David De Gea has been absolutely hammered during his short Manchester United career but demonstrated why he, and the rest of the Manchester United team which swept Spurs aside tonight, are a cut above the rest of the Premier League.
Spurs came to Old Trafford with more than a few respected observers expecting them to trouble the champions, but goals from Danny Welbeck, Anderson and Wayne Rooney were enough to see United home after a stop-start first half.
Welbeck struggled all night, but caught fire once he found the net and is unlikely to be dropped in the near future as Sir Alex Ferguson sees a lot in his partnership with Rooney.
What eventually brought Manchester United joy was their greater efficiency with the football than Spurs. That started from the back, and was matched all over the park. David De Gea was almost three times as accurate with the ball at feet than Spurs custodian Brad Friedel. In fact, Friedel only managed to pick out a team mate three times all game, whilst De Gea made 17 passes at a completion rate of 59% which, bearing in mind that takes into account long clearances also, is remarkable for a goalkeeper.
When your lone striker is Jermain Defoe, you don’t want to be tossing long balls up from your goalkeeper to your front line. If you do that, you’ll get terrible pass completion stats from your goalkeeper. That’s exactly what happened, with Jones, Evans and Smalling greedily gobbling up everything thrown at them.
When we look a little closer at the pass completion stats, we can see the other key difference between the two teams – consistency.
Manchester United’s outfield players were remarkably comfortable on the ball, with Evra, Evans and Welbeck all completing more than 90% of their passes. The only player dropping below 80% completion was Wayne Rooney which, given the type of penetrating balls he likes to play, isn’t that much of a surprise. 85% of passes made by Manchester United’s outfield players found a team-mate, which is almost Barcelona-esque in its precision.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of negative differences that are obvious when we look at the same set of Spurs’ stats.
Firstly, the team average hovers just below 80% rather than well above it. Although Brad Friedel’s woeful ability with the ball at his feet contributes, even excluding him doesn’t push Spurs over 80%, their starting XI completing 79% of their passes.
There is also far less consistency across the team. Whilst Lennon and Livermore didn’t give the ball away much, neither bettered the 90% mark. Defoe, Walker and Assou-Ekotto will be unhappy to have achieved low 70s, but Gareth Bale, so dangerous this time last year, could only manage to complete 63% of his passes. With play so likely to break down in one area of the pitch, it’s no surprise that Spurs struggled to create anything of note.
United want nothing more than to overhaul Barcelona as kings of Europe. It’s going to take an awful lot of doing but, at this rate at least, they have as good a chance this year as any.