Spurs 2 Man Utd 2: attack the soft centre and space in-behind

It may have finished Spurs 2 Man Utd 2 but this was a much better performance than we have seen of late in the Premier League.

The tempo was better, the movement improved and it was all to do with the formation, personnel and taking the lead.

Spurs set up and tactics

We’ve seen 4-3-3 with inverted wide forwards for much of this season, but the most noticeable difference here was the depth of Sandro and Moussa Dembele.

The two played as a pair in a pivot rather than what we’ve seen so far of Sandro in a holding role and Dembele shifting the ball between the defence and attack. This had the effect of breaking up many of Man Utd’s play in the middle, but also allowed Sandro to drive forward.

The other main difference was the depth and defensive cover provided by our wide players.

Aaron Lennon combines well with Kyle Walker and he was providing his usual effort on the defensive end that can often go unnoticed. On the other side, Nacer Chadli was in the thick of it with Jan Vertonghen against the focal point of the Man Utd attack, Antonio Valencia’s crosses.

This naturally had the effect of us playing a little deeper than what we’re used to seeing. It also saw us concede possession, but on the flip side, drew Man Utd out – aided by us taking the lead.

We’ve seen numerous teams come to White Hart Lane and sit back this season, playing on the counter. This had become the way to handle us. Striking the first blow, combined with conceding some ground, forced David Moyes in to changing his formation and pulled Man Utd out. This created space in-behind their defence to attack, allowing us to use our speed and the green space.

Our usual through balls to hit a player on the run as he cuts through or behind the defender were suddenly reaping their rewards, rather than being cut off by a team sat deep.

Man Utd set up and switch

After obliterating a team playing 4-3-3 in midweek through the use of Shinji Kagawa playing off Wayne Rooney, David Moyes opted for the same again here.

In that match he also used Antonio Valencia and Nani playing very high up in the wide positions, two flyers that can dribble and cross, but also shoot.

Here he went 4-2-3-1 with Danny Welbeck on the left to utilise a strong aerial player who can move inside and allow Patrice Evra to attempt to overlap. This was something looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd, Evra’s increased and improved crossing this season from combining with a player moving inside.

Up top, Shinji Kagawa was having a decent game. The Japanese international likes to take the ball on the run and hit passes through the channels, which was working well with Rooney. However, after we went 1-0 up, Moyes switched Kagawa back to the left and moved Welbeck in advance of Rooney as Man Utd changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation.

Rooney and Welbeck were now pressing in tandem from the front. They were trying to force our back four to hit long balls that could be hovered up so as they could launch quick attacks. Once they had it back, the ball was either transferred directly to Antonio Valencia, often through Rooney.


Wayne Rooney feeds Antonio Valencia on the right to cross.

The aim, as we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd, was to get in to crossing situations.

Valencia attempted a number of low-driven balls in to the box, which are his forte, but often they were blocked by Vertonghen and Chadli. However, Man Utd’s equaliser came courtesy of a Phil Jones cross from this flank, after he hovered up a failed clearance in midfield from Man Utd pressure.

Spurs attack the soft centre

In the opposition scouting report I looked at how teams had enjoyed success by attacking Man Utd through the centre. This is due to their slow centre backs which can be turned and this where Spurs had the most joy.

Kyle Walker opened the scoring directly from a free kick, but Paulinho had been up-ended by Jonny Evans who lunged in as the Brazilian was dribbling past him.

The goal forced Man Utd to come out more, leaving space in-behind for our runners to exploit – something we’ve rarely enjoyed this season. Roberto Soldado’s neat flick round the corner to Paulinho sent the Brazilian in to the clear; his return was unfortunately fired over by the Spaniard.


Soldado sets paulinho off in to space and goes for the return.

Soldado was also at the centre of another excellent passage of play. This time his pass hit Aaron Lennon cutting through the defence on the run.


Soldado finds Aaron Lennon cutting through the centre backs.

The diminutive winger left the centre back in his wake, but fired straight at David de Gea; then played the rebound agonizingly across goal.

Later, Kyle Walker was able to race out in to the flat. His initial touch took him wide, but a deliciously curled-in cross just missed Andros Townsend.


Kyle Walker scampers in to the space this time.

The icing on the cake to illustrate how Man Utd’s slow centre backs could be turned was probably Jermain Defoe racing past Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian could only grab his shirt by the collar as Defoe flicked the ball past him, willing to take the yellow card rather than risk giving up a scoring chance.

Our second goal, when it arrived came from another attacking drive through the middle, but it didn’t need to turn the centre backs due to the quality of the strike.

Sandro’s effort was spectacular, not only for the rasping drive from outside the box, but also for they way he jinked Tom Cleverley, leaving him on the floor.

Our chance creation came from trying to expose Man Utd’s soft centre.


Tottenham chances created: Spurs 2 Man Utd 2.

Defensive errors cost us

Twice we took the lead, twice it cost us, as we let Man Utd back in to the game soon after scoring ourselves.

Kyle Walker’s unfortunate touch gave Rooney the opener. Walker had lost Shinji Kagawa who was floating behind him. As Jones’ cross came over Rooney’s head, Kyle could have let the ball go, but ended up stabbing it back in to the England striker’s path.

The second was from a misjudgement by Hugo Lloris, but was created through Walker’s right back zone. Kyle had flown forward to join an attack and had lost a crunching tackle with Nemanja Vidic.


Kyle Walker loses out to Nemanja Vidic.

This meant he was out of position and Rooney gobbled up the resulting loose ball. He then drove forward and played a nice pass in to Danny Welbeck who was able to cut diagonally in to the vacated right back zone. Welbeck’s hung out foot was caught by Hugo Lloris and Rooney converted the penalty.


Rooney picks out Welbeck cutting across the defence.

After scoring an excellently worked free kick, Walker’s touch and then being out of position were highly unfortunate on both Man Utd goals.

Spurs 2 Man Utd 2 overall

This was a good bounce-back performance after last week’s humiliation at the Etihad.

The tempo was much better and also the way we looked to move the ball was much quicker, especially to Chadli and Lennon in the wide positions and Soldado up front.

The Sandro/Dembele partnership in the middle of the park also looked back to where it was at the start of last season. Sandro’s goal was fitting of winning any match.

Andre’s verdict was one of admiration for the side, but also disappointment that we couldn’t take all three points.

“I’m happy with the response of the players, the ambition, the motivation, the desire to bounce back. It could have been the perfect ending, but unfortunately we couldn’t finish the situations we had to make it 2-0 in the first half, and then the Townsend ball for 3-2.”

It’s a quick turnaround for a trip to Fulham in midweek. More on how to break them down in the opposition scouting report on Wednesday afternoon.

Final score: Spurs 2 Man Utd 2.

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4 Responses to Spurs 2 Man Utd 2: attack the soft centre and space in-behind

  1. The Project 2nd December 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    An excellent summary, thank you.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd December 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      You’re welcome :)

  2. Paulo 2nd December 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    Nice analysis. Let’s prayer for a much needed win against fulham. Should probably stick with a similar team although I wonder how far the team can go with paulinho as the false number nine, what ever that means.

  3. Arpen tucker 2nd December 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    A good analysis of the game. Rooney by the far the best player on the pitch and showed Soldado how you score and create goals. A much better performance by the team but still baffled by AvBs failure to play Lennon and Townsend from the start on their natural flanks. Chadli was not existent in the 2nd half and Siggi or Townsend would have provided a much greater threat