Premier League: 5 keys to Man Utd vs Spurs (a)

A massive weekend in our Premier League season sees us at Old Trafford for Man Utd vs Spurs so lets take an in-depth look at Louis van Gaal’s side.

Man Utd have been extremely strong at home this season, in fact, only Chelsea have a better record on their own patch in the Premier League. That doesn’t make them unbeatable though. Opposition teams have enjoyed success at Old Trafford and there are several keys that their good performances have in common.

So, what are they? And what should we be on the lookout for in Man Utd vs Spurs this time?

1. 4-3-3 formation

Teams playing in a 4-3-3 formation have given Man Utd trouble all season. Swansea showed up at Old Trafford on opening day and played with a front three of Wilfried Bony, Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer and duly won 2-1.

A lot has changed in the Man Utd team since that day, but the only other side to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League, Southampton, also played 4-3-3. Add to this that Arsenal switched up to a 4-3-3 formation in the FA Cup on Monday night and they too went away with a 2-1 victory and a pattern starts to emerge.

What’s more, Liverpool also gave Man Utd a torrid time despite losing 3-0 as they went with a slight variation and played 3-4-3. Their front three created the chances, they just didn’t put them away or were foiled by a brilliant David de Gea.

The reason a front three gives Man Utd trouble is that it allows a team to play counter attack and break with numbers or it can be used to press. Take this shot from Arsenal’s win on Monday night and there are two things of note.


Arsenal 4-3-3 against Man Utd.

The first is just how much pressure the Gooners can put on Man Utd’s back four, which forces errors or miss-cleared passes that turn the ball over.

The second is just how narrow Man Utd’s back four is, which can get them in to trouble against a front three. Something we’ll revisit in a minute.

Arsenal used their 4-3-3 to drop off and play counter attack in the first half. After the interval they were much more aggressive with it, using the system to close and harass Man Utd’s defenders.

Mauricio Pochettino does flit between several systems. He prefers 4-2-3-1 but also plays this set up with a second striker or a powerful presser at the number ten position. We have also seen him use a 4-3-3 formation and that would be the optimal choice for Man Utd vs Spurs and the Tottenham tactics here. A powerful pressing player at the number ten spot in Mousa Dembele would be an advantage if he is going to be aggressively closing down.

2. Defensive errors

Whilst errors have crept in to our game recently, Man Utd have been fallible to miscues all season.

Louis van Gaal has adopted a possession-based approach and although his side leads the statistics in this department, they also have had their fare share of miscues. Only Everton, another ball retention based side, have made more errors than van Gaal’s team this season.

There are a number of reasons why Man Utd have been making mistakes at the back this season.

The first reason for this is that they lead the Premier League in passes back to the goalkeeper. While David de Gea is comfortable on the ball, his defenders have miscued passes back to him, leaving the ball short or putting him under pressure.

Arsenal on Monday showed exactly how to capitalise on that, as Danny Welbeck took advantage of Antonio Valencia’s under hit back pass.

Against Liverpool, Raheem Sterling should’ve profited from another under hit ball back to de Gea. However, the Liverpool forward made a right mess of trying to round the Man Utd keeper and lost the chance.


Sterling steals the backpass but fails to round de Gea.

The second reason, which we saw above, is that Man Utd’s defence can often be caught extremely narrow. Southampton profited from this in their 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford, as their front three broke quickly and caught Man Utd’s defenders all congested in the centre.


Saints front three catch Man Utd narrow.

We saw above how Arsenal could press the narrow Man Utd back four with their three attackers. In Spurs 0-0 Man Utd at the Lane, Harry Kane also ran in to this congested centre, he just needed an open runner to lay the ball off to.


Kane gets blocked off through the centre.

The third reason why Man Utd’s defence have been making mistakes is in the right back zone, an area where they haven’t been playing a true full back. Antonio Valencia has been filling in and while he is capable, he does switch off or get caught out positionally, something we’ll look at next.

3. Where Man Utd concede chances

At home, Man Utd have conceded chances, and goals in three ways.

The first is in the right back zone. This area has been liable all season and Arsenal showed why on Monday night. Antonio Valencia was caught inside congesting the middle, whilst Angel Di Maria was slow on his rotation to get back and cover Nacho Monreal’s run in-behind.


Man Utd caught centrally lets in Monreal.

Liverpool, despite losing on their trip to Old Trafford, still put on a very good performance and really should’ve come away with something. They created chances by getting beyond both full backs, but particularly down the Man Utd right.


Liverpool chances created against Man Utd.

Although away at the Liberty, Man Utd’s last Premier League loss came at the hands of Swansea, who also got in down this side.


Swansea chances against Man Utd.

