Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned
Kyle Walker gave Tottenham the lead in the 18th minute with a well-hit free-kick fired underneath the Man United wall. The visitors equalised 14 minutes later when a Phil Jones cross came off Walker's boot and into a gleeful Wayne Rooney's path.
Within ten minutes of the second half Spurs were ahead, this time thanks to Sandro. The midfielder fashioned himself an opening and blasted a shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
United demonstrated their resilience when they leveled just three minutes later. Danny Welbeck timed an angled run across the box and was brought down by Hugo Lloris, with Rooney converting the subsequent penalty.
Spurs have every right to be pleased with their response to last week's 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City, but must wonder what might have been after losing the lead twice. The Red Devils earned another respectable away point in their second Premier League 2-2 draw in a row. Even so, the nine-point gap between themselves and current table-toppers Arsenal will be cause the reigning champions concern.
Read on for some things we learned from Sunday's match.
Paulinho's Advanced Role Worked for Tottenham
Andre Villas-Boas made three changes to the starting XI that lost to Manchester City last weekend. Perhaps the most significant was the midfield reshuffle which saw Mousa Dembele recalled to play alongside Sandro, with Paulinho pushed forward to a role that bordered on that of a deep-lying striker.
With Christian Eriksen, Tottenham's most talented passer, currently injured, the changes made the most of the squad's other strengths.
Sandro did solid work in front of his defence, restricting Man United's attacking space. His close positioning paid off when after 14 minutes he made a crucial block to stop a United scoring opportunity.
Dembele was highly effective contesting every ball he could, winning all six challenges he attempted (source: Squawka.com). His distribution in the middle of the pitch was efficient and generally conducive to Spurs' advancing forward.
The hard work of his two teammates further back allowed Paulinho to focus on the attacking elements of his game that have arguably been his biggest contribution since moving to the Premier League.
The Brazilian was close enough to Roberto Soldado to link up with him—as the pair did in an excellent counter-attacking exchange which Soldado ultimately blasted over—but deep enough to tempt the United defenders out of position to deal with him. The latter worked a treat when he was fouled by Jonny Evans, winning the free-kick with which Kyle Walker would open the scoring.
The role meant Paulinho was at times on the periphery. In instances when others could have done with some help, he embraced the positioning of a penalty box predator a little too wholeheartedly.
Mostly though, the overall job he did played a big part in Spurs' best attacking display in weeks.
Lennon Served a Reminder of His Qualities
Looking at Aaron Lennon's statistics for this match without watching it, you might assume his contribution was minimal. While the winger's contributions did not pay off in anything concrete, they played a pivotal role in setting the tone and tempo for his team's bright performance.
From the moment inside the first ten minutes when a typically sharp bust of pace inside saw him brought down, he used his speed to cut at Man United.
On the 10th minute he was ready for a Soldado flick-on, darting leftwards across a flat-footed United back-line. His timid shot was saved by David de Gea, but it served a warning to the visiting side they did not heed.
Evans, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all struggled to deal with Lennon's diagonal runs in the first half. One after half-hour saw the right midfielder latch onto a Soldado through-ball to again test de Gea before the subsequent cross from the rebound misjudged Paulinho's movement in the six-yard box.
Later on he got the better of his old sparring partner Evra to square a ball that Soldado should have done more to get onto.
Defensively, Lennon did fine work, resuming a partnership with Kyle Walker that ranks among the better combinations of any two wide-men in the Premier League. It was noticeable how little joy Evra and Welbeck had down their left compared to their teammates on the opposite side.
Lennon quieted down in the second half prior to his substitution, but the disappointed reaction that greeted his withdrawal was testament to the kind of game he had.
Andros Townsend may be a man of the moment as a result of his England displays, Erik Lamela may be a heck of a lot more expensive. Lennon, however, remains an accomplished winger who is working hard to remind his manager of his own value.
Chadli Warrants a Further Look
Nacer Chadli has had a frustrating start to his Tottenham career. Injuries robbed him of the chance to build on the four starts he had to begin the season.
Since then, he has had to contend with occasional cup outings and substitute appearances. When he has played, the Belgian has found it hard to get going and produce anything of note.
Chadli was not outstanding against Man United, but decent enough to suggest he was responding to the benefits of a second start in four days.
He got up and down the left wing well. Though never giving Chris Smalling too many problems, he used his skill and sense of space to work a couple of threatening crosses.
A willing outlet for his teammates on the flank, his hard work extended to defense, where he was solid. While Antonio Valencia caused Chadli and Jan Vertonghen problems down that side earlier on, the Belgium international duo stepped up their game to win enough of their own battles, too.
