Tottenham tactics: Spurs vs Man Utd preview

After laying the ghost of 23 years to rest at Old Trafford earlier this season, Sunday sees the Red Devils out for revenge as it’s Spurs vs Man Utd once more.

Tottenham may have won that match on the road, but we haven’t beaten United at home in the Premier League since 2001, another streak that could do with ending.

Fergie’s men will be looking to continue their good run of form, having won nine of their last ten. Andre Villas-Boas will want to bounce back from a draw last weekend against QPR and keep up the pressure on Chelsea for third place. So, what should be the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd?

Spurs vs Man Utd formation

Man Utd have been pretty consistent this season in a loose 4-4-1-1 formation that operates dependant on which striker lines up with Robin van Persie and whether Fergie deploys the diamond.

Danny Wellbeck floats around the front, but invariably favours the left sided channels as he demonstrated last week against Liverpool. Javier Hernandez plays on the shoulder of the last defender, which leaves Robin van Persie to drift deeper and arrive later in the box.

Sunday could see the return of Wayne Rooney after he had a run out against West Ham in the FA Cup midweek.

When the two operate together, van Persie plays high up on the right, with Rooney drifting shallower on the left. The play will usually go in to Rooney who can then spread it wide to Antonio Valencia on the right wing, or cut it diagonally in to van Persie on the move.

The pair last played together in the Premier League in Man Utd’s 1-1 draw with Swansea and we can see how they work together.

Wayne Rooney playing just off the front, is the focus for balls moved through the midfield in the central channels and out to the left flank. Robin van Persie also gets the ball through the centre, but higher up the pitch it goes in to him down the inside right channel of the 18-yard area.


Spurs vs Man Utd will have to see us contain Robin van Persie through the inside right channel.

Wayne Rooney plays with a clear intention to pass the ball out square to Antonio Valencia on the right wing, or hit van Persie with diagonal through balls.


Wayne Rooney looks to move the ball right.

His passing map very much has a left to right flow about it and that flank is what we’ll look at next.

Spurs vs Man Utd right side

The Man Utd right side is where a lot of their chances are generated. The Red Devils launch 40% of their attacks down this flank, compared to 30% down the left and 30% through the centre according to WhoScored.com.

Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have occupied the right flank this season. But whoever is out there, United like to cross from this side.

The Red Devils sit second in the Premier League in crosses attempted with 27 per game, only West Ham try more. Of those crosses, 61% come from the right side, as we found out in our trip to Old Trafford back in September.

Spurs did exceptionally well to nullify 39 of the 43 balls in to the box that day, but we can expect another cross-examination from Man Utd on Sunday.


Man Utd 2 Spurs 3: The Red Devils pounded crosses from the right.

It’ll be interesting to see who Andre Villas-Boas deploys at left back to counter United’s crossing threat. The more defensively robust Jan Vertonghen, who he went for at Old Trafford; or the slightly quicker Kyle Naughton, who has been getting the nod in recent weeks?

Whatever happens, Gareth Bale will need to offer his full back more cover than he has been of late.

Man Utd’s soft centre

As we saw in Man Utd 2 Spurs 3 at Old Trafford, the Red Devils’ weakness this season has been through the centre. Jan Vertonghen hit them for the opener down the central inside left channel, then Gareth Bale carved up Rio Ferdinand to add a second.

It’s not just Spurs who have had joy by going at Man Utd down the middle. Other teams have had success here due to them having to frequently rotate their centre backs.

Last weekend, Liverpool created their goal by going through the middle. David de Gea could only push away Steven Gerrard’s low driven shot in to the path of Daniel Sturridge.

In fact, Man Utd have conceded 81 chances through the centre of their defence this season, the ninth worst in the Premier League. This is compared to just 59 chances conceded through Rafael’s right back zone and 67 through Evra’s left back area.

Spurs vs Man Utd possession, passing and accurate shooting

In the match at Old Trafford, Man Utd enjoyed 74% possession and completed 89% of their passes as Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick controlled the game.

Spurs can’t allow the same to happen here against a team that enjoys the third highest amount of possession (57.8%) in the Premier League. To compount this, they also complete the highest amount of passes, with 86.8% successful per match due to their short passing game.

Man Utd not only move the ball accurately, but they are also on point in front of goal. This season, they are the most clinical team in terms of shots on target with 36.5% hitting the mark. THey are also the best at finishing them off, with 16% finding the back of the net.

Spurs have a very decent 34% shot accuracy, which is the fourth best in the Premier League this season, but only 10% hit the back of the net (10th best).

Good chances could be at a premium, so Tottenham will have to be clinical here.

Spurs vs Man Utd outlook

This will be a tough test against a team that has generally had success at the Lane in the Premier League.

Spurs made a quick start at Old Trafford by going at Man Utd with fast transitions in the play from deeper areas. It’ll be interesting to see if we try the same thing early in the game here.

Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Moussa Dembele will be important players if Spurs go 4-3-3 without Emmanuel Adebayor and look to play a quick countering game.

Man Utd will be looking to hit us down their right, attacking either Jan Vertonghen or Kyle Naughton, but Wayne Rooney’s return may be the biggest factor.

The United talisman changed the game in the second half at Old Trafford after he came on for an ineffective Ryan Giggs. United’s midfield of the ageing Giggs and Scholes, alongside a slow Michael Carrick, was overrun in the first half that day. Rooney’s introduction allowed Carrick and Scholes to control the game in the second and Man Utd had the better chances.

However, as Scott Parker rightly points out, although they have talent all over the pitch, we also have a number of excellent players who can change games.

“We’re going to make it as difficult for them as we possibly can and, while I’ve said they have quality throughout, I’m sure they will be highlighting our players who can hurt them too.”

Parker’s return will be welcomed after Sandro’s season-ending injury and the England international will have a busy time attempting to control the midfield.

I see Man Utd just edging it through that man van Persie who always seems to score against us.

Spurs vs Man Utd prediction: Spurs 1 Man Utd 2

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