Manchester United-Tottenham: United's Midfield Dominates Second Half

Nathan LoweAnalyst IJanuary 24, 2009

Manchester United put Tottenham on cruise control in the second half in an open and stylish FA Cup fourth-round matchup.

Paul Scholes—turning and passing across a wet Old Trafford pitch, carving through a drained Spurs side—was the magic of the FA Cup embodied in a second half of great atmosphere and vintage United.

Spurs opened the scoring perhaps too early as Tom Huddlestone, with great technique, drifted in a brilliant pass into the only area Nemanja Vidic would have been beaten by Roman Pavyulchenko, who finished with instinct.

Spurs had their best spells in the beginning of the first half. Scholes was not yet stuck-in and turned the ball over very poorly on different occasions. Carrick was also idle, though debutant Fabio and Danny Wellbeck enjoyed themselves up and down the flanks for United.

With the excitement generated by brother Rafael's emergence this season, Fabio's debut was long-awaited and the twin showed the exact drive, pace, and bullishness that makes them both such exciting prospects for the future.

A player like Nani might find himself surplus as the Portuguese-speaking twins can be the little brothers to Ronaldo and offer the comfort and security that the star winger needs.

United were level after 20 minutes when Scholes, who had misfired quite certainly from range twice already, hit another shot off-target which was deflected in by Huddlestone.

United pilfered their next goal almost immediately after, as a sleeping Tottenham defense was undone by a creative side-footed chip from Carrick over the top. Berbatov latched on, through, and finished in-style with both power and accuracy from 18 yards—his first goal from range for United this season.

The first half teetered out, as it often does, and United put the game to bed after the break.

After the interval, both managers and sides deserve credit for playing openly and with good humor in a half truly dominated by United. Scholes, Carrick, and really the whole side guarded possession with a class Tottenham simply could not match.

The left-footed winger Zoran Tosic, hoped by United fans to provide the balance of flair and intelligence that Giggs has provided for so long, debuted on 72 minutes for Ronaldo.

The Serbian was nervy, very eager to pass the ball directly back where it came. To his credit, he did it well. Unexpectedly he used his right-foot nicely on a couple of occasions, but eventually found himself in the unenviable position of having to take on a defender and, in front of 75,000, the nervous winger did himself justice.

Although the pace was slower, United pulled all the strings and continued forward almost invariably as the Spurs couldn't manage to hold onto the ball with any consistency. Tottenham was run ragged, chasing United passes in every direction.

However, the end of United's forays deep, deep into Spurs territory were never matched with any finish worthy of mention. Huddlestone sat back and linked well into the midfield from defense to ultimately stifle United on occasions.

Tottenham's desire to get forward during this spell was exemplified by Pavyulchenko, who looked like some sort of awkward, haggard automaton that needs to be re-oiled and re-fueled.

Tottenham's old-boy Jermain Defoe came on for the Spurs at 72 minutes and cannot be verified to have had a touch during his tenure.

At this point Scholes was in a trance, turning on anybody in a white shirt as Old Trafford applauded.

The crowd also enjoyed spritely Tosic's debut as he passed with such willingness.

Tevez is "small, but quite capable of looking after himself," as the match commentator noted, and as the Lion exhaled after another tireless performance, the crowd cheered him too.

Spurs, though, lifted up their heads for one last push. Throughout injury-time, a ditch tackle from Tosic as well as a another cameo from Scholes—as he flew across the box, blocking a shot with his outstretched arms like the cheeky ginger-boy he is—held United on for the win 2-1.

Manchester United progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup—already through to the quarter-final stage in the Champions League, while atop the Premier League and through to Wembley for the Carling Cup final where they will face Tottenham again.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp might not fancy seeing United again this season, but with some players, like Huddlestone, the oft-maligned Assou-Ekotto, and Taraabt, all performing well today, the Englishman's squad is maybe deeper than he realizes.

Credit to both clubs for contributing to an honest, open match, where players from both sides were able to express themselves and the nature of English football.


(Player ratings next page)

Foster (7): Wasn't much he could do about the first goal but didn't always make the right decision on crosses. Punted well but not great.

Neville (7.5): Solid. Passed well. Defended well.

Vidic (7) : Rarely, rarely beaten. Was today. Finally, the truth is revealed. He's not a monster. He's human. The best defender in the world, on recent form, was not at his strict best today, but he still dominated after the goal.

O'Shea (6.5) : Really playing poorly going forward, and he often gets beat by attackers with any pace or guile. Did get stuck in the second half. Has to improve. He's getting his chance to play. He's gotta take it.

Fabio (8) : Only played 53 minutes and came off tired and injured. However, he plays with the joyful naivete as his brother does, showing great technique, pace, and uncompromising defending. The long-awaited debut was worth the wait.

Ronaldo (7) : Needs to be more selfish in attack.

Wellbeck (7.5) : Looked good out on the right wing. Had some guile and had some graft. Made some mistakes. He's young. Smarter with the ball than Nani.

Carrick (8) : Started slowly but supplied both goals on creative, intuitive passes.

Scholes (8.5) : Played poorly for 20 minutes and was better after that until the second half. Then, he turned back the pages, directing traffic and turning and dinking through a beleaguered Tottenham line-up as United passed the ball around willy-nilly. A really enjoyable 90 minutes from the fan favourite.

Berbatov (8) : Scored a YouTube goal today. Expressed himself always, not succeeding every time, but passed and controlled the ball gracefully.

Tevez (7.5) : Ran his heart out. Toyed with the Spurs defense at times. But, never incisive on his own. Passed the ball around with the rest of his team though.


Open matches like this are a rare thing in the EPL and it was a joy to watch.