Spurs 1-1 United: Denied at the death, but a good point nonetheless

Evra vs. Lennon was one of the key battles in Tottenham vs. Manchester United

Author: Rob

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In Sunday’s big game Man United traveled to White Hart Lane to play Tottenham Hotspur, looking to avenge their 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Wintry conditions threatened to postpone the match, but after a late pitch inspection the teams were given the all-clear. Spurs lined up as expected with Defoe and Parker replacing Adebayor (international duty) and Sandro (injured). United made only one change to the team that beat Liverpool last Sunday, but altered their team shape and tactics significantly. As always, we’d love to hear the debate from both sets of fans.

A strong defensive display
Sir Alex’s team selection and tactics showed a lot of respect to Spurs, by drafting in Phil Jones to help out defensively in midfield. With the diminished mobility of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, it also meant that United had to defend far deeper than they have usually done this season with Jonny Evans in the team. This suited the team’s gameplan well, though, as United sought to limit the one-on-one encounters with Bale and Dembele that hurt them so much in September’s reverse fixture. As a result, Spurs had the majority of possession and shots, while United sought to counter quickly as they have done in other ‘big’ away games this campaign.

The gameplan was a success – at least for 92 minutes – and it can fairly be described as United’s best defensive performance of the season. Vidic’s reunion with Rio made a massive difference to the way United handled crosses and set-pieces. For most of the season, the team has looked very vulnerable to aerial balls coming into the box, but yesterday the duo headed almost everything out, clearing everything that came their way – Rio made 7 clearances and Vidic made 8. With cruel irony, it was a cross into the box that led to the Spurs goal.

While Spurs had a lot of shots in the game, many of these came from long distance or around the edge of the box, where Rio (3), Vidic (3) and Jones (2) blocked a fair amount and de Gea (7) saved his fair share. Interestingly the centre-backs only made one tackle between them. Defensively, Jones (3 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Carrick (6 tackles, 4 interceptions) contributed massively as well, with Jones helping Rafael to nullify Bale, and Carrick doing an admirable job against the brawny dribbling of Moussa Dembele. Evra often struggles against Aaron Lennon, and though he did better for most of the game, a lack of support was detrimental later on when Lennon started finding lots of space.

Less strong in attack
Going forward, however, the team lacked some of the verve that propelled them to counter-attacking victories against City and Chelsea earlier in the season. Two shots on target represented the Reds’ lowest tally of the season, and apart from a few fluent moves in the first half and the Rooney penalty shout  – which looked a clear penalty, even to Alan Hansen – United surprisingly didn’t offer much in attack. A lot of this was due to the composition of the midfield. Cleverley started off on the left but settled into an odd right-sided role – he provided a fine assist and offered diligent effort, but was less influential than he has been recently from a central position.

Because of his heavier defensive responsibilities, Carrick was less ambitious with his passing, and it was actually Phil Jones, the least comfortable of these three on the ball, who had the most touches and played the most passes. Kagawa was quietly efficient with the ball but was sacrificed for Rooney in the second half. Danny Welbeck had another good game, doing well in the buildup to the goal and threatening with his pace in behind. However, a lot of his good work was done on his own, and he threatened only sporadically. With these changes plus a lack of width – Young was a big miss here, as he would’ve offered balance and more defensive solidity against Lennon and Walker down the left – United looked fragmented going forward.

Subs turn the game – in Spurs’ favour
If anything, the changes made in the second half, with Rooney and Valencia replacing Kagawa and Cleverley , weakened the team’s position and contributed somewhat to the late equaliser. By changing the attacking flow of the team to a more direct approach, it meant that United couldn’t hold on to the ball long enough to ease the building pressure from Spurs. United sat deeper and deeper as the second half wore on, inviting the home team onto them. It was from here that Aaron Lennon really kicked into action, and it was almost inevitable that he played a key part in Spurs’ goal.

It’s hard to criticise Sir Alex for the substitutions that he made, since both Tom and Shinji looked to be tiring, but Rooney and Valencia offered very little after they came on, losing the ball quite often and contributing to a very disjointed-looking final thirty minutes.

A goal, but a rare off-day from Robin
Robin van Persie holds himself to an extremely high standard as you can see in this excellent long interview, and while he scored an excellent header in yesterday’s game, he might well be disappointed with his overall display. Given the way the team was set up, sitting deep, absorbing pressure and looking to hit on the break, Sir Alex would be disappointed with the lack of truly good counterattacking chances generated, especially in the second half.  Some of this was down to tactics, and a lot of credit has to go to the excellent Michael Dawson who repelled most of our attacks – but as United’s focal point going forward, van Persie has to shoulder some of the blame.

