The Red Devils overloaded on their left to advance to the FA Cup final by a score line of Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham at Wembley Stadium.
Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez were key to Jose Mourinho’s plans. The Man Utd manager sought to overload on their left side as the Red Devils conceded once, but scored twice. As a result, our FA Cup Semi Final clash ended Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham at Wembley Stadium as Mourinho got the upper hand.
Man Utd’s lopsided 4-3-3
Jose Mourinho went with his classic 4-3-3 formation. The Man Utd manager set a trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba in central midfield. Pogba took up the most interesting position. He sat off to the left of the trio and was constantly looking to combine with the left-sided wide forward. Often this was Alexis Sanchez, but Jesse Lingard also filled this role.
Pogba was constantly seeking to create overloads on the left and this had both positive and negative impacts. In attack it would see Kieran Trippier overwhelmed as Sanchez and full back Ashley Young joined in. However, in the defensive phase, Young was frequently exposed and left to fend for himself.
The tactic saw Man Utd fall behind, but also score twice to win the match.
Tottenham exploit Man Utd’s left-sided plan
This FA Cup semi-final started at a frantic pace. We were quickly in to stride and our attack had two successful outlets, the wide areas.
Down the left Son Heung-Min was giving Antonio Valencia all he could handle. However, it was down our right that the game was really opening up. This flank saw Ashley Young left exposed as a result of Paul Pogba’s actions and the game’s first goal.
Man Utd had tried to squeeze Davinson Sanchez on the ball. Alexis Sanchez raced in to press him and Ashley Young tried to cover his out pass to Kieran Trippier. However, Sanchez then picked out an exceptional long ball downfield towards Christian Eriksen.
Pogba’s recovery run was late as he was caught by surprise. Eriksen was therefore on his way and in to the space that Young had vacated.
Eriksen’s cross was pinpoint. Dele Alli arrived right on cue to sweep home at the back post. Tottenham 1-0 Man Utd and the dream start had become reality.
Man Utd left-sided attack
Jose Mourinho had set his team up to overload the left flank and that is how they would hit back.
Paul Pogba was the key figure, but interestingly Jose Mourinho moved Romelu Lukaku to the right wing. Lukaku was constantly aiming to match up on the shorter Ben Davies aerially at the back post. The tactical shift let both Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez rotate in and out of the centre forward position vacated by Lukaku. It would be Sanchez, set up by Pogba, who would level the scores.
Mousa Dembele is always strong and positive in possession. He is highly difficult to relieve of the ball. However, he had a torrid time up against Pogba’s size and length. It caused him no end of issues and he always seemed to be ponderous and second-guessing himself.
It came to fruition as Dembele received the ball and instead of easily escaping up the line, dribbled right back in to Pogba.
The Man Utd man relieved Dembele of the ball. Pogba turned and floated in a deftly curling cross. Not anticipating the turnover Davinson Sanchez was playing everyone onside, which allowed Alexis Sanchez to steal a march on both Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen. His cushioned header was planted back across the helpless Michel Vorm and a previously under pressure Man Utd were somehow level.
Tottenham fail to capitalise
Jose Mourinho coaches his teams to play error free and wait for the big moments from the opponent’s mistakes in these huge contests. His team had profited from one such Spurs error and later they would capitalise on another.
Inbetween the goals, Tottenham did have chances, but failed to push the advantage home. Christian Eriksen was peeling off in to the spaces Pogba was vacating and trying to gang up on Ashley Young. On the other flank, Son Heung-Min was dribbling at Antonio Valencia, creating a cross that saw Phil Jones clear from the feet of the arriving Dele Alli. Earlier, Harry Kane had just failed to get to a deliciously inviting cross towards the far post.
On the stroke of half time, Eric Dier would hit the post, but that would be as close as we would come to going back ahead.
Long ball Lukaku
Man Utd 1-0 Spurs earlier this season saw us lose by a long ball flicked on by Lukaku for a runner to finish. We obviously hadn’t learnt from our lesson. The Red Devils would take the lead from again looking long for big Rom’s flick on.
Once more Man Utd were looking to get down the left. David de Gea sent a booming kick towards the axis of Lukaku, Pogba and Alexis Sanchez. Lukaku rose and beat Davinson Sanchez in the aerial contest. His flick on fell to the feet of Alexis who was able to fend off Kieran Trippier.
Alexis Sanchez’s pull back inadvertently turned in to an exceptional pass for the arriving Ander Herrera. Lukaku’s touch deflected the ball perfectly for the Spaniard to run on to. Jesse Lingard blocked off Ben Davies from challenging. Herrera’s shot went under the slow to react Michel Vorm. A big moment from another error had been taken advantage of. Suddenly the score was now Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham.
Man Utd narrows up
Taking the lead at Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham saw the Red Devils drop and narrow up. The 4-3-3 became a very compact 4-1-4-1, as Man Utd was content to play on the counter attack.
Space in the central zones came at a premium as Man Utd gave up room on the flanks. As a result Mauricio Pochettino introduced Lucas Moura. A wise move, but Moura was instructed to play in the inside right channel and leave Kieran Trippier on the wing.
The issue was that Trippier had the space but not the speed or tricks to take on Ashley Young. With stand-in full back Jan Vertonghen on the other flank, we lacked the pace in both wide areas that was required.
As a result, Man Utd could then junk the game. Time wasting and faux injury antics were supplemented by our frustrated and needless fouls. The contest was slowed right down and played at their pace with no rhythm rather than the quick tempo match we prefer.
Ashley Young was booked for time wasting. Antonio Valencia should’ve seen a second yellow for hauling down Dele Alli by the corner flag, before proceeding to waste three minutes with cramp and then being substituted. A Mourinho master class in match management.
Mauricio Pochettino threw on Victor Wanyama and Erik Lamela, but to no avail. Time ran out and with the score Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham it was yet another FA Cup Semi Final defeat. A bitter one to swallow given how well we’d played in large parts, but threw it away in two moments.
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham overall
Man Utd’s ploy to use Paul Pogba to overload the left saw us take the lead, but then resulted in them winning the match.
Mauricio Pochettino got his initial tactics right, but needed to adapt the more Pogba came in to the game.
Pochettino’s initial selection of Michel Vorm was a curious one. Vorm has been the FA Cup keeper and although his distribution is streets ahead of Hugo Lloris, his shot stopping has always been inferior. He is too slow to get down to shots and then doesn’t have strong wrists to control rebounds or deflect the ball away to safety when he does.
As frequently happens in big game contests against Mourinho, he can fashion out more mistakes from the opposition than his side commits and exploit these moments. Once he is ahead, his team can slow down and break up any kind of flow to the game developing.
There are only so many times Spurs can keep putting these big occasions down to a learning experience. We’ve had enough of these tastes of big games now that we need to start learning how not just to play well in large parts of them, but also how to convert promising positions in to victories.
Final score: Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham.
Spurs MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.