Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United – Tactical Review

Umang Mohnot
Modified 29 Dec 2014
Falcao looks on as Lloris makes a splendid save

In what turned out to be a dead rubber, Tottenham played host to Manchester United in a 0-0 encounter. A match which neither team managed to dominate ended up in frustration over missed efforts and failure to convert half chances.


Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United starting line-ups

Manchester United fielded an unchanged line-up for the first time in consecutive games since November, 2012. Jones, McNair and Evans formed the trio of centre backs with Valencia and Young slotting in as the wing backs on the right and left flank respectively. Carrick and Rooney started in midfield with Mata playing in the hole behind the strike partnership of Falcao and van Persie.

The home side started with four changes to their line-up from the win against Leicester a couple days ago. Both the fullbacks, Rose and Walker were replaced with Davies on the left and Chiriches who was converted from his usual centre back position. Mason replaced Bentaleb in defensive midfield, and Townsend replaced Lamela as the inverted winger on the right flank.

Quick Start To Proceedings

The game started off in a rather bright fashion, with Tottenham looking to hurt the visitors early. Manchester United looked to have a rather cautious approach until they gradually settled into the match. Valencia and Young, the two wing backs stayed back to effectively make it a defensive back 5.

United started getting into the groove and looked well in control after the initial 20 minutes or so. Ashley Young started to make more advanced runs and take on the converted right-back, Vlad Chiriches.

Lot Of Sparring; No Knockout Blow

Since the moment United started to gain control over the match, they started creating a few chances. A few slick one-touch passes culminating into an attacking move was a common sight, but the end product was just not there tonight. Robin van Persie missed a chance when Juan Mata’s free-kick ricocheted off the woodwork and fell straight to him. However, some last ditched defending by the defenders saw the danger cleared. This happened quite a few times too.

Just a minute later, a scramble resulting in the box from a Rooney corner saw Phil Jones heading home with the goal line technology showing the ball just crossing the line for a goal. However, the celebrations were cut short before they even started as Jones was rightly ruled offside by the officials.

Fodder for post-match discussions emerged when Benjamin Stambouli took away the legs of Michael Carrick in what appeared to be a malicious studs-up challenge. He was booked and given a yellow card, though it looked to be a definite sending off.

Falcao had a chance of his own when Mata played one through the channel for him. Unable to get the ball ahead of him, Falcao had a tame effort straight to Hugo Lloris.

Tottenham had a few chances of its own; the most noteworthy one being a corner whipped in from Andros Townsend which was just a couple inches too high for the in-form Harry Kane.

The first half ended with Ashley Young cutting in to unleash a fierce effort from the left. It would have cannoned into the top corner at the far post, had Lloris not managed to parry it somehow. The Spurs goalie was the best player on the pitch in the 45 minutes, leaving a Manchester United side rueing at missed chances and a lack of clinical finishing.

Entertainment Turns To Boredom

While the first half of the game was exciting in its own way with the adrenaline rush of manic defending and some good passes to bypass opposition players, the second half failed to show us anything more. There comes a point in a match when creating chances is well and good, but goals is what we want to see; or at least decent efforts at them.

Rafael replaced Valencia at the start of the second half but failed to provide any real dynamism and change to the style of play.

The Red Devils started the half with a view of retaining possession of the ball to not allow the hosts to assert themselves in front of the home support. The approach worked till they wanted to get back into the groove, but when it came to building moves they failed. A lack of play from the wide areas allowed Tottenham to better soak the pressure and not concede a goal.

On two occasions however, United almost scored through great pull-backs from the right wing. The first one was a brilliant cross from the touchline by Mata towards van Persie who failed to test Lloris with his volley. On the second instance, Mata was the culprit as he sent his shot soaring for the stars from a Rafael cross. He had enough time to compose himself, and shouldn’t have put so much behind his shot.

Though Tottenham emerged as the slightly better side in the second half with improved pressing, it was clear that neither team was committed to playing in the same degree of openness as in the first half. Both were waiting for the other to make a blunder and capitalize on it, but that wasn’t to happen.

The last 10 minutes proved for some drama, especially in the 82nd minute. Harry Kane showcased brilliant determination and skill to thread the pass of the match through for Ryan Mason who missed the chance to bury the match with a blazing shot fizzing over the goal.

There were a few more half chances and a booking each to Falcao and Rafael, but that was that, as the match ended in a stalemate.

Talking Tactics

The home side clearly started with a balanced approach to the game. Stambouli was the muscle who held his position and Ryan Mason made attacking runs in the double pivot pairing.

Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend both played as inverted wingers; allowing them to cut inside on their stronger foot and overloading the central defenders while also looking to get few shots of their own away. This allowed them to contract the pitch and allow for better exchange of passes and crosses. The occasional overlap by the fullbacks, especially Ben Davies gave another option on the overlap.

Harry Kane proved yet again what a wonderful talent he is. He made up for his lack of pace with some great control, holding up abilities and passing vision.

Tottenham played an extremely high line in the first half which caught them unaware many times. They managed to rectify this error in the second half. The second half also saw them pressing better as a unit; especially piling up the pressure United’s centre backs and not allowing them to play their way out of defence.

When defending, the 2 wingers dropped back to support the full backs and crowd out the United players in the attack. This ploy was made all the more effective because of the fact that United’s players did not switch possession to opposite flanks as quickly as they probably should have.

Besides that, Stambouli dropped back as a false centre back, Mason held his position, Kane stayed up-front for a potential counter, while Eriksen stayed in limbo; providing his assistance where needed most.

Tottenham’s transition from attack to defence

Manchester United started rather cautiously, but eased into their attacking potency as the game progressed. Valencia sat a bit deeper as compared to his regular role, perhaps to counter the threat of in-form Chadli on the same wing.

Ashley Young was a threat with his right footed crosses from the left wing. Rooney in midfield along with Carrick were paired to dictate play and control the tempo with Mata providing the creative outlet in central attacking midfield.

Falcao and van Persie have started to develop a level of understanding now, and van Gaal attempted to bring out some more of the magic tonight. While Falcao dropped slightly deeper to retrieve the ball at times, van Persie largely remained forward, waiting for the perfect opportunity to get his deadly first-time shots and volleys away. Both the strikers also remained narrow at most times, trying to fashion chances and run off each other.

United used all 3 of their substitutions – Rafael for Valencia, Smalling for Evans and Shaw for McNair. Smaling and Shaw were returning from injuries, and it was a positive for the Red Devils to see them back in action.

Some tweaks were made after these substitutions were made. Rafael was given more attacking freedom than Valencia, while Smalling drifted to the middle of the back 3. Shaw though a wing back, played on the left side of the back 3. In the dying minutes of the match, he did make a few forward surges with Carrick dropping back in a more defensive role.

How Manchester United started off


Manchester United shape after substitutions



The shared result of both teams failing to score a goal is probably the right one as neither of them capitalized on the chances they managed to create. The fact that both teams played too safe and did not take that extra little risk really sums up the eventual outcome of the match.

Both can take some positives from the game. They had come in with some momentum and at least a draw allows them to keep hold of it till the next game. Tottenham now have haven’t lost against Manchester United in their past 5 encounters. United on the other hand have not lost a match at White Hart Lane in their last 14 trips, having won 8.

Published 29 Dec 2014
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