The right side proved pivotal for each team as our Premier League clash finished Man Utd 1-0 Spurs at Old Trafford.
A classic Mourinho performance was Tottenham’s undoing. Jose’s side dropped off, preyed on mistakes, countered and then disrupted the flow of the game once ahead. A “Mourinho master class” Martin Tyler would’ve been screaming in to a microphone somewhere. The key to the match was on each team’s right side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan drifting off the line for the Red Devils. Tottenham trying desperately to attack down the right to isolate and expose the space beyond Matteo Darmian. It finished Man Utd 1-0 Spurs as Mourinho’s men made the big moments count.
Mkhitaryan drifting off the line
The game opened with Spurs struggling to get to grips with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. A feature of Man Utd’s recent matches have been his runs through the inside channels. Along with Anthony Martial, the Red Devils’ are now more of a threat going forward, as now they are extending the field vertically.
Mkhitaryan’s inside bursts did two major things. First of all they were looking to expose the space behind the high-operating Danny Rose. Secondly, by moving inside, Mkhitaryan was looking to draw Victor Wanyama in to free up Paul Pogba.
The ploy worked after just six minutes. Spurs conceded a throw that was quickly taken to Mkhitaryan. He had drifted in to the inside right channel, turned and raced forward. This drew Victor Wanyama in to free up Paul Pogba. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had drifted in to the space beyond Danny Rose and Mkhitaryan found him with a through ball.
Ibrahimovic then fizzed the ball across for the arriving Pogba to drill a low effort that was well saved by Hugo Lloris.
The tone had been set. A minute later and Mkhitaryan was at it again. Once more drifting inside to give Danny Rose a problem of whether to track or not. This time he tried to find Ibrahimovic with another through ball, but a sliding Jan Vertonghen expertly cut it out.
Mkhitaryan continued to be a thorn in our side as he persistently popped up in the inside right channel. A vicious drive from the edge of the area was flying into the net before the raised boot of Jan Vertonghen deflected it past the post for a corner.
Then came the pivotal moment of the match. Man Utd were trapping everything in central midfield through their use of the well-balanced triangle of Carrick, Herrera and Pogba. Spurs went straight in to the middle of it and Harry Kane misplaced a square pass when under pressure from Pogba.
We’re no strangers to square misplaced passes that spring a goal bound break at Old Trafford. Harry Kane’s sideways ball had shades of Nabil Bentaleb about it. Ander Herrera was alert to the opportunity, as was Mkhitaryan, racing for the space in-behind Danny Rose.
The breakdown in possession drew Wanyama in. Alderweireld and Vertonghen were caught high up with space in-behind for Mkhitaryan to run in to. He made no mistake as lashed the ball in to the roof of the net to make it Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.
Mourinho had the goal that he wanted, preying so typically on a forced mistake to make it happen.
Spurs attack down the right
It wasn’t just Man Utd that were looking to attack down the right hand side to expose the full back. Spurs were at it too. We’d looked at the weakness of the left side of their defence in the Man Utd vs Spurs match preview. Matteo Darmian at full back and Marcus Rojo alongside him have given up chances and goals recently. Mauricio Pochettino had obviously highlighted this area to attack.
Pochettino tried with three players to expose this area. First up it was Harry Kane. Our striker was constantly pulling out to our right flank looking for the ball played up the line or beyond the Man Utd full back.
The problem for Kane was that Marcus Rojo stuck to him like glue. This effectively made a double team, as both Darmian and Rojo would be defending Kane’s runs.
The third, and most successful to try, was Moussa Sissoko. He was introduced as a substitute and gave Darmian a torrid time. Sissoko’s size and strength often overpowered the Man Utd left back when the came together. His speed left Darmian trailing as Sissoko got in to several good crossing positions.
Sissoko, who had a good crossing completion for Newcastle, struggled to deliver good balls in to dangerous areas. Partly it was Sissoko to blame, but we also gave him a real lack of targets. Harry Kane was often the only option with Dele Alli rarely able to join him.
Free kick frenzy
There were an alarming high number of fouls in the match, 35 according to OPTA. This was not only when Mourinho’s side tried to break up the flow of the game in the final fifteen minutes, but also before. It led to a number of dangerous free kick locations. Christian Eriksen forced two good saves from David de Gea and Paul Pogba smacked one off the post with Hugo Lloris rooted.
Pogba was involved at both ends. He almost gave Man Utd a 2-0 lead, but was also the subject of screens for us to free Victor Wanyama.
Twice in the first half we tried to back pick Pogba by screening him with Toby Alderweireld or Mousa Dembele. This allowed Victor Wanyama in to get on the end of the cross. The third time we attempted it was the charm. Man Utd still didn’t appear wise to the tactic, but Wanyama completely fluffed the header with the goal gaping.
Positive and negative changes
With the score still Man Utd 1-0 Spurs each coach made changes that affected the match.
Mauricio Pochettino brought on Moussa Sissoko, which finally achieved his aim of exposing the space beyond Matteo Darmian. The change left Dele Alli on to give Sissoko two targets in the box along with Harry Kane.
The issue with Alli being so ineffective and not joining Kane in the area, was that he’d removed Son. He was a player that could’ve also got in-behind down the other flank, giving us two wide options. The subsequent introduction of Georges-Kevin Nkoudou addressed this. However, the change came too late and the game was already being disrupted with constant fouls and the lengthy injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Mousa Dembele was also taken off. It later emerged that the Belgian had a foot injury, but his withdrawal saw us start to lose the midfield battle to Pogba’s size and Carrick and Herrera’s guile.
Mourinho’s changes were all reactive. Marcus Rashford was brought on to offer more cover with Sissoko overrunning Matteo Darmian. The enforced change of Mkhitaryan saw him introduce extra defensive presence with Eric Bailly. To waste time and interrupt the flow of the game, Ander Herrera was withdrawn for Marouane Fellaini. The clock ran out and Mourinho had the textbook 1-0 that he seems to crave in must-win matches.
Man Utd 1-0 Spurs overall
We controlled large parts of the game, but Man Utd had the better chances. They preyed on our mistakes, drew us on and then looked to punish on the counter attack. You have to make the most of your good chances against any Mourinho coached side and we missed our opportunities here.
Each coach tried to attack down their right to expose the opposition’s weakness. Man Utd did this in one moment that they set out to achieve from the start through Mkhitaryan’s positioning. We ended up finding the right solution in Sissoko, but couldn’t put the whole move together to make a goal.
The loss continues to leave us in that hole that is opening up in fifth place. Losing contact with the top four, but still comfortably ahead of the pursuing pack.
Final score: Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.
Spurs MOTM: Mousa Dembele.