Man Utd vs Spurs
Back-to-back Premier League wins have seen Tottenham climb the table, but we now we face our toughest test of the season as its Man Utd vs Spurs.
Old Trafford isn’t our happiest hunting ground, the last time we tasted victory there, Gary Lineker was curling a shot in to the top corner from outside the box. Since then, our luck has been very thin on the ground as we’ve been on the wrong end of some highly dubious officiating.
Pedro Mendes was robbed of the goal that never was, then there was the penalty against Heurelho Gomes for daring to clear the ball away from Michael Carrick, to name just a couple.
Could a new manager signal a change in fortune? Here are 5 keys to Man Utd vs Spurs.
1. Has AVB learnt from his experiences against Man Utd?
Andre Villas-Boas twice faced Man Utd last season with his Chelsea side. At Old Trafford, he went 4-3-3 and was burnt by the Red Devils’ wide men in the first half. Nani scored and created a goal from the right, as they shot in to a 3-0 lead against a very open Chelsea team.
At half time, Villas-Boas brought on Nicolas Anelka for Frank Lampard to go 4-2-1-3. This meant he had Juan Mata playing behind a front three of Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge and Anelka. The Blues were now able to press up the pitch, whilst also play through balls in to Fernando Torres.
Within minutes of the restart, Torres received the ball from Nicolas Anelka to make it 3-1. He then wasted a glorious chance after rounding David de Gea to miss an open goal, denying Chelsea a potential comeback.
Juan Mata was pulling the strings throughout the game and after creating two goal-scoring chances in the first half, he created four in the second after the tactical switch.
In the return match at Stamford Bridge, Andre Villas-Boas went 4-2-3-1 rather than the 4-2-1-3 that had brought him such success in the second 45 at Old Trafford. The change in formation is slightly different, as it sees the wider forwards sit deeper than in a 4-2-1-3 where they will be pushed up on the opposition full backs.
He saw his Chelsea side jump in to a 3-0 lead, only for Man Utd to claw it back as Chelsea dropped off deeper and deeper. The introduction of Paul Scholes in to the Red Devils’ midfield then allowed them to dictate the tempo and the game finished 3-3.
Andre Villas-Boas has been talking about how Spurs will come to Old Trafford and attack Man Utd.
“That is the way I like my teams to play. We obviously know that it is extremely difficult there, but that doesn’t mean that you might not be given a chance when you play that (attacking) way. In the end it’s about taking your opportunities. Had (Chelsea) scored then maybe the result would have been different, so to try to get a result against United will be excellent for us.”
Brave words by Andre Villas-Boas, maybe ones that could see him go once again with a 4-2-1-3 formation?
2. Man Utd vs Spurs – The Fergie formation
Sir Alex Ferguson also has a formation decision to make with Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness. In recent matches without the England International, Ferguson has reverted to his usual 4-4-1-1 with Shinji Kagawa playing off of Robin van Persie.
Kagawa has been a dangerous player so far this season. He has been allowed to roam free, in order to pick up the ball in between the lines of midfield and defence down the left and right channels.
His role has not been to get involved with the defensive side of the game, but more to instigate quick transitions to move the ball quickly in to attack.
We can see how he receives the ball down both channels against Fulham and Liverpool, preferring the left slightly greater than the right in both matches.
With Rooney coming back though, we may see Fergie also adopt a 4-2-1-3 formation as he did at Everton in the opening game of the season. There, when he brought Robin van Persie in to the action as a second half substitute, United formed a fluid front three of RVP, Rooney and Nani ahead of Kagawa.
Behind them, Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes sat at the base of midfield, trying to move the ball to Kagawa in order to hit passes to the front three. We saw Fergie try this formation a few years ago with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, so could he be thnking of using it once more this season?
If Rooney is deemed fit enough to start with Robin van Persie, will Fergie drop Kagawa and go 4-4-1-1, or try the same 4-2-1-3 formation again here?
3. Man Utd vs Spurs possession and passing
Andre Villas-Boas is trying to turn Spurs in to a possession team that keeps the ball through accurate passing.
Prior to the QPR match, we were enjoying 56% possession and completing 86% of our passes. After that game, where we surrendered the ball and also misplaced passes, our figures have dropped to 54% possession and 84% passing accuracy.
These figures are not bad, but we’ll be going up against a team in Man Utd that enjoys the second highest amount of possession and are the most accurate passers. The Red Devils have enjoyed 57% of the ball and completed 88.4% of their passes.
If Spurs are to compete, we need to be the side before the QPR match, rather than the one we saw in the first half last Sunday. Otherwise we could be chasing the ball around the Old Trafford pitch.
4. Man Utd right, Tottenham left
Spurs have had problems defensively in the left back area before Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton were injured.
In the article ‘Are Spurs better defensively under Andre Villas-Boas?’ we saw that we have given up the least amount of chances from our right and central defensive areas in the Premier League. The left back area though, has seen us give up almost twice as many chances as the other two areas combined.
Jan Vertonghen is one of five players to play that position this season for us and he looked better than the experiment to play Gareth Bale there against QPR.
The left back issue is also of significance due to the fact that Man Utd heavily favours this flank to launch their attacks. The Red Devils have set up 38% of their forays forward down this right side, as opposed to 32% down the left and 29% up the middle according to WhoScored.com.
Fortunately for Spurs, Antonio Valencia is a doubt for this match and his rampaging runs down the right side have caused many teams a problem. Nani has been playing the left side, but he could be used by Fergie to attack this area.
The Portuguese international was a menace when AVB brought his Chelsea side to Old Trafford and gave Wigan a torrid time in Man Utd’s last home match.
He is a danger to put in crosses, as we’ll look at in a minute, but also to come inside and shoot as he did against Wigan with regularity.
5. Man Utd crossing
Man Utd not only lead the Premier League in passing accuracy, but they also are the top team in crosses attempted with 29 balls in to the box per match.
The most frequent crosser has been Nani, who has completed 6 of his 22 attempts, with Patrice Evra also successful with 6 of his 19 efforts.
This has been firmly in evidence in their two home matches so far, putting in 35 crosses against Fulham, which included two goals from balls in by Evra and Nani. They then put in 30 balls in to the box when Wigan came to town.
Spurs have conceded late goals from crosses in the draws with both West Brom and Norwich, failing to clear a ball in to the box. We also let in a last minute consolation from a cross when 3-0 up at Reading.
Hugo Lloris who comes for crosses may be a better choice than Brad Friedel who stays on his line.
Man Utd vs Spurs conclusions
This is going to be our toughest test of the season so far at a ground where we haven’t had much joy over the years.
Both managers have a big call to make in terms of their formation, especially if Andre Villas-Boas intends to attack Man United. This could be a good ploy against the Red Devils’ midfield that is lacking a ball winner and could get overloaded if Fergie goes with a front three like he tried at Everton.
Without Ashley Young and potentially Antonio Valencia, Nani will be the key man if he plays on the right.
I quite fancy Spurs to get a point here.
Man Utd vs Spurs prediction: Man Utd 1 Spurs 1