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Spurs vs Man Utd | Contributing factors | Opta Stats

Title contenders may have blips, also-rans suffer bad form… If Tottenham are to seriously consider themselves as title contenders they need to consign the 5-2 defeat at Arsenal to history and get something out of the match against Manchester United – turn that result into a blip and not part of a run of bad form.

Last season Spurs held the Champions to a 0-0 draw at home, and were defeated 2-0 at Old Trafford. This season, Spurs suffered a 3-0 defeat in their first league game of the season away to Manchester United. Can Spurs hold on for a point, and will that be enough to fulfil their ambitions? It’s generally thought that most talk of a title challenge for Spurs should be shoved firmly in the out-tray labelled “Mind-games/Banter/Braggadocio/Misc” but Spurs will be very disappointed if Champions League qualification isn’t secured for next season, especially in the light of the expected departure of boss Harry Redknapp for the England job.

In the 3-0 win at the start of Spurs’ season, the goals were scored by Welbeck, Anderson and Rooney. Worryingly for Spurs, Anderson is expected to be fit for 4th March, and United are also waiting on fitness tests for Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley.  (Latest indications are that Rooney and Anderson will be fit, Cleverley and Valencia will not) Welbeck scored and assisted another in the 3-0 win, but he’s not been in the best of touch recently, and certainly struggled in the England international up front on his own. Write Welbeck off at your peril however, he was man of the match back in August and his unconventional style is difficult to play against. Rooney is expected to play after a throat infection-enforced absence, and will be champing at the bit for this game.

Rooney plays like a frustrated 5-a-side player. Whilst ostensibly playing up front, he often finds himself more involved in the game than several of the midfielders, let alone other attackers. Dropping deep to pick the ball up and spreading it to create attacks that he would hope to get on the end of, Spurs currently lack this type of player. Van der Vaart occupies a similar area of the pitch to Rooney, but is not the same type of player.

By comparing the two players statistics for passing in the opposition half, and the final third of the pitch, it is clear to see that Rooney gets a lot more of the ball than his counterpart, and was able to have more of an influence on the game. Home advantage will be with spurs this time around though, and the onus will be on them to control possession. If you think the comparison is unfair – for putting a striker up against a midfielder, remember that a midfielder should be hitting more passes than an attacker, and consider that Van der Vaart had 9 shots that game compared to Rooney’s 6, and one more on target – although crucially, no goals compared to Rooney’s single.

Possession and creativity comparison

So, as shown in the table, Wayne Rooney get on the ball far more than Van der Vaart, makes more probing passes at the business endo f the pitch, and created twice as many chances in the last league fixture between the two teams. It may not be the most insightful of claims, nor the best kept secret in football, but Rooney runs the show and Redknapp will have to find a way of limiting Rooney’s influence.

Tom Nash
Tom Nash
"I never predict anything, and I never will" Paul Gascoigne
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