Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez played similar roles but the Dane had the upper hand as it finished Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd at Wembley Stadium.
A purring performance saw Spurs race past the Red Devils. Christian Eriksen was the star of the show as he orchestrated the Tottenham attack. Drifting from his starting position on the left, he outworked his opposite number playing a similar role, Alexis Sanchez. The score finished an easy Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd to put three vital Premier League points on the board.
Spurs streak ahead
Tottenham stole a huge march on Man Utd straight from the kick off. Suspecting Jose Mourinho may play a negative low block and counter game, Mauricio Pochettino wanted an early goal to unsettle them. He got it within eleven seconds.
The play very much resembled an NFL punting team. Tottenham stacked the right with three players looking to gun down the field to overload and unsettle the kick recipient.
As the ball went back to Jan Vertonghen to send a booming kick downfield, Harry Kane and Dele Alli raced forwards. However, Christian Eriksen started off more slowly. He sauntered past Alexis Sanchez, but as soon as Kane rose to contest the header, he was off, sensing a loose ball.
Eriksen then charged past Ashley Young and wound up unmarked in the penalty area. Dele’s shot fortunately rebounded off Chris Smalling, perfectly in to Eriksen’s path. He despatched it with consummate ease, feathering the ball in to the corner of the net past a helpless David de Gea.
Eriksen wheeled away in celebration at the third fastest goal in Premier League history. More importantly, Pochettino had the early strike that he desired to unsettle any Man Utd defensive game plan.
Christian Eriksen vs Alexis Sanchez
While they weren’t direct covers on the goal, the energetic start made by Christian Eriksen set the tone for his duel with Alexis Sanchez. Both players were operating in similar roles for their respective teams. From the same flank, each man was tasked with drifting in-field to start and dictate play.
Eriksen had done so from the off with his goal. However, Alexis Sanchez would respond, as he became Man Utd’s creator in chief. The Red Devils were constantly looking for him to initiate attacks off the dribble. Sanchez was either looking to run in-behind our defensive line that was pushing up playing offside or cutting inside to set up others.
Sanchez had a good deal of success doing this. Man Utd responded well to going behind and Sanchez was at the centre of it. However it was the defensive side of his game where the difference was seen. Whereas Christian Eriksen was making the hard runs to get back out from the centre to defend his flank, Sanchez wasn’t.
It manifested itself as we doubled our advantage. Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez duelled in the middle of the pitch. Eriksen gained the advantage as his neat touch and one-two with Dele Alli put him in to green space.
Sanchez was caught inside and suddenly there was space on the flank for Kieran Trippier to exploit.
Without hesitation, Eriksen whipped the ball out to the right back. Harry Kane was arriving in the centre intending to meet Trippier’s low cross. However, Phil Jones interjected and in attempting to clear with his wrong foot, sent the ball rifling in to the top corner of David de Gea’s net. Suddenly it was Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd and our grip on the game was tightening.
Paul Pogba’s spacing issues
The second goal not only highlighted Sanchez getting caught playing too far in-field, but also Paul Pogba’s spacing issues. Pogba’s movement had a direct knock-on effect on Chris Smalling. The centre back was dragged out from the back line on our second goal. Consequently he was wrong side and trying to drag back Harry Kane as the ball arrived.
Match of the Day did a good piece on highlighting Pogba’s spacing issues and how high he was playing ahead of Nemanja Matic. As a result, Spurs could work in the spaces Pogba was leaving and overrun Matic.
However, this isn’t a one off for Pogba, its been happening for weeks. Man Utd’s last eight Premier League matches has seen them play only Burnley, Leicester and Everton in the top half of the table. They have been able to mask Pogba’s defensive positioning against lower class opposition, but in this game Tottenham punished it all match.
Mourinho makes moves
At half time Jose Mourinho moved Alexis Sanchez away from the flank. Mourinho had seen that he was unable to recover his defensive position out on the wing and the success we were having. Interestingly, Pochettino adopted similar tactics to attack Sanchez’s defensive recovery during Spurs 2-0 Arsenal at the Lane last season.
Sanchez was moved in to the middle with Jesse Lingard switching to his left-sided position. However, it just moved the problem infield. A central Sanchez, combined with Pogba wandering away from Nemanja Matic, saw the spaces between the lines became even more glaring.
Jose Mourinho eventually lost patience with Paul Pogba and hooked him on sixty-three minutes. Marouane Fellaini was introduced, but he fared even worse. Fellaini continued to push up and make the Red Devils look like a 4-1-4-1 set up defensively. Combined with Sanchez, Tottenham had huge windows to pass through. It was like Man Utd were traffic cones in a Tottenham training exercise.
The positioning of Fellaini and Sanchez continued to allow us to play in the pockets around Matic. As a result, Man Utd’s centre backs we exasperated, as can be seen by Phil Jones in the image above. Jones doesn’t want to leave Harry Kane but is desperate for someone to cover Son Heung-Min.
Fellaini lasted just eight minutes until he too was substituted. Ander Herrera was brought on to see if he could fare any better and keep the score at Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd.
Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd overall
Following criticism of being slow and laboured recently, we were at it from the get go. It was no coincidence that our speed and tempo of play corresponded with the return of Christian Eriksen.
The early goal really knocked Man Utd on the back foot. Any chance of the match being turned in to a defensive struggle to break down a low block was essentially killed.
Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics to attack Alexis Sanchez’s defensive recovery were spot on. Pochettino did the same at White Hart Lane last season and we triumphed over Arsenal by a 2-0 score line. Combined with the gift of Paul Pogba’s errant defensive positioning, our trio of advanced midfielders had a field day between the lines.
Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd flattered the visitors. The score really should’ve been more.
Final score: Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.