Man Utd 1 Spurs 2: cutting runners get in-behind

Another fantastic victory at Old Trafford sees us stay in touch with the top teams, as it finished Man Utd 1 Spurs 2 in our Premier League clash.

The key to the victory was hitting a runner in-behind the Man Utd defence with a through ball. This then got them in to shooting positions or locations where they could cross, resulting in two goals and three points.

Spurs set up and tactics

Tim Sherwood continued with the 4-4-2 formation that we’ve since he took over. The midfield was once again the area of interest.

Without Paulinho, Sherwood was unable to go for two box-to-box midfielders, as he had done previously. Instead, he employed a ball winner in Etienne Capoue alongside a box-to-box player who could also regain possession in Moussa Dembele. Whether this was by design to include a much more defensive player, or if it was just simply because his hands were tied, the tactic worked.

Both the Frenchman and the Belgian frequently broke up the Man Utd attacks and helped gain control in this central zone. Emmanuel Adebayor dropping in deeper from his starting position up top aided the pair. Adebayor was often picking up Michael Carrick to limit him getting a control on the game. Dembele was also often tracking Rooney to stop him drifting between the lines and dictating the match.

The effect of this trio really slowed Man Utd down until Capoue was removed and David Moyes flooded this area with his substitutes. Kagawa was moved alongside Rooney to get two players who can float between the lines in to the middle. Danny Wellbeck dropping deeper after the introduction of Javier Hernandez then helped these two.

The other interesting part of the midfield was again our attempt to play narrow without the ball. We saw this in Southampton 2 Spurs 3. The midfield four tried to compact central areas and then the wide players shuttled out to the flanks when the ball was moved there. Here we were attempting the same. However, with Man Utd trying to stretch us as wide as possible by deploying two wingers and pushing their full backs on, it meant we weren’t able to be as compact.

Man Utd crossing

The main problem for us was that with Christian Eriksen drifting inside and having more ground to cover to get back out wide. Thus, the space was there for Man Utd to attack down our left side.

The first warning came in the fifth minute as Chris Smalling burst through to take a pass from Antonio Valencia. Smalling’s shot squirmed under Hugo Lloris and out for a corner, but the sign was there as Man Utd created their best chances from this flank.


Man Utd chances created: Man Utd 1 Spurs 2.

We talked in the Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs about how the Red Devils like to get crosses in from their right side. They attempted 35 in total from open play, with 25 coming in from this flank as they attacked our left side.


Man Utd crossing: Man Utd 1 Spurs 2.

Despite the quantity of balls in to the box, the quality from open play meant that they rarely troubled our goal, as we were often able to clear.

Where Man Utd did cause us problems was from corners, especially after Emmanuel Adebayor went off.

The Togolese striker was doing an excellent job helping out from these set piece situations. Man Utd completed just one of eight corners taken while he was on the pitch with Adebayor clearing half of these personally. After he went off with cramp, Man Utd completed three of five and had their best chances to grab an equaliser. A Vidic header skimmed the outside of the post and Lennon cleared another off the line.

Spurs hit the cutters

Man Utd dominated possession, but up until 2-0 we created the better chances. These arrived after a runner from midfield was hit with a through ball to spring them in-behind the opposition’s defence.

This was something we talked about in the Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs, as it is a very AVB method of scoring goals. It was also a major reason why our former coach had an unbeaten record against Man Utd in the Premier League during his time in charge.

The first major chance arrived after a beautifully weighted pass from Soldado to pick out Aaron Lennon.


Soldado hits a cutting Lennon.

The move started from a counter attack – how we were playing all game – and should have finished with a goal. It not only highlighted where the weakness lie – a through ball to a cutting runner from midfield – but it also exposed Patrice Evra who was to become the target.

Evra getting forward to cross was another thing we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Man Utd vs Spurs. He was caught on the Lennon chance and also out of position as Christian Eriksen created the opener for Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Dane was drifting in-field, often from his starting position on the left. Here, he popped up on the opposite side. Just as Lennon had done, Eriksen ran in-behind the Man Utd defence to receive a pass in the space vacated by Evra.


Eriksen gets in-behind this time.

This pulled Nemanja Vidic out in to an area where he did not want to be, allowing Eriksen to use his speed against the slower centre back. His quick shift of feet and cross mean that Adebayor could then match up on full back Chris Smalling and guide a beautiful header in to the corner.

After going a goal up, the chances from hitting the runner in-behind kept on coming and Evra was once again the target.

Lennon was once more the man sprung in to the space, as Adebayor found him this time. The pint-sized winger beat Evra in a foot race, but his low-hit cross skidded off the surface and was kneed over the top by a sliding Soldado.


Lennon beats Evra to the space in-behind.

When it arrived, the second goal also involved Lennon running in-behind. This time the pass was from Soldado, as he held play up and laid the ball off to him as he blistered through the centre.


Soldado hits a cutting Lennon.

Again Vidic was pulled out to cover the runner as the Man Utd centre backs were dragged out of position once more. Also out of position was Antonio Valencia. The winger had been moved to right back as David Moyes sought to get more attacking power on the field.

As Lennon’s cross was deflected up off Vidic, Christian Eriksen ran past the stand-in full back and nodded home.


Man Utd’s CBs are dragged around as Lennon finds Eriksen.

Man Utd did get a goal straight back, created down their more proficient right side, as they looked to attack our left flank. The Red Devils then threatened from corners as we struggled to clear without Adebayor on the field.

Man Utd 1 Spurs 2 overall

Four exceptional chances created and two goals scored by runners being hit with a pass, allowing them to race in-behind so that they can either shoot or cross. The player roles of our current 4-4-2 formation were set out by Tim Sherwood, but here we fashioned opportunities in a manner that AVB would have been proud.

So, what’s the main difference between the two coaches?

AVB wanted his side to operate higher up and press, condensing the playing space, but the problem was that this team is built for the counter attack. Tim Sherwood has embraced that and we are scoring goals from quick transitions and faster ball movement as we surge forward from deeper.

Sherwood’s team does aim to cross more and get additional men in the box, but still retains the ability to run-in-behind as AVB wanted his side to do.

Final score: Man Utd 1 Spurs 2.

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