Manchester United came from behind twice courtesy of strikes from Wayne Rooney, to earn the champions a vital point at White Hart Lane.
David Moyes made three changes to the side that comfortably defeated Bayer Leverkusen in midweek. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley were introduced in midfield, alongside Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia. Also, Nemanja Vidic made his return to the starting line up, forming a centre back duo with Jonny Evans.
Andre Villas-Boas also made three changes to his starting eleven after last week’s embarrassing defeat to Manchester City. Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli slotted into midfield – which pushed Paulinho behind Roberto Soldado – while Vlad Chiriches played at centre back alongside Michael Dawson.
This was a tight affair that was decided by individual mistakes – Spurs went ahead twice, but failure to increase their lead, and individual defensive mistakes allowed United back into the match.
A main feat that contributed to the minimal chances created was the shape both sides dropped into when the opposition was in position.
Shockingly, Spurs’ defence sat deeper than usual with the midfield sitting off in front of the back four, which allowed Jones and Cleverley time on the ball. Villas-Boas’ men were content with the duo sustaining possession, and there was no surprise that the Cleverley and Jones completed the most passes in the match.
Soldado nor Paulinho applied much pressure on the United defenders either – Evans, Chris Smalling and Vidic completed the most passes after the duo – as it was an incentive for United to push forward, and Spurs to hit them on the counter. At times, Paulinho did work hard to close down United defenders, but there was always a spare outlet available.
Lennon and Chadli tracked back into deeper positions admirably, while Sandro and Dembele worked hard to limit activity in the final third.
On the other hand, United stuck to their defensive principle under Moyes, and prevented Spurs from playing out of the back. Valencia and Welbeck pressed the Spurs full backs when they received the ball, while Jones and Cleverley picked up Dembele and Sandro. Spurs were forced to play long balls into the channels for Soldado and Paulinho to chase, and their best opportunities were often created on the break.
In the 14th minute, United were nearly awarded for their work ethic out of possession, as Rooney forced Chiriches to concede possession and he played a pass to the advancing Valencia. Dawson blocked the Ecuadorian’s initial cross, but he cut the ball back to Rooney, who also had his attempt blocked by Sandro.
United dominated the possession statistics due to Spurs’ approach – who chose not to press Moyes’ men – but when Villas-Boas’ men did move forward as a cohesive unit, the tempo was often slow and they lacked creativity.
Similarly, there was a distinct feat in the set up of both sides, as they both enjoyed more freedom down the right flank.
Valencia was an influential figure in the match using his pace and strength to get the better of makeshift left back Vertonghen.
This forced Chiriches to often come across to limit his threat in the final third, while Chadli sat deeper – more so in the second half – to prevent the Ecuadorian from isolating Vertonghen and Smalling from getting forward.
Likewise, the role Evra has developed under Moyes has left him vulnerable against sides that possess pacy, direct wingers. Lennon’s movement dragged Evra out of position, and the United left back was unable to cope with his pace. Also, Welbeck and Kagawa’s inclusion on the left flank ensured that Evra was vulnerable. Considering majority of Spurs’ attacks were on the counter, United’s left attacker was often caught out in a central position – specifically so Evra could push forward – and this allowed Walker to surge forward.
- 27th min: Sandro wins a loose header that Lennon keeps in play, and the Spurs winger drove forward, holding off Welbeck and Evra, and plays a ball to an advancing Walker. Walker’s cross goes to the far post, but Chadli didn’t make a run at the far post.
- 30th min: Soldado freely receives the ball, turns and finds Lennon making a diagonal run into the box. The Spurs winger beats Evra for pace, fires a shot at De Gea, and then squares the rebound across the six-yard box, but it’s a few yards ahead of the unmarked Paulinho.
- 78th min: Jermain Defoe plays Walker in free on the counter, and Evans allows him to drive forward and play a sensational ball to Andros Townsend, but the substitute was unable to direct the ball on net.
Valencia was a significant threat in United’s attack, but the threat of Lennon and Walker pushed Spurs into dangerous positions – this will be explained below.
In the 17th minute Paulinho received a ball around the 18-yard box – as Jones allowed Sandro’s nod back to bounce behind him – and the Brazilian was fouled at the edge of the box by Evans, thus leading to a Spurs free kick. Walker scored from a free kick, but the main issue in this situation was the wall in front of De Gea.
The free kick was positioned approximately 20-yards away from goal, and considering Walker is known to go for power opposed to precision, it was peculiar to see the United wall jump. The likeliness of Walker getting/opting to place the ball over the wall and beat De Gea was slim, and there was no need for the United wall to jump.
One of the main talking points heading into this fixture was the utilization of Soldado in Villas-Boas’ attack. The Spurs striker hasn’t enjoyed a great start in the Premier League, as he’s often been an isolated figure up top.
Here, Villas-Boas played Paulinho in an advanced role – Lewis Holtby hasn’t prospered behind the Spaniard, and Christian Eriksen is injured. Not only did the inclusion of the Brazilian allow Spurs to play Dembele and Sandro, but it also gave Paulinho freedom to make runs into the box.
