Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis
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: 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.
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 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.
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.
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.