Film Focus: Breaking Down Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 Draw with Manchester United

Dan TalintyreSenior Analyst IIMarch 18, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Aaron Lennon of Tottenham Hotspur marshalls Tom Cleverley of Manchester United  during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Fresh off a 6-0 drubbing from Manchester City last week, Tottenham Hotspur were noticeably better as they drew 2-2 against Manchester United at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham scored two sensational individual goals through Kyle Walker and Sandro—the latter of which will certainly come into contention for Goal of the Season—but were undone by two defensive mistakes from Walker and Hugo Lloris that allowed Wayne Rooney to grab a brace and a point for the Red Devils.

Still, given what happened last week, it was a huge improvement by Spurs.

Neither manager will have come into this one wanting a draw, but it's hard to see either Andre Villas-Boas or David Moyes too upset with a point. This fixture was tough for both clubs and with several chances left on the pitch by both teams, the two managers will feel somewhat lucky to have gotten a point at all.

Let's break down the film and see just how the draw played out and see if we can pick up anything worth noting for the remainder of the season ahead.


Manchester United's Pressing Pays Off...

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United and Vlad Chiriches of Tottenham Hotspur battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on December
Michael Regan/Getty Images

One of the biggest improvements from United since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson has been the pressure they've started to apply in defense—particularly from their midfield. The Red Devils aren't quite at the standard of, say, Borussia Dortmund or FC Barcelona in this regard, but they've continued to show great strength moving in lines through the middle of the field and forcing turnovers as a result.

What's perhaps even more noteworthy is that they've continued to do it with Michael Carrick out injured.

After seeing City hand Tottenham a lesson in how to run a clinical attack last week, it was clear that the Red Devils were going to press Spurs a great deal here.

And that almost produced the first goal of the game.

Photo via BT Sport

After 15 minutes, Tottenham looked to play the ball out of the back through Vlad Chiriches, which is when Rooney started to press heavily and quickly on the centre-back from his free-running role in the middle of the field. The England international was able to isolate the summer signing and win possession, but as we can see below, the real key was the presence of mind of the players behind Rooney.

Photo via BT Sport

Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia were all quick to get in front of their respective man and thus control the space around them.

This limited Chiriches' options to play the ball out and forced the turnover.

Photo via BT Sport

It also meant that, as Valencia flew down the right wing and into a position where he could cross the ball from inside the 18-yard box, Manchester United had several attacking options free. They had four men essentially unmarked in the box once Michael Dawson went out to try and shut down the shot, with four Spurs' defenders still to arrive inside the 18-yard-box.

In this instance, the Londoners were incredibly fortunate that Dawson's block did pay off and that after Sandro also blocked Rooney's attempt, they were able to get enough men back and see off the attack.

They wouldn't be so fortunate, however, less than 20 minutes later.

Photo via BT Sport

Leading 1-0 after Walker's free-kick, Spurs again found themselves under pressure at the back as Nacer Chadli and Moussa Dembele tried to play the ball out.

What the winger didn't see, though, was the pressure United were applying.

Photo via BT Sport

Four players had started to circle on Dembele and thus isolate the midfielder from any possible outlet pass, with Welbeck and Jones instantly pressing in on him once the pass was sent to him from Chadli. Smalling also got involved to cut off the return pass and this quick pressure from the Red Devils was enough to win the ball back and start a raid down the right wing.

Jones would whip in a deceptive cross into the box, Dawson and Walker would confuse each other with their attempted clearance and Rooney would do the rest.

This time, their pressing paid off in the ultimate way.


... but Not in Every Instance

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur passes the ball under pressure from Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on
Michael Regan/Getty Images

However, such pressing from the middle of the field didn't always pay off from United. At times, their willingness to win the ball back was a positive factor and one that helped them in attack; other times it simply gave Spurs attacking opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have had.

Much has been made of Sandro's wonder goal to give Tottenham the lead in the second half, but the biggest key for me is how Cleverley plays the situation.

As the midfielder receives the ball in-field from the left wing, Cleverley is essentially isolated in a one-on-one situation. His double-pivot partner in Jones is nowhere near the ball and Shinji Kagawa can't really come in and help him, given that he has to watch his wing.

