Our opening Premier League fixture sees us at Old Trafford for Man Utd vs Spurs and there are 5 keys to victory.
Man Utd away is not an ideal way to start the season, especially given how strong they were at Old Trafford at the end of the last campaign.
However, with a number of new signings to bed in this might just be the time to play them. Opposition sides did enjoyed success at Old Trafford last term and there were several keys that their good performances had in common. So, what were they? And what should we be on the lookout for in Man Utd vs Spurs this time?
1. Playing a 4-3-3 formation
Teams playing in a 4-3-3 formation gave Man Utd trouble at Old Trafford all season.
It started on opening day where Swansea played with a front three of Wilfried Bony, Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer. They duly won 2-1.
Of course a lot changed in the Man Utd team over the season after Swansea’s victory. However, the only other sides to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League, Southampton and West Brom, also played 4-3-3. Add to this that Arsenal switched to a 4-3-3 formation in their FA Cup win at Old Trafford and a pattern starts to emerge.
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 and there are two things of note.
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 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. An option would also be a powerful pressing player at the number ten spot in Mousa Dembele. This would be an advantage if Pochettino wants someone to be aggressively closing down from here, otherwise Christian Eriksen should be the choice.
2. Defensive errors
Man Utd improved remarkably over the season, but they were still fallible to miscues. Louis van Gaal adopted a possession-based approach, but this meant taking risks at the back. As such, only Everton, QPR and Newcastle made more errors than van Gaal’s team last season.
There are a number of reasons why Man Utd were making mistakes at the back.
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 miscued passes back to him, leaving the ball short or putting him under pressure.
Arsenal showed exactly how to capitalise on that in their FA Cup win. Danny Welbeck took advantage of Antonio Valencia’s under hit back pass to score the only goal of the game.
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.
We also had a chance before Man Utd started their rout of us last season from Chris Smalling’s errant back pass. We failed to capitalise and we all know what happened with the scoreline afterwards.
The second reason, which we saw in the 4-3-3 example above, is that Man Utd’s defence can often be caught extremely narrow. Southampton, another team that played 4-3-3, profited from this in their 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford. Their front three broke quickly and caught Man Utd’s defenders all congested in the centre.
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.
The third reason why Man Utd’s defence were making mistakes last season was in the right back zone. This was an area where they weren’t playing a true full back. Antonio Valencia was filling in and while he was capable, he did switch off or get caught out positionally. Over the summer, Louis van Gaal has bought Matteo Darmian to solve this issue and while he is a good investment, he is still new to the Premier League and needs to be tested.
3. Where Man Utd concede chances
At home, Man Utd conceded chances and goals in three ways last season.
The first, without a true right back, was of course in this zone. Arsenal’s FA Cup win highlighted that when 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.
The second way is to take advantage of their defence playing narrow. We saw above how Southampton took advantage of this on their goal to win 1-0 at Old Trafford. We also saw how Harry Kane was crowded out without any support, which is imperative to beat this Man Utd defence. Combine this with how Man Utd squeezing the centre allowed Nacho Monreal in to the vacant right back zone, so the first two ways of getting at 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.
4. Dealing with Man Utd’s shape
As last season wore on, Louis van Gaal was being criticised for not getting the ball forward quickly enough. As a result, he became more and more aggressive with Man Utd’s shape, especially at home. They would set up in a base formation, but then in the attacking phase it would branch in to a 4-1-1-4.
The two wide players, Di Maria and Young here, would stretch the front line, while the third midfielder, Fellaini, jumps up to make a front four. Man Utd used this to become more direct. This saw 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.
It was the same 4-1-1-4 attacking shape when we were dismantled 3-0 by Man Utd at Old Trafford.
Whether Louis van Gaal will continue with this aggressive shape will be something to watch for. Playing a 4-3-3 with quick wide forwards in Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli would be a way to counter Man Utd’s top-heavy nature.
5. Diamond geezer?
Whilst Louis van Gaal used his aggressive 4-1-1-4 formation in the game at Old Trafford, at the Lane we saw him 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.
On top of this he went with wingbacks as he sought to get men in the box and crosses in to them.
Whether van Gaal goes back to this setup to counter Pochettino once more will be another thing to watch for. If he does then we will need to stretch their diamond out. Again, a 4-3-3 with wide forwards would do this.
Man Utd vs Spurs outlook
If there was ever a good time to go to Old Trafford then it is now. Louis van Gaal is bedding in a number of new faces and whilst they are all excellent players, getting them to gel and be in-sync with one another will take time. Add to this that the team news sees him without David de Gea and the suspended Marouane Fellaini, who gave us no end of troubles last time, and there is cause for optimism.
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.
Man Utd vs Spurs prediction: Man Utd 2 Spurs 1.
Man Utd vs Spurs betting
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If you are looking for some other tips, here are a few of the other bets that I’ve had on the game.