What an incredible match we witnessed this weekend. Tottenham Hotspur earned their first win at Manchester United since 1989. The Red Devils dominate the match in terms of possession, but it was Tottenham that dominated the scoreline. Spurs took the lead in the second minute and never trailed after that. The first half was an excellent display of high pressure, fast pace attacking football from Tottenham. In the second half we saw plenty pretty much exactly the opposite.
Earlier in the week Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas had said he planned on going into Old Trafford. Many in the press, and a few on this site, derided this decision, saying that attacking football wasn't the way to get points against United. It seems that those critics were wrong. Tottenham's early play was enough to give them a two goal cushion and their second half defensive display was just good enough to give them the victory.
Right away you can see just how much deeper Tottenham Hotspur are sitting in comparison to previous weeks. William Gallas spent much of the game near his own penalty area. The other thing that stands out is that during the course of this game Tottenham's shape looked very much like a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 we've seen in previous weeks. Clint Dempsey was dropping deep to pick up the ball, something we hadn't seen from Gylfi Sigurdsson earlier in the season.
For Manchester United, they spent most of the match in the Tottenham half of the pitch and thus their team is pushed up much higher. The middle of the pitch was very crowded for United as all four of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Shinji Kagawa, and Ryan Giggs were trying to take possession in the middle of the pitch. Gigg's efforts there were essentially ineffective and he seemed to be a poor choice for the starting XI.
Please take a minute to run your mouse over Scholes. Look at his passing numbers.The ageless wonder had 136 completed passes, including 27 accurate long balls. Those sorts of numbers are absolutely crazy. Scholes had an amazing game. His passes were inch perfect all match long. That sort of cutting passing is the sort of thing most teams lack. However, United's decision to partner Scholes with Carrick, especially in the first half, put the Red Devils at a disadvantage against Tottenham's pressure. In the second half, when Spurs backed off, the two Englishmen were able to flourish.
Here you can see just how dominant United were in the second half. For much of the first half the two sides were fairly even in terms of pass completion. However, as represented by the thicker line, United had more possession during those stretches. The second half really shows the disparity between the two clubs. At their lowest points of the match Tottenham completed one out of five passes in 5 minute stretch.
There were lots of things that didn't go right for Tottenham Hotspur, but one thing specifically that I noticed throughout the match and that the stats seem to back up is just how poor Tottenham was at clearing their lines. In terms of the primarily defensive players their effective clearance rates were as follows: Kyle Walker 5/7, Gallas 11/17, Jan Vertonghen 5/14, Steven Caulker 7/16, and Sandro 1/6. In addition, Brad Friedel completed only 2 of 15 long balls. These numbers can be attribute to a lot of things. Not having a target striker to hold the ball up would be one; as would having only one man forward to aim clearances at. Friedel's passing numbers, however, are almost inexcusable. Many of these passes were goal kicks and the inability of Tottenham to complete these and relieve some pressure from their back-line only served to make the second half more stressful.
One other player that I want to signal out for some criticism is Kyle Walker. When you look at his statistics you would think that the young right back had a pretty good game. Walker completed 80% of his passes, won four tackles, and two aerial duels. However, Walker was clearly at fault for Shinji Kagawa's goal. Walker failed to pick up the Japanese midfielder as he drifted into the area and as a result Kagawa was able to receive the ball in space, take a touch away from Walker and finish. Additionally, later in the match Walker failed to get close to Kagawa and, I believe, Robin van Persie on set pieces and allowed them both decent looks at goal which were fortunately not converted.
Walker's poor defending has been especially evident this season. It's odd because it has seemed like he has had less to do on offense this year because Aaron Lennon has played much better this season. However, Villas-Boas often expects quite a bit from his defenders and while, on the left, Jan Vertonghen and Benoit Assou-Ekotto seem to be able to balance their attacking and defensive duties Walker seems to forget that he is required to defend. We've only seen Kyle Naughton play two matches for Spurs, but I'm willing to start him, when healthy, over Walker. I wouldn't even object to playing Younes Kaboul, when healthy, on the right. I honestly don't want to see Walker play for a few weeks, but I know that's not going to happen.
The rest of the defense, poor clearance numbers aside, played an excellent match. William Gallas played on of his best matches in a Tottenham shirt and I don't think we've seen Sandro in BEASTMODE like that since the AC Milan match in the Champions League. Sandro had seven tackles and four interceptions and did an impeccable job of breaking up play in front of the Tottenham defense. I'd also like to take a second and praise Jermain Defoe. In the first half, instead of running at defenders and playing selfishly, Defoe held up play and made passes when he needed to. This was just the sort of effort Tottenham needed from Defoe in this match.
The good things that came out of this match is that, for one half Tottenham executed their game plan to perfection.The high pressure and the speed at which Tottenham Hotspur attacked in the first half were things that an aging United side could not counter. Take a look at how Rio Ferdinand never even gets close to closing down Gareth Bale. The argument could be made that Rio's trying to prevent Bale from cutting back onto his left foot, but that's some pretty shoddy defending, matched only by his poor defense on Tottenham's opener from Vertonghen.
I'm not sure why so far this season Tottenham have been unable to execute for two halves. Obviously, United are an excellent team and being able to press them, like Spurs did in the first half, for an entire match at Old Trafford is nearly impossible, but the total turn of events from the first to the second half is almost laughable. I don't know about the rest of you, but I cannot handle too many more matches like that. Fortunately, not too many teams have players like Manchester United do.