Caught offside six times (!!) and hardly involved in play in the second half, Robin honestly looked a bit tired, which is understandable after starting almost every Premier League game and only being rested in the FA Cup. Hopefully he’s given another rest in the cup tie against Fulham, perhaps with Rooney having another run-out and Danny Welbeck rewarded for his good form. We need all our strikers are fresh and sharp for the important run of games coming up.

Spurs’ goal: keeper blamed, but a collective failure
Without getting into a big hullabaloo about David de Gea here, it’s safe to say that he bore most of the blame for Spurs’ 92nd-minute equaliser yesterday. A weak punch of his fell straight to Lennon, who squared for Dempsey to put it in. But looking at the buildup to the goal again (and again), we can see that a lot of factors contributed to the concession. First, Rafael runs away from the loose ball after blocking Bale’s shot, leaving Assou-Ekotto free to cross. Next, Vidic clatters de Gea while he tries to punch the ball away – not for the first time, the two clashed when going for the same ball, leading to a goal. Then, impeded, de Gea punches the ball right into the path of Lennon, and in coming out to punch, takes himself out of a position to save the next shot that comes in. Further, Carrick, who was watching Dempsey originally, gets caught ball-watching. Lennon spots it and finds Dempsey who puts it neatly into the corner. An ugly goal, and a collectively ugly goal. Still, it was the least that Spurs deserved.

Of course, it’s never nice to have a win snatched away in the 92nd minute, but it would be churlish to deny that Spurs contributed richly to the spectacle and earned their spoils from the game. Under AVB, they’ve added a balance and resilience to an already exciting mix of attacking talent, and have twice played excellently against United this season, with Dawson and Lennon their standout players this time. Disregarding his public fury about the penalty claim, Sir Alex will be privately pleased with a good defensive performance that will serve the team well for big upcoming games against Real Madrid. Looking at the league title race, United have now played City, Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton and Swansea away from home, only dropping 7 points from them. On paper, Stoke and Arsenal look like the hardest away days left. United are 5 clear of City, unbeaten in 11, and have a challenging but manageable run of league fixtures coming up. More obstacles are sure to present themselves, but United  should be quietly confident about their position and chances of regaining the Premier League in May.


24 Comments on Spurs 1-1 United: Denied at the death, but a good point nonetheless

  1. For me, the real difference was the lack of any true wingers.* We can say Utd played on the counter, but there wasn’t any real counter. In the absence of a good out ball and speed on the counter, the opposing team can afford to throw everyone forward. Even the best defense will eventually break under that. Spurs worked hard and deserved the point.

    *Yes, Valencia was out there late, but he’s out of form and was obviously told to concentrate on defense.

  2. I felt that the first sub was correct. As you mentioned, Kagawa was tiring and Rooney’s energy and threat up front (initially) forced Spurs back a bit. I think however that the second substitution was the problem: United should have brought someone more physical and central like Ando on, to break on the counter, making the shape a 4-3-3 with Ando, Carrick and Jones in midfield, Rooney on the right and Welbeck on the left.

    Towards the end of the second half Bale was coming in field alot more, trying to get into the penalty box for one of his traditional dives (even though he had clearly been told at half time to stay wide and cross), and someone like Anderson would have been a better fit to that narrower shape than Valencia, he fronts up to imposing opposition and breaks well.

    I think Fergie brought on Valencia as a positive but reactive change to AVB’s decision to bring on Assou-Ekkoto. AVB brought him on to get up the pitch, stay wide and cross with his left foot, allowing Bale to come infield.

    Fergie obviously felt that with Assou-Ekotto pushing up the pitch Valencia’s pace on the break could create a second goal and kill the game off, so his substitution was an attacking one rather than a defensive one, but one which ultimately didn’t work out, largely due to Valencia’s current form.

    Interestingly, AVB gave Assout-Ekkoto a note to give to someone on the pitch and I’m wondering if that wasn’t for Bale as per the above…

    Still, definitely United’s best defensive performance to date (helped by playing Jones in midfield); the number of blocks, interceptions and tackles made was astounding (as were De Gea’s fantastic reflex saves). I think it’s ridiculous for the media to suggest that De Gea’s not cutting it – the improvement he’s made sine he started has been astounding, and he’s got the best reflexes I’ve ever seen for a goal-keeper. He’s still only a youngster and will undoubtedly fill out more and become more physical as he gets older.

  3. If you’ll forgive a Spurs fan for looking in, can I compliment you on an excellent write-up.
    It was never a penalty, mind.

  4. As a Northern Spur the games against United are always my hardest to take football days of the year. My son and many friends are United fans and for many years I have had to endure their cutting but true comments about Spurs not being able to handle pressure at the top level.

    Their comments are based usually on United thrashing Spurs. I’m not convinced that we are anywhere near on a week by week basis challenging United or the other part of Manchester but on Sunday we did compete and I think rightly got something out of the game.