Photo via BT Sport

Normally, what you'd see a defense try to do here is hold their shape—meaning that Cleverley would simply look to stay goal-side and not let Sandro run at him.

Instead the midfielder opts to press and try and win the ball back.

Photo via BT Sport

Without any support, though, this gives Tottenham a chance. Sandro turns sharply, catches out Cleverley and is suddenly able to run directly at the United defense. Given that the home team have two attackers in deep positions, United's centre-backs haven't been able to press up with Cleverley, and that has created the most important thing on a football field for any attack.

Space between the lines.

Sandro's run is able to dissect United's double-pivot of Jones and Cleverley (and stop Rooney and Kagawa from getting involved) and sets him through on goal.

He opts to cut back again—showing up Cleverley once more—which perhaps makes the goal-scoring chances tougher than it needs to be, but as we've seen in the replays, he makes up for that with a spectacular driving effort that leaves David De Gea rooted to the spot.

Yet without trying to take anything away from what is clearly one of the best individual goals we've seen this season, it could have well been avoided by United.

Cleverley simply failed to realise the situation and the need for patience instead of pressing. He opted for the latter, which created space in between the lines and a goal-scoring opportunity for his opponent.

If United are going to establish any real presence in the middle of the field this year, they've got to be better in terms of their discipline and organisation. Whoever is played in the double-pivot can't get dragged too far away from their partner in the role, and they must also be in good understanding with the back four as to when they can press and when they need to hold.

Tottenham showed a great example of how to do this just moments before the goal.

Photo via BT Sport

Cleverley received the ball in a good attacking position, but Tottenham refused to be drawn out of their defensive shape. Both wingers tucked in tight to the back four to make essentially a back six; Dembele and Sandro held their shape together in the double-pivot.

And in the end, the attacking chance petered out for United.

The Red Devils were simply too keen to try and force something that wasn't there when it was their turn to defend and were exposed by Sandro's brilliance as a result.


The Difference Lies in the Counter-Attack

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Roberto Soldado of Tottenham Hotspur kicks the advertising board in frustration during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on December 1, 2013 in London, Engl
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Summer signing Roberto Soldado hasn't exactly set the Premier League on fire since his arrival at White Hart Lane and while the reasons for that are varied, it's something that's starting to hurt the Londoners.

If he had been more composed in this one, he could well have won the game.

With the score at 1-0 to the home team, Soldado found himself with a wonderful goal-scoring opportunity after being played through the defense by Paulinho.

Photo via BT Sport

Cleverley and Jonny Evans looked to track back in the middle of the field as Nemanja Vidic marked Paulinho, but neither central man communicated with the other. Evans was caught ball-watching and Cleverley was caught running away from the man—putting Soldado through.

De Gea was unable to get to the perfectly waited pass and really, given the transfer fee attached to him this summer, Soldado should have buried the chance and put Spurs in the box seat: up 2-0 at home against a Manchester United team without Robin van Persie.

Instead, he blazed over the bar to give United a lifeline.

The contrast to when United had a similar chance—down 2-1—was clear.

Rooney isolated Sandro after running down the left wing and played a sublime ball through the line to catch out Dawson and Chiriches, who had come back in cover to pick up the run of Welbeck.

The difference here was that while the two central defenders here were on the same page in terms of who was taking the man and who was taking the space, they weren't on the same page in terms of how high a defensive line they were going to play.

Dawson pushed just a touch high and that allowed enough space for Welbeck to run in behind. Rooney picked him out with a sublime pass and won a penalty.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores their second goal from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on December 1, 2013 in London, Engl
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It was simply another example of clinical attacking from United and of all the things that Tottenham have to work on at the moment, that is the biggest of them all.

They are good at winning possession and moving the ball forward through Dembele, Paulinho and Sandro. Maybe they're not quite as prolific at that with Christian Eriksen out injured, but it still remains a part of their game that they are, technically, very sound in.

What they don't do well is the next step after that.

Their final pass into Soldado or an overlapping winger is often not good enough. When it is good enough, it's then often met by a sub-standard cross or finish.

Tottenham simply have to improve when entering, and finishing, inside the attacking third if they're going to make any run at the Premier League top four this season.

This match was simply another testimony to that fact.


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