Ahead of Spurs vs Man Utd at White Hart Lane we look at the strengths and weaknesses of Jose Mourinho’s team.
The last game at White Hart Lane sees Jose Mourinho bring his negative tactics to the home of free-flowing football. Attacking play and goals were features of Spurs vs Man Utd games of the past. This time it will be a war of attrition.
Tottenham will be looking to send the old stadium off in style. Jose Mourinho loves nothing more than to be the villain of the piece. So, what are the key strengths and weaknesses we should be looking for in Spurs vs Man Utd this weekend?
Strength: defensive shape
There is a reason why Man Utd went on a twenty-five match unbeaten run in the Premier League. The Red Devils’ defensive shape has been highly organised and difficult to penetrate. However, the issue has been balance. Twelve of those twenty-five matches were draws as they are yet to find an equilibrium between defence and attack.
What’s more, against this season’s top six, Man Utd is yet to score away from home. An ultra defensive shape has seen them struggle to create and finish chances.
The three keys to Manchester United’s structure are to firstly be narrow. Secondly, to deploy three destructive central midfielders that shields the back four. Finally, to use the wide midfielders to defend down the flanks.
In Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd last weekend, we can see that structure in place. The back four is extremely tight together and narrow. The three midfielders in front are in a triangular shape to keep space between the lines to a minimum. The trio also congests the middle of the pitch to ward off attacks through here. Wide midfielders, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata, operate almost as full backs. The pair takes up these roles to allow the actual full backs to pinch in tight to protect their centre backs.
The set up gives Man Utd a 6-3-1 shape without the ball. The structure is solid defensively, but stagnates games. Opponents find it difficult to attack them, but Man Utd also finds it tricky to transition and attack with numbers.
Weakness: left side
The weakness of this Man Utd team is down the left and often stems from the full back zone. Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo have all played the position. However, not all of these players are natural left backs. Combined with the constant chopping and changing due to injury and form, often sees this player out of sync.
Arsenal took advantage of this in their 2-0 win over the Red Devils last weekend. Granit Xhaka opened the scoring after a throw-in from this flank. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then crossed for Danny Welbeck to add a second.
Matteo Darmian was drawn out from his position of protecting his centre backs due to Henrikh Mkhitaryan turning the ball over. Mkhitaryan was suddenly out of place and Darmian unable to block the cross.
The weakness doesn’t just extend to getting beyond the left back. The inside left channel is also a potential source of weakness. This channel can often open up as the left back is drawn too far away from his centre back. Matteo Darmian is slow to react to Aaron Ramsey’s cut behind him here.
Later in the match, Matteo Darmian is drawn out as Alexis Sanchez has got in-between the trio of central midfielders.
A huge hole appeared behind Darmian and once more Ramsey can cut towards it to receive the pass and shoot.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd should look to expose the left back as frequently as possible. The best way to do this is to deploy wingbacks. Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have rotated in recent matches. After Walker faced West Ham, Trippier and his more accurate crossing should get the nod this time.
Man Utd have committed the second most fouls in the Premier League behind Watford.
The Red Devils’ aggressiveness has seen them pick up yellow and red cards, the most recent being Marouane Fellaini, but also give away free kicks. Gylfi Sigurdsson profited in Man Utd 1-1 Swansea to equalise after Wayne Rooney’s clumsy foul on Jordan Ayew.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd should be looking to expose the Red Devils from set plays. Christian Eriksen has struggled from direct free kicks this season. Eric Dier and Harry Kane should both be looking to take a share of shooting opportunities. Kieran Trippier on set pieces that require a cross.
Strength: counter attack
Jose Mourinho teams have always been about counter attack. Speed in the wide areas is paramount to his philosophy and in Martial, Mkhitaryan, Lingard and Rashford he has plenty of options. What’s more, Rooney, Carrick, Herrera and Pogba give ample passing choices to find them.
Man Utd’s opener at Burnley was a perfect example of a trademark Mourinho counter attack. The Red Devils won the ball back and swept the length of the field through Herrera and Martial to find the net.
The speed players that Mourinho puts on the pitch are not just fleet of foot in the open field, as they can also travel at pace with the ball. Mkhitaryan’s goal in Man Utd 1-0 Spurs at Old Trafford highlighted that and it’s a factor we need to be wary of once again.
Three centre backs should be in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd to mitigate the threat. It’ll be interesting to see if Mauricio Pochettino goes against his rotation policy and keeps faith in Kyle Walker to utilise his speed against Anthony Martial.
Weakness: Will Jose Mourinho rest players?
Jose Mourinho has repeated his comments that Man Utd are focussed on winning the Europa League. Qualifying for the Champions League through finishing in the top four is becoming increasingly difficult for Man Utd. Therefore, gaining entry via this competition is rapidly becoming their only way. As a result, he has begun to rest players in Premier League matches, with eight changes made last time out.
Man Utd making the Europa League final by defeating Celta Vigo sees Mourinho’s men off to Stockholm on 24th May to face Ajax. Therefore, will he rest players for fear of unnecessarily adding to a lengthening injury list?
Spurs vs Man Utd overall
The key to beating Man Utd lies in two parts. Firstly, gaining an early goal to put them on the back foot. The Red Devils have been notoriously difficult to break down. However, Chelsea’s goal in thirty seconds paved the way to a 4-0 rout and showed what is possible when Man Utd is forced to play from behind early on.
The second key is to attack their left side. The left-sided full back can often be caught out of position and the channel inside or space beyond him is open to be exploited.
Whatever faint hopes we harboured of winning the Premier League may have gone, but the chance to go undefeated at White Hart Lane in our final season needs to be seized. Jose Mourinho would love nothing better than to spoil that record and dampen what will be an electric ambience. However, one of Britain’s most raucous and atmospheric stadiums deserves an apt send off and nothing should stand in our way.
Spurs vs Man Utd prediction: Spurs 2-0 Man Utd.