The second way is to take advantage of their defence playing narrow when the opposition has the ball. We saw above how Southampton took advantage of this to win 1-0 at Old Trafford. We also saw above how Man Utd squeezing the centre allowed Nacho Monreal in to score in the vacant right back zone, so the first two ways of scoring against them can actually combine to compliment each other.

The final way to expose Man Utd is to take advantage of any errors from their backwards and square passing among their defenders. Danny Welbeck made them pay, Raheem Sterling did not.

4. Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini is the big x-factor in this game for me. Louis van Gaal is using him to do two things in recent matches.

With the Man Utd manager being criticised for playing too slow and sideways, he’s used Fellaini to move the ball quickly forwards. This has seen the Red Devils play very direct and at times route one, often by-passing the midfield, when they are chasing the game. Fellaini is excellent in the air, but also one of the best players in the Premier League at bringing high balls down on his chest. This allows him to get it quickly under control and Man Utd to move play swiftly forwards.

The second way he is using Fellaini is to get on the end of crosses from Ashley Young and Angel Di Maria. When Man Utd get the ball, they are moving their wingers extremely high to get in to almost a 4-1-1-4 formation from their base set-up.


Man Utd crossing position attack.

This sees them get both their wide midfield players up the park with the one on the opposite side from the cross joining Fellaini and the striker in the middle. This gets numbers in the box to work off the big Belgian’s knockdowns and layoffs.

Without Angel Di Maria for Man Utd vs Spurs this Sunday, just what Louis van Gaal does to compensate will be interesting.

5. How will Louis van Gaal setup

Angel Di Maria’s suspension for his sending off in the FA Cup Monday night will really hinder Louis van Gaal’s efforts to cross the ball. Just what he does with his setup will be key to Man Utd vs Spurs this time.

At the Lane we saw him use wingbacks to do two things. The first was to get four players in to the centre of the park. It’s well known that we like to get four players in to central midfield to dominate this area and van Gaal countered with a diamond set-up of his own.


Man Utd constantly got 4 players in to central midfield.

On top of this he went with wingbacks as he sought to get men in the box and crosses in to them.


Man Utd pushed their wingbacks on.

Whether van Gaal goes back to this setup to counter Pochettino once more will be one thing to watch for. The other might be the return of Juan Mata, as the Spaniard could well come back in to the starting line-up in Di Maria’s absence. He was looking for runners in-behind our back line all game in the match at White Hart Lane and has a history of giving us a torrid time.


Mata finds Falcao running in-behind.

If Angel Di Maria were available, van Gaal’s selection would be quite easy to pick. Without the Argentinean, it suddenly throws a lot of smoke in the air trying to second-guess just how the Dutch manager will compensate.

Man Utd vs Spurs outlook

Undoubtedly the time to play Man Utd was earlier in the season, as Old Trafford has become something of a fortress since then. This game will really test our side and also Mauricio Pochettino’s coaching ability to the limit, but is an excellent barometer to measure our progress against.

The key will be going with a 4-3-3 set up whether Pochettino uses it to play quick counter attacks or to press Man Utd high up the park.

Our left side will be the key battleground and Danny Rose could turn out to be a hero if he takes apart Antonio Valencia or a villain if he allows Man Utd to attack down their favoured flank.

Man Utd vs Spurs prediction: Man Utd 1 Spurs 1.

Man Utd vs Spurs betting

With Spurs away at a difficult opponent there is a bit of value to be had. Here are a few of the bets that I’ve had on the game.

Man Utd vs Spurs 1-1 draw at 7/1 with BetVictor
Spurs to win 2-1 at 13/1 with 888sport
Harry Kane first goalscorer 6/1 with Betfair
Christian Eriksen anytime goal at 5/1 with Betfair


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4 Responses to Premier League: 5 keys to Man Utd vs Spurs (a)

  1. bradical 14th March 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    Loving your careful and articulate analyses. What odds would you give for Pochettino implementing your recommended 4-3-3? Regards.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th March 2015 at 12:04 pm #

      I think there is a decent chance, as he used the formation often at Southampton and he has with us a few times too.

  2. Zaph Mann 15th March 2015 at 4:28 am #

    After following the Arsenal to QPR for a 2-1 it would be something to follow them to OT for a 2-1… sequences and all.

    I think the De Maria suspension works against us, Mata is much more of a problem for our style.

    I had a gut feeling v WBA that we’d get a big win (note pullis has one 6 of 7 at home except our 3-0) and I’m getting it here too – maybe a Utd implosion with a sending off – or will it go the other way – I can see Vertonghen giong on his runs for glory and either scoring at OT again or lunging for a straight red… 3-1 either way…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th March 2015 at 12:09 pm #

      I agree with regards to Mata and Di Maria, he always plays well against us as we seem to give him the space between the lines he likes.

      If we win 2-1 like L’Arse did then i wish we were playing West Ham next weekend, tonking them 3-0 would be awesome!