In the 28th minute, both men displayed what they offer to the Spurs attack. Paulinho played a ball to Soldado on the break and he did well to lay it for the Brazilian, who drove forward and played a well-weighed ball to the Spaniard, but he skied his shot over the net.
To an extent, Soldado’s poor scoring form can be down to the lack of chances created from the Spurs midfield – however, this wasn’t the case against United.
- 5th min: Sandro plays a good ball to Lennon, and his first touch evades Evra, forcing the United fullback to foul him. Paulinho picked up the loose ball and played it out wide to Walker, who ran behind Evra, but Soldado was indecisive with his movement, and the Spurs right back let the ball out for a goal-kick.
- 38th min: Dembele completed a powerful run from deep in his half and picked out Chadli, who played a nice ball behind Evra for Lennon, but Soldado nor Paulinho make a run to meet Lennon’s cross.
The decision to play Paulinho behind Soldado was to get a player close to the Spaniard, in hope that he would be more involved in the attack. While Villas-Boas did succeed in that aspect, Soldado’s movement in the final third was poor, and apart from his wild shot over the goal, he didn’t come close to testing De Gea.
United going forward
While United sustained majority of the possession for large portions of the match, they struggled to break down Tottenham’s back line. Initially Rooney and Kagawa didn’t have an impact around the edge of the box, so they dropped deeper into central areas, to help United push forward as a unit.
Equally, this didn’t improve United’s attack. Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney were dropping into the same area, leaving the Spurs centrebacks fairly comfortable at the back. Moyes’ men didn’t offer an attacking thrust in the final third – Rooney was starved of service, Kagawa didn’t stamp his authority on the match and United failed to create one legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half.
Towards the end of the first half Moyes decided to play Kagawa on the left, and push Welbeck ahead of Rooney. This was a logical move because United lacked proper service in the final third, and a physical presence to compete with Dawson and Chiriches.
The move gave Rooney more freedom to express himself, and United were now more threatening in possession. Also, Welbeck was now a danger man because of the strength he possesses to hold up the ball, his pace to attack space behind the Spurs backline and he was still able to drift around the final third to help United sustain possession. Ultimately, Welbeck’s pace did pose problems against Spurs’ backline, and in the 68th minute, he nearly punished Villas-Boas’ men.
Welbeck received a simple ball over the top in the left channel, and he beat Dawson for pace at the byline, but his cross didn’t meet Rooney, who was closely watched by Dembele. Moyes’ alterations increased United’s attacking impetus, as there was a gradual improvement in the final third – Welbeck was now an attacking threat opposed to a defensive liability, Rooney vastly transformed from a peripheral figure to United’s most important player, and Kagawa limited Walker’s freedom down the right.
The most eventful moments of the match took place in the 54th minute when Sandro received the ball in midfield, drove forward, turning Cleverley in and out, before firing an unstoppable shot past De Gea.
Surprisingly, it took United two minutes to equalize.
Walker gambled and flew into a 50/50 challenge with Vidic in United’s third, and came up short. Rooney picked up the loose ball and drove towards Tottenham’s half. With Lennon and Walker out of position, Sandro was forced to drift over to close down the United striker.
Had Walker been disciplined, he’d be marking Rooney, and Sandro would be in a position to cut off Rooney’s reverse ball to Welbeck. However, Spurs were lacking numbers on the break, and Rooney provided Welbeck with a magnificent ball behind the Spurs backline. The Englishman took the ball in stride, and was tripped by Hugo Lloris.
Subsequently, Rooney converted a spot kick down the middle to level the score line, as United pounced on another defensive miscue from Walker.
Neither side was content with a draw, as it would increase Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table to double digits.
Villas-Boas replaced Lennon with Andros Townsend and Defoe for Soldado. Townsend added another element to Tottenham’s attack with his powerful running from deep areas. Unfortunately for Spurs supporters his crosses were comfortably dealt with, and he was unable to meet Walker’s ball in the 78th minute.
Defoe’s impact on the match was minimal, apart from a Vidic foul near the edge of the box in the 88th minute. Defoe’s mobility was an improvement to Soldado’s, but his decision-making and lack of service in the final third hindered his chances of winning the match.
Moyes’ changes were also straight swaps, as Javier Hernandez replaced Welbeck to no effect, while Nani and Ashley Young were introduced in the final minutes of the match, but there wasn’t enough time for the duo to have a significant impact.
Spurs created the better chances throughout the match, but two defensive miscues – solely from Walker – gave Rooney the platform to earn United a crucial away point.
Spurs will feel that they deserved maximum points, but the home side never looked comfortable when they took the lead. Their cautious approach limited United’s attacking threat, and their natural shape without the ball was a massive improvement from a defensive perspective. Spurs still need to address issues going forward, but Villas-Boas appreciated the overall response from his men.
“We are extremely happy with the performance but not so much the result, because a win would have taken us above them, but it’s a good response, not a bad result,” said Villas-Boas.
Once again glimpses of Rooney’s brilliance guided United to a positive result – Moyes’ men were mediocre on the day, and will need to improve as Rooney’s magic may not be enough to earn a result against Everton, Wednesday night.