Tottenham tactics: Man Utd vs Spurs preview

We’re on a roll in the Premier League. New Year’s Day brings an altogether different challenge though, as we travel to Old Trafford for Man Utd vs Spurs.

Last season saw us triumph 3-2 at the home of the Champions, but since then both sides have changed coaches. So much so that even our current line-up and tactics bear little resemblance to the eleven that took the field in Spurs 2 Man Utd 2 a month ago.

The Red Devils are also in good form and are currently on a 6-game win streak. So, what should we be expecting from David Moyes’ men and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs this time?

Man Utd set up and style

David Moyes lines his team up in either a 4-4-1-1 formation or a 4-2-3-1 and sets them up to cross.

This is done in two ways. The attack is predominantly focussed down the right where Antonio Valencia looks to hit more lower, driven balls in to the box. Over on the left, higher deliveries can come in from either the full back or Adnan Januzaj if he plays.

At Everton, David Moyes set his side up to cross through Leighton Baines down the left. The England international combined with Steven Pienaar, who drifted inside, allowing him to overlap.

Now at Man Utd, Moyes focuses the attack down the right as Fergie did, but the inside moving midfielder and overlapping full back still apply down the left.

Patrice Evra is usually tasked with this role and he overlaps an inside moving midfielder, that is except when Adnan Januzaj plays. The Belgian offers more width and the ability to cross, so Evra tends to stay deeper, giving Moyes’ men more defensive support.

Man Utd crossing

The feature of Man Utd’s attack is there crossing ability, which has become even more prominent with Danny Welbeck up top.

The Red Devils are focussed to go down the right and if we look at their last home match with West Ham, we can see just how skewed their attack was to this side.


Man Utd crossing against West Ham.

This match highlighted their deliveries from the left though. In this game, Patrice Evra was paired with Adnan Januzaj on that side. Evra has been attempting a cross every 20 minutes this season for David Moyes, whereas last term it was every 37 minutes for Ferguson.

Having a wide player in Januzaj meant that Evra didn’t attempt a single cross in this match. This highlighted the effect of not having an inside moving midfielder and just how much it affected their crossing from the left side. On the flip side, Evra did give their back four a more sturdy look about them without him bombing forward.

Teams that have had success at Old Trafford have managed to push Man Utd’s deliveries back in these areas, forcing them to cross from deeper.

Newcastle were an excellent example of this. The Magpies got their full backs up the pitch and supported them through Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran in wide areas. This forced Man Utd to frequently have to cross from further out down their preferred avenue of attack, the right flank.


Man Utd crossing against Newcastle.

The Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs here will see us do well to push Man Utd back down their right side. Danny Rose is an aggressive full back in moving up the pitch and would be excellent for this, but will need support from his left sided midfielder.

Squeezing the centre

Man Utd’s problems in midfield are well documented and the teams that have done well at Old Trafford have deployed extra bodies in the central zone.

Newcastle not only came away with three points, but also dominated possession against the Red Devils. They did it by getting five players in to central midfield.

Cheick Tiote and Vernon Anita played at the base of a 4-2-3-1, but were closely supported by Yohan Cabaye. To supplement this, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran also played very narrow, then shuttled out to help their full backs once the ball was forced wide.


Newcastle average positions against Man Utd.

The Magpies were able to win possession back high up the pitch, but also in the wide areas that Man Utd were pushed in to by the crowd in the middle.


Newcastle recoveries.

Just a few days earlier, Everton triumphed by the same score line at Old Trafford and also won the battle in central midfield.

The Toffees deployed a trio with a destructive base to break up play in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. Ahead of them, Ross Barkley was sitting close to help congest this zone and then break out in a similar manner to Yohan Cabaye. The Toffees supplemented this by having Steven Pienaar playing narrow to get a fourth body in to this zone.

The difference with Everton was that they pressed Man Utd with their front four of Lukaku, Mirallas, Pienaar and Barkley. This resulted in creating some turnovers around the halfway line and in the Man Utd half. After this initial press, Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and the back four then sat back to defend much deeper to regain possession in their final third.


Everton ball recoveries against Man Utd.

The Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs here would see us do well to follow the examples of Newcastle and Everton.

Tim Sherwood will probably continue with the 4-4-2, so we may well see a very narrow midfield four, such as we deployed in Southampton 2 Spurs 3. Emmanuel Adebayor dropping in much deeper to get an extra body in to this zone could also supplement this.

The problem for us is the space that we have been leaving between our lines of defence and midfield, something that could be exploited by Wayne Rooney.

Wayne Rooney between the lines

Wayne Rooney is 50:50 for this match, but if he plays, is Man Utd’s biggest threat.

The England international is given almost a free role off the central striker and his ability to drift between the lines is what makes him so dangerous. Rooney not only scores goals, but also creates them with his ability to pick a through ball or deliver a cross. When Man Utd look to get the ball wide, Rooney drifts out to either side, trying to create overloads.

In his last home match we can see just that. Rooney operates throughout the entire pitch, looking for pockets of space where he can receive the ball and then move it wide or up the pitch.

In the final third, he attempts a number of attacking through balls straight up the middle (1), but creates two goals from much a shorter through-pass and a layoff (2). In wider areas he gets in crosses from both sides, two of which lead to scoring chances (3).


Wayne Rooney passes played against West Ham.

Rooney is a danger, but the space we have so far left between our lines of defence and midfield could allow him to have a big influence on the match. He was pretty much the only thorn in our side in the 2-2 draw at the Lane and will be so again here, unless we crowd the centre of the pitch and force him deeper. When Rooney is forced further back from goal he is less effective and that is what we have to attempt to do.

How Man Utd concede chances

Man Utd can be got at through the middle, as their centre backs are strong, but slow on the turn and over the ground. Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen racing through to score highlighted this last season at Old Trafford, but also how our best chances arrived a few weeks ago at the Lane.


Tottenham chances created, Spurs 2 Man Utd 2.

In Man Utd’s last home Premier League match, West Ham didn’t offer much, but did score through Carlton Cole running on to a through ball.


West Ham chances created against Man Utd.

The Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs should see us try to turn their centre backs once again.

Whereas Andre Villas-Boas was focussed on through balls, which is why he had so much success against Man Utd, Tim Sherwood has been concentrating on crossing. Unless we can get in-behind to cut or pull the ball back, then Man Utd cope well with aerial balls in to the box and could keep us at bay.

Man Utd vs Spurs outlook

This will be a real test of Tim Sherwood’s coaching and if he can adapt to an opponent in-game. So far he has done well against opposition below us in the table, but Man Utd are starting to get up a head of steam and are coming in to some form.

Overloading the centre of midfield will be key and it’ll be interesting to see how Sherwood approaches this decisive battle zone. This will also have an impact on the effectiveness of Wayne Rooney, Man Utd’s best player.

With the ball, we have to look to turn their centre backs and run in-behind, crossing won’t cut it here and this could be the biggest adjustment Sherwood has to make.

Goals are usually on the agenda and this should be another high-scoring affair.

Man Utd vs Spurs prediction: Man Utd 3 Spurs 2.

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2 Responses to Tottenham tactics: Man Utd vs Spurs preview

  1. Basil Monday 2nd January 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Hi Mark, just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog, interesting and informative tactical analysis of the mighty Spurs. Keep up the good work mate.

    With the January transfer window just open do you feel Spurs should strengthen any particular areas? Or have we already experienced enough change this season?

    Cheers mate and thanks again for a great site.

    Basil Monday

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd January 2014 at 11:46 am #

      Cheers Basil, much appreciated and thanks for reading.

      Good question. I think our left back problem needs to be sorted as that’s been the biggest area of concern. The rumours of trying to get Joleon Lescott on loan are interesting, as he can play both left back and also centre back – another area where we’re currently short, but really shouldn’t be given we have 4 when fit. It also says that maybe we don’t think Kaboul will be healthy long term.

      I think we’ve brought so many players in that to get anymore would just add more confusion to a gelling group. Sherwood seems to have been earmarked for the coaching job – maybe sooner than the board would have liked, but he always seemed destined for it sometime in the long term. He wants to bring the youngsters through, so i think we’ll see more of them than any new arrivals.