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Tottenham Hotspur 1 Man Utd 1 | Tactical & Goal Analysis

Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United battled to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday in which Clint Dempsey deservedly scored the equaliser in stoppage time. Sinhaug tactically analyses the game for EPLIndex.com.


Tottenham had to tweak their standard 4-2-2-2 formation due to Adebayor’s trip to South Africa and the African Cup of Nations. Dempsey started in a more withdrawn role behind Defoe in a 4-2-3-1, while Caulker replaced Vertonghen in defence. Dempsey’s role remained closer to Adebayor than a link between the midfield and attack. Spurs’ main point of attack remained down the wings, or the advancement of the ever-excellent Dembele.

Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson sorted the lack in form/fitness of their main wide-men by fielding a 4-2-3-1 with make-shift wingers. While Welbeck and Cleverley have both played the role on a regular basis in the past, it was nonetheless a relatively surprising selection. Their initial roles were also quite different. Welbeck pushed much higher on Naughton, forcing him back. Cleverley, on the other hand, drifted more inside with an aim to link up with Kagawa and van Persie. Phil Jones started opposite Dembele, presumably with the intent to track his runs.

Manchester United Opener

An interesting tactical move by SAF in the first half was switching Welbeck and Cleverley. This became significant for two reasons: a) it pushed and isolated Welbeck high on Walker; and b) Cleverley tracked Naughton closely, prevented overlaps and crosses. The former contributed to the opener.

1 – Notice Bale’s position. He is above Rafael, returning from an attack. Dembele has shifted left to cover the left side and Parker has shifted to limit the distance between the two. As Jones receives the ball, notice how Kagawa is already looking at Carrick, who in turn is noting Welbeck’s position.

2 – Due to Dembele/Parker shifting left, Carrick has been left in acres of space to make the pass. With no DM in front, Dawson is stuck in no-man’s land, unsure if to drop or step. It forces Walker to follow van Persie who is exploiting the space behind Dawson, leaving Welbeck free to receive. Possibly most important, notice Naughton’s run. He sees Kagawa ahead of Caulker and van Persie ahead of Dawson, and tracks back to cover centrally. Parker becomes the widest man.

3 – With Dawson and Caulker back in position, Naughton attempts to return to his position. Neither Parker nor Dembele, however, have covered for him. This ultimately becomes costly as Cleverley is left in enough space to pick out van Persie for the opener.

Tottenham Relentless Pressure

While Bale was kept mostly quiet on the left by a combination of Jones, Cleverley and (most importantly) Rafael, the space allotted for Lennon became significant. With Welbeck pushed high on Walker, and Carrick not the most mobile to shift across, Lennon would find himself in a lot of space with which to build attacks against Evra. This is illustrated below through his chance creation.

The introduction of Benoit Assou-Ekotto was probably the most significant substitution of the match. With Bale double-teamed and Naughton showed outside on his weaker left foot, Tottenham put in limited crosses from the left from open play until BAE arrived. It was ultimately his cross that led to the equalizer.


As seen above, Manchester United’s problem in the second half was they constantly invited for more pressure. For example, the tight-marking on Bale eventually lead to several free kicks in the last quarter of the game. They were all swung into approximately the same area, towards the far corner of the six yard box. They dealt with the initial ball admirably, but struggled in the next phase of the game; the second ball. Specifically, the area between the edge of the six and the corner of the eighteen yard box.

This screenshot is just before the equalizer. Notice Welbeck’s (RW at the time) positioning. Evra goes into the duel with Vidic, Caulker, and de Gea, while Welbeck remains on the edge of the area. The space left behind gives Lennon enough time to pick out either Dawson (circled) or Dempsey (not circled).

This was actually a persisting problem throughout the match. Spurs would consistently pick up the second ball before it even left the area, forcing United to fend off even more pressure. It is unclear if this was due to Welbeck’s lack of defensive awareness or Evra’s insistency to jump for the same balls as Vidic, but this space was always exposed.  In order to best illustrate my point, I created an album of instances where this space was left exposed, in chronological order.

Link: Tottenham vs. Manchester United – Back-post Space – Album

When the goal arrived, it was no shock it was as a result of a lose ball at the back post.

Tactical Talking Points

–          Dempsey’s role is still unclear. He is not quite a striker, nor a creative link-up player. Physically, he is better suited either further forward or on the wings, where he can arrive to challenge at the back post. It is possible a Gylfi Siguardsson could be a preferred option away from home during Adebayor’s absence.

–          Will SAF continue with Welbeck/Cleverley as wingers? Each gives a completely different type of style to the position, and both are adept at playing either side (unlike Valencia). This can be particularly useful for in-game tactical tweaks.

–          How good will Spurs be with Holtby? Scarily good. He is the perfect player on which to center another avenue of attack.

Just a regular Norwegian guy who used to work for Opta.
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