Manchester United find the perfect balance between defence and attack
United 3-0 Tottenham: Analysis and Observations
It is still early days but the manner in which Manchester United conducted themselves in their first home game was most encouraging. And such a result against a team thought to be the ‘dark horses’ of the Premier League this season gives all the more reasons to be optimistic. Tottenham’s resilience was apparent in the first half where they mounted a good challenge, seeing more of the ball and creating chances but all their hard work was undone in the second where they collapsed meekly and let United take charge.
It was an authoritative performance from the hosts after the interval and, indeed, United found the perfect balance between defence and attack. This was all done despite the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic, Fletcher, Carrick, Berbatov and Hernandez either on the bench or absent through injury. Manchester United have always been blessed with great strength in-depth, able to sweep aside opposition regardless of who is and isn’t playing.
Defence copes well under pressure
A lot was made about Manchester United’s apparent inexperience at the back but as any observer of the clubs knows, ‘inexperience’ doesn’t exactly have to be a negative word. The two centre-halves, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, were both strong contender for Man of the Match. Evans was disciplined and assured allowing Jones to be in his comfort zone and venture forward when needed. Both Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra were solid and provided another attacking outlet down the flanks.
<Figure 1> This was a fine performance by Evans. It was, to use the annoying football phrase, a ‘no-nonsense’ performance from the Northern Ireland international. The above diagram shows his defensive clearances – four of which were in dangerous positions in and around the box.
<Figure 2> There are many reasons to be excited about Phil Jones. If you take a look at the key below, you can just see how useful a player he is. He made plenty of interceptions and clearances; and had freedom to press into spaces – restricting Spurs to use long-range efforts in order to find a goal.
Spurs failure to exploit United’s so-called ‘weakness’
<Figure 3> A lot has been of David de Gea’s apparent weakness from long-range shots; indeed, he conceded more than any other player from efforts outside the box in last year’s La Liga but a quick look at the goals suggest that some were unstoppable and that it’d be unfair to call it a weakness of his. However, it was quite obvious that Spurs had tried to target him, with a majority of their shots coming from outside the box. It should be added that this was also partly the case because United’s back four had restricted Spurs.
Cleverley and Anderson give stability to midfield
For the third consecutive game, United’s new look central midfield pairing were excellent. At first, they struggled to impose themselves but soon got into the groove – it was Tom Cleverley with the vital cross for Danny Welbeck that finally broke the deadlock. With Anderson (who scored the second) alongside Cleverley, it gave stability to the midfield and the team. There is a perfect balance between the two.
<Figure 4> Anderson carried out his defensive duties well. It is vital for a midfield player to stay disciplined and prevent the opposition from creating, and so Anderson’s six interceptions were crucial. That sounds more impressive when you consider Tom Cleverley didn’t even make one – but what it tells you is that both have different roles despite playing in a similar position.
United utilise the wings so well
“You’re just a shit Barcelona,” observed the travelling Spurs fans of Manchester United whose chants, albeit witty, were ultimately flawed. It’s probably not worth dwelling on such a comment but United, as it were, are almost something of an ‘anti-Barca’ – however, that isn’t a criticism. There are many ways a team could play in order to be successful and, in this game, they displayed great verve down the flanks, with a tendency to spread play quickly and without as much focus on possession keeping. For instance, even at 2-0 up, it wasn’t a case of simply keeping the ball and building patiently – it was more attacking the full backs and finding the man in the box. Not to say Barcelona don’t necessarily do that but as so much has been made at the fact that United “don’t have a central midfield”, it is worth saying that different teams work in different ways and players are given roles according to how their team is set up. There is no ‘right way’ to play the game, for sure.
And not many teams concentrate so much on their wide players like United do – it’s worth mentioning that by the time they scored their third, they had already attempted over 30 crosses. Ashley Young, or “a shit Aaron Lennon” as a couple of intellectuals chose to describe him as, looked dangerous on the flanks and already he looks a shrewd acquisition. Nani is very similar; but now, he tends to drift into the centre a touch and link up play and so far, he’s done it with much success.
<Figure 5> The chalkboard above looks a touch concerning but it does suggest United’s reliance from the wide ball. They scored 18 headed goals last season – more than any other team – and that’s partly to do with their perseverance to find the man in the box. In reality, 6 successful crosses from 33 is not as bad as it sounds when you consider that two of those were assists.
Wayne Rooney can compliment anyone
When Wayne Rooney drops into that almost-trequartista position, his impact on the game is likely to be huge. He appears to have created a good understanding with Danny Welbeck, who came in and out of the game but was finally able to impose himself in the second half when he scored the first and created the second. Rooney was impressive again – he attempted the most passes in the final third (38, 13 more than second-best Nani) and was in the right position to nod in the third towards the end.
The Report Card. United players are graded as if they’re back at school; David De Gea C – Chris Smalling B, Phil Jones A, Jonny Evans A, Patrice Evra C – Nani C, Tom Cleverley B, Anderson B+, Ashley Young B – Wayne Rooney A, Danny Welbeck B