Quality shows: Tottenham vs Manchester United analysis

Louis van Gaal may have said that the two sides were quite even until Tottenham’s first goal, and in some ways he may be correct, in that 3 goals probably flatters Spurs. However, United themselves created virtually nothing, and very much deserved to lose, whatever van Gaal may think or say (Michael Caley’s expected goals map gives an indication of the quality of the chances)


Intensity and narrowness

A lot of Spurs’ efficacy in defence, particularly in the first half, came through their intensive pressuring of United, which was in evidence straight from kick-off and in the early minutes of the game.

This intensity was roughly mirrored by United in the first half too, creating a fractious game in which 1st half pass completion was just 63% for Spurs (season average of 80%) and 70% for United (season average – 82%). This atmosphere was helped by the fact that Spurs kept the pitch tremendously narrow, with Eriksen pulling in from the inside to strongly limit how United could move the ball.

This is shown by the average positions from the first half, with a lot of the play happening down United’s left/Spurs’ right with big gaps of where the play wasn’t on the opposite side.

first half slant


Quality shows

As the first half wore on, Tottenham started to be able to break free of United’s pressure at times, and started to use their left flank more, giving them more space with which to work in possession.

United, however, were less able to do this, a combination of their on-ball and Spurs’ off-ball positioning making it hard for them to find passes.

Spurs all covering up

Occasionally they found space, Tottenham’s narrow compactness in midfield could sometimes leave Mata free on the United right also, but United were generally not good enough on the ball to be able to exploit this.


Second half changes

The half-time changes for United didn’t change much for the team. Though Van Gaal said in post-match interviews that they wanted a runner in behind the opposition defensive line, there were rarely opportunities to do this for Ashley Young, who replaced Marcus Rashford.

Around the 60-minute mark, Young dropped deeper than the central striker role, United playing a sort of 4-3-3-0 with he, Martial, and Lingard forming an attacking midfield flat line. This seemed to be a defensive move, to try and block passes to the Spurs midfield line, but it caused a new limitation for the United attack with large gaps between the two sections of their midfield appearing at times.

United disconnect

However, the intensity slowed in the second half, though each team had periods every now and then of high, intense pressure. This lower intensity helped both teams construct possessions. Tottenham potentially were trying to attack too quickly and directly in the first half, and weren’t utilising their advantage in quality on the ball and in finding space fully.

The slower pace was particularly helpful for Manchester United in the middle part of the second half when Spurs slowed, allowing them time to both find passes in possession and find their defensive shape out of it.

In this middle part of the second half, some increased fluidity from United also helped provide them with a numerical advantage in the midfield area. Lingard would sometimes drop back to the central midfield line to form a 3 with Schneiderlin and Carrick, and Rojo would push high to the same line, able to interchange passes with the aforementioned 3 midfielders.


Spurs scoring

Though the forced substitution of Timothy Fosu-Mensah being replaced by Matteo Darmian drew a lot of attention for Tottenham’s 3 goals, all coming so soon after the change and from crosses down United’s right flank. It’s true that Fosu-Mensah did a very good job of shutting down Tottenham attacks before they had time to develop, making well-timed tackles and interceptions.

By this latter stage in the match, Tottenham and United were both having to choose their moments to be intense, but Spurs chose their moments much better than United, whose attempts more often led to fouls (such as the one by Darmian on Kane for Spurs’ second).

The first goal exposed a lack of communication between Smalling and Blind, both going for the same header. Smalling knocked Blind over in the process, and the Dutchman’s pace disparity with Dele Alli meant that he was unable to get close to the eventual scorer.

The second goal was a header from a free-kick, but it was not only Rojo who failed to adequately mark their man in this period. Just a few minutes later, Tottenham had two set pieces in succession where they got good headers on goal, the first with Kane getting ahead of Blind and the second with Alderweireld and Vertonghen rising above Carrick and Darmian (Vertonghen was the one who got the shot, but it could have been either).

The third goal involved United being caught with their situational back 3, Rojo having pushed high and Blind wide on the left. Again, pace can be said to have been a problem, but the placement of the pass from Rose and finish from Lamela had a very low margin for error in terms of that being a scoring play. (eg if Rose’s pass had been angled differently it would have been cut out or Lamela wouldn’t have been able to get a shot away; equally Lamela had to hit his shot perfectly in order for it to fly quickly and controlled inside the near post).



Once the game stopped being so fractious, Tottenham’s quality on the ball and in being able to find spaces began to show. To an extent, the bitty period of the game and the calmer period of the game helped both teams. On balance, United probably benefitted more from this first part of the game – though they were more able to find shape in the second half, the fractious nature of the first half really prevented Spurs from putting attacks together.

Spurs tried to keep the midfield narrowly compact throughout to prevent passing options for United, although United themselves didn’t challenge this very much through their own movement. Though their team deficiencies in possession gave Spurs more time with the ball in the match, it was largely player deficiencies which led to Tottenham’s goals.

By eye, as by xG, the better team won, though 3-0 may not quite be a fair reflection of Spurs’ dominance.


One thought on “Quality shows: Tottenham vs Manchester United analysis

  1. Send Free SMS in Pakistan

    You would have thought that they have a couple of titles in their bag the way they’re talking. Leicester probably aren’t looking into the past either, why would they as it isn’t good viewing?, the same applies to Spurs.


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