Hardly the prettiest of stuff for the left midfielder, but against a team like United, buying his team a few seconds to breathe with a clearance or a tackle is no small thing.
All in all, Chadli did enough to deserve—fitness and tiredness permitting—his place in the team for Wednesday's game with Fulham. With a run of games under his belt we might be able to see if he is the answer to improving Spurs out wide, or just an occasional option to call upon.
Rooney Is Deserving of the Praise Coming His Way Right Now
It is hardly the most revelatory statement to say Wayne Rooney is playing well right now. But on a weekend when Aaron Ramsey drew yet more plaudits in Arsenal's win over Cardiff City, Rooney emphasised his own case as one of the Premier League's in-form players right now.
Man United manager David Moyes and the club's supporters will be more pleased with the two goals he scored securing them a point—the first a goal-poacher's standard, the second a confidently struck penalty. Taking his United tally for the season to 10, the England striker has ensured that Robin van Persie's absence is not too keenly felt.
The England international has led by example outside of the penalty box, too. Against Tottenham he won a couple of tackles and interceptions that helped regain the impetus for his team.
The notion that Rooney should focus on attacking responsibilities alone overlooks how these contributions can inspire and genuinely help in other areas. United were tidy and proficient enough at White Hart Lane, but Rooney lifted them to a more competitive, sometimes dangerous level.
Perhaps it is too early to be talking about end-of-season accolades, but as for players who are going to define the 2013-14 campaign, it is clear already the resurgent Rooney is having his say.
Man United's Midfield Are Looking Good, but Not Quite Great
With a squad of Manchester United's depth and pedigree at his disposal, David Moyes is going to do his best to make the most of it.
The United manager made changes to the team that drew with Cardiff City last weekend, and so resoundingly beat Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League midweek. Two draws on tricky league trips and a win from an initially daunting European excursion would suggest they have worked okay.
And they have. But it could be argued the performances against Cardiff and Spurs were a little underwhelming too, especially in midfield. At least in terms of what United might need to compete with the big boys in the long-run.
Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones largely held their own against Dembele and Sandro. Jones was particularly robust, winning every ground and aerial duel he went in for (source: Squawka.com). Cleverley was almost turned inside-out by Sandro in the run that preceded his spectacular goal, but fared okay otherwise.
Going forward though, the best work was done by Rooney and Valencia, with Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck occasionally producing moments of quality too. Cleverley and Jones offered decent support, but rarely looked like joining in to overwhelm Spurs.
Considering Man United beat Arsenal—form-wise the Premier League's best midfield right now—quite comfortably, there is evidence to suggest what United's own are capable of.
Only a fool would write them off (and you could reasonably argue the defence are proving more problematic right now anyway). But in their failure to win either of their last two Premier League games, you do wonder if the level of this United midfield falls below that of their rivals too considerably.
Definitely a case of ask again later.
Villas-Boas' Team Worked for Him Here, but the Real Tests Come This Week
On a weekend when the Daily Telegraph's Jason Burt reported of the Tottenham hierarchy's plans to draw "up a list of potential replacements should they decide to sack Andre Villas-Boas as their head coach," Spurs' draw with Man United will give their manager some breathing space.
Spurs' failure to hold on to either of their leads could be held against them, but—without detracting from the pressure United applied in both situations—the manner of the goals were also rather unfortunate.
Villas-Boas could not have done much more tactically and strategically. The hard work and commitment his team showed—demonstrated in no finer moment than the first half heroic rearguard action featuring blocks from Michael Dawson and Sandro to keep United out—indicates that his side responded to his instructions and encouragements.
"They are a strong team. We played a direct and objective game, moved the ball well. What a response from the players'," the Portuguese told Spurs' official Twitter page post-match. "I'm extremely happy with the response from the players and congratulate them for a wonderful performance."
The greater test of the manager and the team will be in their ability to keep up this level of performance.
Both opponents are in desperate need of points and not to be underestimated. Fulham will be attempting to kick on following the sacking of Martin Jol, while another former Spurs coach Gus Poyet will be backed by a likely raucous Stadium of Light crowd.
With Spurs' level of ambition and the expectation that accompanies it right now, four points from these two games is the least that will be expected (and that is perhaps being kind).
A more positive outlook is that six points from those two games will be the perfect springboard for a season-strengthening run that takes in several fixtures over the Christmas and New Year's period.
Will Tottenham build on a good point versus Man United? Or was the prospect of facing the champions a brief point of motivation that is going to come undone against less prestigious opposition?
Luckily we only have three days to wait before we begin to find out.