    I think what has been said about the lack of United wingers was true, look at Nani’s record against Spurs but even Sir Alex has to use the players available and in form. As for the Rooney penalty well lets just say I saw it differently from United fans and might even point to Evra’s risky challenge on Dempsey in the box which was also missed.

    So in believing fairness was achieved I think its time fouls were given when committed even when the “victim” stays on his feet and perhaps this might rid the game of theatrical falls by players from all teams including Spurs.

  5. Further praise for the best report on the game I have read, that includes the nationals. And I’m a Spurs fan who was at the game. It’s interesting that you say the ‘excellent Michael Dawson’, the amount of stick he gets on Spurs’ sites is unbelievable.

  6. A good and generally fair report: couple of things …… if we (yes, Spurs) turn up and sit back, we get slated for parking the bus (still a rare event for us, nonetheless). For you it is a ‘good strong defensive display’. OK, fair enough, but credit us with a good strong defensive display at OT also!!

    Secondly ….. the penalty was debatable and opinion is split even on Spurs sites (which are generally, like this one, pretty honest) …… whether it was or not, Old Red Nose demeaned the linesman, and anyone else would be fined for his troubles. I hope he is because it’s hard enough being an official. When we (not infrequently) have a legitimate grievance at OT, ORN lectures us that it’s all ‘rub of the green, and will even itself out in the end’ …….. not at OT does it!!!

    So, the lesson we take from the game is that YOU were windy and lucky; we are progressing, and Old Red Nose is as big a deceiver as ever he was. (COYS!!!)

  7. @TommyHarmer – I think the only thing with your first point is that “sitting back” is only praised if you can do it well (and away from home). I felt United’s set up was spot on against a good and in particular, pacey Spurs side – to defend and counter so nearly worked even if it meant allowing Spurs to have possession and inviting pressure. I’m not sure that I’d have classed us as ‘lucky’ to avoid losing – we executed our gameplan to near perfection.

    I think Fergie was harsh on the linesman to be honest even if he has history with us. He’d have been better directing his anger towards the referee who had a clear view. I think it was a penalty – struggle to see how it wasn’t.

  8. im also with nameonthetrophy, i cant honestly see what reason could be given for it not being a penalty- clear foul that would have been given anywhere else on the field, took rooney out and wasnt even close to making contact with the ball. referee and linesman bottled making a decision as seems to be the case in every other game of ours for the last 7-8 matches. however, you wont hear about it in the press unless the boss complains as its only news when we get a decision!

  9. Game should’ve been sewn up before halftime had Welbeck made the correct decisions in the final 3rd. Otherwise he was excellent. Credit Spurs For a surging 2nd half; deserved their point. Vidic had his part to play in the late equalizer also.

  10. Hello nameonthe trophy …… I don’t think you ‘get’ either of my points. The first: NO ONE gets credit for good defensive game plans AGAINST united. But WE have to commend YOU. You were outplayed in every statistic apart from goals (the one, of course, that counts!). Point two: as far as the linesman is concerned it would have been no difference if it had been the ref instead – Fergie does it to distract attention from the PERFORMANCE. But when Carroll (for example) carried the ball a yard over his goal line and got away with it, there was silence, and the same on all the other injustices over the years at OT. We have worked it out now …. when (and IF, since I say the penalty was unclear) we get the ‘rub of the green’, I’m going to smile and see it like that, just like united do. And BTW, many Spurs supporters see Rooney as seeking the opportunity to dive for a ball going AWAY from the goal and, probably, out of play (ie, when it’s Bale a DIVE). Me: I’m undecided.

  11. @TommyHarmer

    Point one: the way the media goes – stats only tell one part of the story… despite the number of shots and the possesion, I think it would be fair to say that actually United were relatively comfortable defending. Remember, a game is never won on stats – putting the ball in the net is what counts, as you say. I’d also point out that given how United set up, those stats are not a surprise at all – I don’t think they prove a huge amount other than United set up in a defensive manner. In past years when we’ve done the same (and often won) the stats alone show that we’ve been ‘outplayed’. It would have been very very weird if the stats showed we’d had more possession and shots.

    Point two: love him or hate him, Fergie’s manipulation of the press (he knows that if he says something even slightly controversial, it’ll be the headline) is one of the reasons he’s so good at what he does. No manager comes out and speaks as a neutral after the game. I don’t think he was protecting our performance at all, rather I think he was protecting de Gea. In fact, on MUTV, Fergie said he was very pleased with United’s performance because, as noted above, we executed the gameplan nearly perfectly. As for Rooney “seeking the opportunity to dive” – maybe but given that he didn’t dive, it’s an odd thing to say.

