to exploit it. Valencia started there and Smalling was also bombing forward to support him. The idea was to get Rose isolated and then exploit the inside channel. In the first couple of minutes itself, United were able to send in 2 through balls behind Chiriches to Welbeck. He almost made one count as Lloris was put in a bit of trouble while trying to clear the ball.

*Apologies for the poor image quality.

*Apologies for the poor image quality.

As can be seen above the ball is played into the channel between the full back and the centre back, with Danny Welback looking to run onto it. There were a number of such through balls over the course of the match.

However, the tactic did not really yield dividends for Manchester United for 2 reasons. Firstly, and more importantly, Valencia had quite a poor game. The winger was able to go on the outside and create the space, but unable to deliver an effective cross. The height on his crosses was improper and as a result he only made 1 accurate cross out of 13. United as a whole managed only 9 out of an astonishing 47.

The second reason why they failed to really exploit the wide right was Eriksen’s defensive vigour. The young playmaker did put in a mighty effort to stop the United play on the right hand side and provide Rose some form of protection. It was good work from him, but not necessarily very effective. There were a number of occasions when United still managed to get balls into the box, despite his presence. He either wasn’t robust enough in the tackle, or had his angles wrong while defending and attempting to block the cross.

*Apologies for poor image quality

*Apologies for poor image quality

As you can see above, Eriksen (circled) has taken up a position that doesn’t really benefit his side defensively. The ball is eventually played to the man in the box, but Eriksen doesn’t stop it. He also isn’t in a position to cover the pass to the advancing full back. His position is one that can’t really block any cross/pass from Valencia.

As mentioned above though, Valencia and United couldn’t really capitalise on their advantage here due to the inefficiency in Valencia’s play. However, this changed in the second half after Moyes changed his side and moved a few of his players around a bit. Kagawa was brought on and placed on the left. Rooney shifted into a central midfield role, Hernandez led the line, Welbeck played behind him and Januzaj was shifted to the right. As soon as Januzaj got to this position, Rose began having a torrid time. The youngster who has been exceptional for the Red Devils this season made a tremendous impact on that side. He completed 2 successful dribbles here, and even managed a few crosses. The assist for Danny Welbeck’s goal also came from the right wing, as Januzaj played a quality through ball in the gap and behind Chiriches to set up the chance. United’s second half dominance can be attributed to Januzaj and his performance on right keeping Spurs very occupied in defence.

Shutting Rooney down

Wayne Rooney has been the top  assist maker in the top 5 European leagues this season with 9 assists, and having scored more against Tottenham than any other Premier League opposition, he was the man to watch out for if you were Tim Sherwood. The fact that the Englishman was largely anonymous is a great compliment to Sherwood and the Spurs players, because they were able to keep him quiet for long periods of the game. They did so by man marking him in certain areas of the pitch.

Rooney’s tendency to drop off and serve as a play-maker is well documented, and indeed, Moyes started him in this role against Spurs. When he does play here, he is at his most dangerous in the area of the field between the half way line and the opponents penalty area because he receives the ball here and sprays some excellent passes to the likes of Welbeck, Januzaj and van Persie (when fit). That is why Capoue, who also plies his trade in this region of the pitch was selected to mark the United talisman, and he did so with elan. Capoue was never too far from Rooney, and he left the England international alone only when he drifted into the penalty area, where he was then picked up by one of the centre backs.

As you can see in the image below, Rooney is falling deep to influence the play and Capoue is right on his heels, not giving him any free space. This was a repetitive pattern, and as a result, Rooney never really did settle and manage to work his magic.


This led to Rooney enduring a torrid and frustrating time as he couldn’t influence the game. Rooney even got angry enough to pick up a petty yellow card in a classic Wayne Rooney moment. Later on, when he was shifted into a deeper role, he managed to find time on the ball and was able to use his passing range to play a number of passes out to the wings for the likes of Januzaj.

Adebayor’s positioning and role on the counter

Not too many teams come to Old Trafford and take the attack to Manchester United. It is usually a wise decision to spring forward on the counter and attack the Red Devils. Tim Sherwood employed just such a tactic, and to great effect. They key to the successful implementation was one Emanuel Adebayor. The big striker performed his job of leading the counter attacking transitions very well. His strength and height allowed him to be the perfect man to play the ball at after winning it in a deep area of the pitch, and his technical proficiency meant that he could use the ball very well.

*Apologies for poor image quality.

*Apologies for poor image quality.

As you can see in the image above, Adebayor is about to receieve the ball right at the start of the counter attacking move that led to the Eriksen goal. The ball was won and played out to him immediately. He ran with it for a bit and played it away to his team-mates, who capitalised to make it 2-0.

The mark of an effective striker is the ability with which he can make a nuisance of himself with just his presence. Adebayor is a prime example. He positions himself in the final third and looks to play off the shoulder of the last defender. Even if he isn’t available for a pass, his presence pre-occupies the opposition defender. He has to stick to his man, the moment he moves up he leaves a huge gap to be exploited, and this is exactly what Adebayor was looking to do.


As seen above, he was stationed in dangerous attacking areas, looking to pounce on any opportunity and making sure the attackers have a pass to play it out to. As seen here, Eriksen and Lennon (who is extremely stretched) are getting into good position, if and when they get the ball, they need a man in the box, and Adebayor is ever-present for this. Modern dynamic strikers often drop deep and fail to offer themselves in dangerous areas, Adebayor makes sure he is in the right place at the right time.

Where does this leave them?

For United, this is probably a tough defeat to take. The team had come into this game on the back of 6 successive wins, and a victory here would have kept them in hot pursuit of the leading pack. The defeat means that they drop to 7th, below a Spurs side that are finding their form now.

For Spurs, this was exactly what was needed after some of the terrible performances in the big games in the last month or so. The win doesn’t really see a massive climb up the table, with the Lilywhites only leapfrogging their opponents into 6th, but it has marked the best result of Sherwood’s short tenure at the club. The ex-player has gone about his job quietly and so far got some good results while playing a brand of attractive football. Don’t be shocked if this Spurs side upset a few more applecarts along the way.

What did you think of the game? Did you notice anything else tactically? Have we missed out on something? If so, do leave a comment below.

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