Tottenham 1, Manchester United 3: 6 Things We Learned About United
Wayne Rooney nodded United ahead just before half-time from a set-piece. Ashley Young added two goals through two sublime finishes on the 60th and 69th minute, before Jermaine Defoe pulled one back for the hosts.
United drew the gap between themselves and Man City back to just two points, and with just 11 games to go this was a crucial victory for the Red Devils.
But what have we learned about United from this match? Let me share a few of the things I took away from their performance.
United Picked Up the Win Despite a Distinctly Average Performance
Despite the win today, I was under no illusions that it was a good performance from the Red Devils.
Tottenham very much dominated United for at least two-thirds of the game, taking the majority of the possession. United were spared thanks to a few mistakes and inaccurate finishing from the hosts, including a Louis Saha shot which was only denied by a magnificent save from Emmanuel Adebayor.
Spurs managed 18 shots over the course of the game, but thankfully only a third of which were on target. Had Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart been available and Adebayor been on form then United could have easily left Whte Hart Lane defeated.
Taking the performances of both teams into account, I would have said a draw would have been a fairer result for Spurs, although possession alone doesn't win you games.
Quality of Finishing Provided the Victory
While I have described United's overall performance as average, their finishing was a highlight. Of United's six shots throughout the game, five were on target. From five shots on target, three goals were scored.
United's only miss of the game was courtesy of Danny Welbeck's speculative shot from the edge of the area, which went shamefully high and wide in the early minutes of the game.
While United didn't take as many attempts on goal as their opponents, I'm sure that you will agree that quality is better than quantity in this instance.
Sir Alex Dabbles in a Change of Formation
On the surface Sir Alex sent out his run-of the-mill 4-4-2, however in reality he had made a few minor alterations.
The United side today was more of a 4-2-2-2 with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick taking up more defensive roles in the midfield. Effectively this gave United another two players in defence to deal with the threat of Adebayor and Saha, and also to watch out for the likes of Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon when they cut inside.
There were also times in the game when United gave a feel of "Total Football," where players were constantly passing and swapping/covering positions—inspired by their previous Europa League opponents possibly?
Will we see this type of tactic employed in the crunch games like the April 30 clash with Man City?
The second half saw the players push back up to their usual positions which obviously paid off as this is when United notched the goals which secured the victory. Ferguson said the following to manutd.com after the game:
It was a great performance from Tottenham in the first half and maybe we got our tactics wrong. We improved in the second half and pushed up. In the first period we tried to drop off and bring them onto us a bit but it didn't work. At half-time I told the players to push up on top of their back four a bit more and not to allow them to build their play. We did much better at that, but it needed the second goal to give us the confidence in our game. After that we played very well.
Maybe not then.
United's Back Two Gave a Solid Performance
Earlier in the week I ran an article which criticised the recent form of United defenders Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans (which indeed incited some criticism), however, today I thought they put in a good performance.
Rio Ferdinand looked a lot better than he has done in recent games, and alongside Evans, they kept Adebayor and Saha under control.
Ferdinand looked to be in charge of his defence, and even gave Phil Jones an earful once or twice for straying from his position.
Speaking to manutd.com after the game, Fergie said the following on the topic of the defence:
It was a massive performance from our defenders, Tottenham are a very good team - you have to consider that. That was only their second defeat at home since the start of the season.
I'm glad to say that the pair proved me wrong, and it would be great if they could carry this performance forward.
David De Gea: Close, but No Cigar
Another week, another near-clean sheet for David De Gea.
The United keeper made some crucial saves today, including a fantastic instinctive stop from a Jake Livermore shot.
De Gea has gone from strength to strength since Anders Lindegaard was sidelined through injury, and it is only a matter of time before he earns the clean sheet which he so craves. Today, it was a simple lapse in concentration which allowed Jermaine Defoe's 87th minute speculative effort go in—hopefully we won't be seeing De Gea return to his bad concentration habits.
Also, I spotted De Gea giving his defence an earful on a couple of occasions—a great sign that his communication and confidence among his teammates is improving. Ferguson has allegedly demanded that the Spaniard bulks up over the coming weeks, which will surely see him hold his own against the heavy-handed opposition which the EPL throws up.
Ashley Young Is Looking Resurgent
Since coming back from injury, I have seen Ashley Young as largely unimpressive, however he looked to be getting back on track today.
His two sublime finishes provided the victory for United today, and he generally looked to be back to his best. Young doubled his goal tally for the season today, and we will hopefully see more of the same in the weeks to come.
He and Patrice Evra looked to have a great understanding of each other—not dissimilar to that which Antonio Valencia and Rafael have forged on the right. When both of these partnerships are available then we could be witnessing some magnificent wing play from the Red Devils.
Will Ashley Young keep United legend Ryan Giggs on the bench? If he can keep up this level of performance then there is certainly no reason why he shouldn't.