  12. Oh, gosh, a manure supporter disagrees with me ………… but you still don’t GET it!! bye=eeee ….. COYS!!

  13. @TommyHarmer – fair enough, don’t mind the discussion at all – that’s what football’s about. Still, do grown adults (presume you’re one) really actually use the term “manure”?!

  14. Yes,most of us use that term about you.Just as you have your own names for Liverpool and City,do you think you should be exempt?
    Whether it was a penalty on Sunday or not,I would if I was a United fan feel a little bit embarrassed about appealing for it as vehemently as you have done after the game when you consider the scandalous decisions that Spurs have had to endure over the years at OT.They were so bad in favour of United that you just had to feel there was something sinister about them,especially when Webb and Clattenburg were refereeing.So if it was a penalty or not,we’re still due at least another five in our favour.

  15. Lads. Can we stick to talking about football? Internet mocking of a football club’s name is cringeworthy.

    “Spuds” “Manure” “Liverpoo” – all of them are embarrassing.

  16. In my alternative universe, UTD should have been ahead nil-3 when the match entered additional-time. The Rooney penalty-shout seemed reasonable and one would like to believe that this time the penalty would have been converted.

    BUT, for me, the key moment in that match occurred when LittleRedRafa got free down the right side and crossed the ball through the box – DannyTheLad was a step short and the chance trickled away. In my estimation, IF Chicharito had been in Welbeck’s position he would have run hell-for-leather to the far post – not loped forward – and slotted it home for a 2-nil lead. I know that this is an unfair comparison but while DannyTheLad’s athleticism is astonishing, his finesse and game awareness are still raw. That moment can be classified as an example of “growing pains”. He’s still a long way from being the finished article but he was a real handful for the Spurs’ defenders so it’s painful to isolate one incident – but “goals change games” and THAT was an especially clear-cut example of the truth of that cliche.

    Bringing on TheWayneBoy and AV7 was subtraction-by-addition since YoungTom and KagawaBunga had done a good job of keeping the ball and creating traffic in front of the two defensive midfielders. Oddly, bringing on Rooney and Valencia “should have been” attacking substitutions but they ended up doing nothing worthwhile. Rooney, in particular, was just awful in turning defence into attack – how many times did a counter-attack founder when the ball came to TheWayneBoy ? SAF’s strategy of clogging up the middle had worked well – nervy to watch, though. Lennon had NinjaEvra’s number but wasn’t able to do much while the vaunted Bale hardly got any change from LittleRedRafa.

    SAF’s plan worked for 92 minutes; too bad they scored in FergyTime, eh ?

  17. “Towards the end of the second half Bale was coming in field alot more, trying to get into the penalty box for one of his traditional dives” Coolidge didn’t disappoint. Just when I thought I’d read a good balanced, report and well-thought out comments, a cretin steps in to spoil it. As Coolidge is such an expert on Bale this season, no doubt he will now publish how many of his three bookings for simulation(that’s the grown up’s word) have been for an vent in the penalty area and how many times his momentum has caused him to go down when going away from the goal. Deluded morons can post comments without any back-up. Unfortunately the internet allows idiots to contaminate all fans with their sad biases.

  18. @Next bus to Woolwich! – nope, not on here we don’t!

    I’d add that since when has a decision that’s gone for a team ever impacted that same team appealing for a decision that’s not gone for them? Not embarrassing at all. And yep, Spurs were certainly due a decision, not that it makes it any less of a (non)penalty.

  19. @wheredo theyfinem Sure thing, you’re absolutely right in saying that Bale’s never been in trouble for diving. And Suarez is a great role model, Tevez joined for the money, and Scholesy is a natural blonde. I think you’ve been living in a simulation for too long my friend. Anyway, I’d hardly say my comments were cretinous.

  20. Great write up Rob.

    Re the goal for me it is DDG’s failure to shout for the ball/Vidic making wrong decision to challenge in 6 yard either way and Evra leaving Lennon.

    On set up we’ll have to disagree. Though we were certainly very deep post 65mins, in the first half it was amazing how high the fullbacks were even at 0-1. In fact Evra’s troubles were caused by the presumed plan to ‘hit Bale early and close to HWL. And interesting that Vidic seemed to sweep up Rio for once, with the latter very keen in taking the ball deep into Spurs’ half. So overall, our line was neither deep nor high.

    I thought Valencia and Roo were indeed poor but liked Fergies thinking. Fuming at how deep we were in the last third of the game he clearly wanted pace on the counter. But Cleverley was wrong choice.

  21. @nameonthetrophy

    I would say in answer to your question,quite often! Refs often try to even up bad decisions,or shall I say controversial ones,albeit within the confines of the actual game.We were just lucky that Webb or Clattenburg wasn’t refereeing otherwise when Rooney missed the penalty,they would have awarded it again because of encroachment.A draw was a fair result.

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