Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United: Paulinho’s promotion to No.10 and Welbeck’s switch to the centre
Tottenham and Manchester United came into this game at the back of 2 contrasting weeks. David Moyes witnessed arguably the best performance by the Red Devils in his tenure, when United thrashed Leverkusen 5-0 in Germany. AVB on the other hands was lost for words after his seemingly miserly Spurs were hit for 6 by a rampant Manchester City. So, whichever way you look at it, both managers badly needed the 3 points to thrust in an unlikely looking title challenge.
Moyes tried to retain many of the XI that started in Germany, but the ageing Giggs and Ferdinand were rested for Cleverley and Vidic. Welbeck was also added on the left to replace Nani. Spurs on the other hand were also at the back of another Europa League encounter, and this made AVB change quite a bit from the City game. Kaboul in the back was replaced by Chiriches, Dembele came in for Holtby and Chadli replaced Lamela on the left.
A lot of the prematch talk involved how AVB had stalked up defencively, particularly considering their trackers on the wing. Lamela in particular had been poor against City as he repeatedly allowed Navas to scamper by, which directly led to 2 of the 6 goals.
Chadli’s inclusion against United here proved vital, as the Belgian was involved in covering a lot of ground while covering for the adventurous Vertonghen. Valencia playing on United’s right flank started the game much higher up the field and also quite narrower than usual. And this lead to Vertonghen tracking the winger and hence leaving only Chadli on the right to cover the flank.
It was a similar story on the right flank where Lennon was able to contain much of Evra’s attack mindedness, though in this case it was much more down to Lennon’s attacking qualities than tracking.
AVB’s midfield was completely outrun against City as the likes of Paulinho kept getting into advanced positions and then failed to track back after losing the ball. Today, the Brazilian was instead played as a higher up No.10 with Dembele coming in next to Sandro. This switch changed the entire dynamics of Spurs’ attacks as now they always had a presence in front of the opposition’s defence.
Soldado has barely ever been seen running the channel for Spurs, mainly due to the lack of service he has been given. So the Spaniard often tried to fall off into deeper positions and win the ball against the CB and hence allow the likes of Paulinho to get space in the box.
This usually resulted in Spurs getting opened up on the counter, but now Paulinho’s prior presence upfront allowed the Brazilian to quickly latch onto such balls. The Brazilian’s physicality was a constant menace for Phil Jones and Cleverley, and thus had to be handled constantly by Vidic and Evans stepping out of defence.
United No.10 position on the other hand was again handed to Kagawa after his exploits on German soil. But Spurs’ deepest man in midfield, Sandro, was quite efficient in containing the Japanese international.
Sandro stuck to Kagawa well whenever the United man entered the area in between the lines. This often led to Kagawa falling very deep in his own half to link up directly with the defence and then carry the ball out to the flank. But Moyes’ selection of Welbeck on the left flank worked well here, as the England international kept drifting into the spaces that should have been taken by Kagawa.
On all the occasions when Sandro was marking Kagawa, Welbeck kept making darts behind the Brazilian and then linking with Rooney. This led to United overloading Sandro continually and hence pulling out Chiriches to put in a last ditch interception in midfield. This was often the reason why Valencia was able to find space behind Vertonghen, because Chiriches was being pulled into tackles on Kagawa or Welbeck higher up, and this left no LCB to cover the overlaps behind Vertonghen.
This central drifting by Welbeck resulted in Kyle walker coming into extremely narrow positions at times and hence the entire flank was left for Evra to maraud into.
Here again the influence of Spurs’ wingers comes into play, as here Lennon crucially covered Evra’s tracks and prevented many crosses. In total, United had just 3 successful crosses after completing 8 successful take-on in the flanks; a sure lack of RVP quality in the box.
The second half saw Moyes shift Kagawa out to the left and go for Welbeck and Rooney upfront. With Welbeck playing the furthest, United’s attack became much more direct as the Englishman started to the stretch the Central defenders with his trademark runs across the face.
One such typical run found both Chiriches and Lloris beaten and a penalty awarded to United. This resulted just after Sandro had scored a screamer at the other hand, which brings us back to the midfield battle in the centre.
Paulinho’s influence upfront meant that both Phil Jones and Cleverley took up much deeper roles, and despite Jones again coming up with 100% clean tackles and headed duels, Moyes missed a distributor from the centre. This resulted in United looking for either Rooney or Kagawa to drop deep and build up play, rather than the likes of Cleverley distributing towards the free fullbacks. Another aspect that was missing from United’s midfield was the level of pressing being shown by Spurs.
The central midfield duo of Spurs, Dembele and Sandro were extremely quick in closing down the likes of Cleverley and Rooney in midfield and hence quickly unsettling the short passes that United were trying in midfield. This tactic of Spurs was quickly nullified when Welbeck kept popping up behind Sandro, but higher up the field Spurs were winning the midfield battles against United.
Moyes’ team on the other hand was showing a peculiar lethargy, which according to much of the United faithful was originating from Tom Cleverley in midfield. Sandro’s goal also came about when the Brazilian was able to cut away from the Englishman thrice and then shoot without any pressure.
AVB’s changes later on in the match were the more effective as the likes of Townsend and Defoe were introduced. Townsend pretty much ventured in the same areas as Lennon, but the youngster was able to cut in from the left and then cross for the likes of Paulinho, a tactic that Lennon rarely exploited. Defoe on the other hand, played a much more advanced role than Soldado, so AVB was now not able to utilize the physicality of Paulinho upfront.
Usually this game is expected to be full of tactics and goals, and it did not disappoint. AVB’s stint of shifting Paulinho upfront and bringing on the defensively strong Chadli on the left definitely worked, and it was only thwarted by some brilliant play by Wayne Rooney and some intelligent runs and positioning by Welbeck.