Louis van Gaal’s system causes Mauricio Pochettino problems, as it finishes Spurs 0-0 Man Utd in our Premier League clash at White Hart Lane.
Mauricio Pochettino thought the result was “fair,” whilst Louis van Gaal was left bemoaning that his side “dropped two points.”
The fact that Hugo Lloris was man-of-the-match told you where the overall balance of power lay. Spurs were better than van Gaal gave us credit for, but not as good as Mauricio Pochettino might have claimed.
The key to this match was Man Utd’s wingbacks that dominated the first half, but also their use of four central players in front of their back three.
Man Utd controlled much of this game through their use of four players in central midfield. Michael Carrick operated in front of three centre backs with Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata floating ahead of him, whilst Radamel Falcao dropped in to form almost a diamond shape in the centre of the park.
What this allowed Man Utd to do was dominate the middle of the pitch against our trio of Ryan Mason, Benjamin Stambouli and Christian Eriksen. When the Red Devils won the ball, it would be quickly transferred out to their wingbacks or Juan Mata drifting between the lines. This would allow them to create chances from through balls (1) or wide areas (2).
All of their good opportunities from open play arrived in this fashion.
Wingbacks push us back
Man Utd created several good opportunities in the first half and they all stemmed from this central four dominating the play. What it allowed the Red Devils to do was get men forward, especially their wingbacks.
Here we can see with just two minutes on the clock how high both their wingbacks – Young and Valencia – are, but also how they could flood the box. Mata and Rooney often got up in support of van Persie and Falcao.
Their wingbacks were a focal point for many an out ball with both Young and Valencia being able to get high up the pitch. This pushed our full backs towards their own goal, as both Chiriches and Davies were knocked on to the back foot. This often stopped us getting out as both had to defend deep and were unable to get forward and support any kind of attack.
Our best moments in the first half arrived when we could get men up the pitch in to the areas that the Man Utd wingbacks had vacated. Unsurprisingly it was our wide players that were the architects. Nacer Chadli picked out a cross that was just too high for Harry Kane. On the other side, Andros Townsend had a shot that stung the palms of David de Gea, whilst also dinking a cute ball round the corner that Harry Kane just failed to get on the end of.
The main balance of power was with Man Utd though. Their wingbacks were forcing us back, allowing Juan Mata space between the lines to cut us open with through balls.
An early one saw him release Radamel Falcao who cut inside and shot tamely at Hugo Lloris.
Later Mata released the Colombian once more to run in to space at Federico Fazio. Falcao was quicker to jink inside the Argentinean, but again his curling shot looking for the corner was comfortably saved by Lloris.
The key was not only Mata getting between the lines, but the strikers running the inside channels between our centre back and full back. Van Persie was fouled doing this, which then saw Mata’s free kick ping off the post, resulting in Vlad Chiriches clearing from a goal-line scramble.
Van Persie was then off running the inside channels once more, as Michael Carrick found him with a lofted ball over the top. The Dutchman tried to flick the ball from his left to right foot to outwit the onrushing Hugo Lloris, but our French stopper was too agile for him, stretching out a leg to block his shot.
Man Utd had created several opportunities from open play and it was all stemming from their central quartet and wingbacks.
If only to show how influential the wingbacks had been, Young almost put them ahead on half time. His curling effort was heading towards the top corner when Hugo Lloris flung himself across his goal to magnificently deny him.
Second half switches
After dominating the first half, there were two switches, and a case of fatigue, that stemmed the flow of United’s dominance.
Both managers highlighted that their players were tired from having played just 43 hours earlier. This had an affect after the interval as the tempo dropped considerably.
There were also two switches made that influenced the game.
Firstly, the much more attack-minded Antonio Valencia went off for Rafael. This altered the balance of power down the right where the Ecuadorian had been a focal point to push Ben Davies back. Rafael was less able to get forward due to the second switch. This was for us to play much higher, trying to get our full backs up in support of Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli.
With us pushing forward down the flanks, it mitigated both Rafael and Young’s influence. In the first half, Ashley Young was heavily involved and received the ball very high up the pitch.
After the interval, and the switch to push up down the flanks, Young barely got possession of the ball in our final third.
The changes, along with fatigue, allowed us to come back more in to the game. Man Utd did still create chances by getting in to wide zones and crossing though. Mata pulled a ball back that van Persie fired over. Rafael showed that they still had some wingback presence, as he got forward to set up a low cross that Mata blasted high in to the stands.
We were still being stifled in the centre by Man Utd’s quartet in the middle. Harry Kane had one of his trademark runs cut off as he drew a crowd of six players.
Later he created arguably the chance of the match. Kane is a very under-rated presser from the front. After robbing the ball from Michael Carrick to create a chance in the first half, he did the same in the second and then charged towards goal. Faced once more with a congested centre, this time he had Ryan Mason running beyond him. His deftly weighted pass hit the surging midfielder in stride, but Mason could only fire over when anything low would have had an excellent chance of beating de Gea.
Spurs 0-0 Man Utd overall
It’s difficult to read too much in to this game due to the circumstances. Man Utd were the better side, but two games in under 48-hours did play a factor, for both teams. A stale second half was the result.
Mauricio Pochettino did make some changes here from the Leicester match, but with the squad we have, it may have been a better idea to play two different teams in these games.
Being the focal points to provide both width in attack, as well as get back and defend, Pochettino did change both his full backs for this one. Curiously he opted for the better pairing of Walker and Rose against Leicester, where they would have been much more use here to push Man Utd’s wingbacks towards their own goal.
What’s more, a powerful, stronger midfield with increased physical presence would have stood up to Man Utd’s four players dominating the centre. With Dembele’s introduction there was a noticeable shift in the control of the central area as Mason and Stambouli struggled to get to grips with the task.
Overall it was a decent point considering the problems that van Gaal’s system caused us. There will be decidedly more recovery and planning time for Chelsea on Thursday.
Final score: Spurs 0-0 Man Utd.