Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd: Spurs’ new-look midfield shines, United’s problems on the road continue


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Spurs and Manchester United played out a frenetic game in the Premier League on Saturday evening, with the home side winning 2-0.

The first half was goalless but not without action. United missed three good chances, including a completely free header for Bruno Fernandes, while Pedro Porro hit the frame of the goal for Spurs.

But if Erik ten Hag’s team shaded the first half, Ange Postecoglou’s side dominated the second, scoring twice and underlining the fact that this is very much a new era at Tottenham Hotspur.

Here, our writers break down the key moments of the match…

A first half that displayed the risk element of Postecoglou’s high-risk football

“The Spurs way is back” the stadium announcer roared no more than 30 seconds before kick off. Had United taken their first chance of the game after two minutes, wry observers in the stands may have agreed with the bold proclamation.

This is a new era and despite more than a few scary moments in the first half, it’s one the Spurs supporters are extremely willing to embrace having endured a truly miserable 2022-23 and three successive managers who preferred pragmatic, often safety-first football.

The atmosphere before the match, despite the sale of club record goalscorer Harry Kane just a few days ago, was terrific. Ange Postecoglou has changed the whole dynamic of the place.

But with enthusiasm for attacking football may have to come patience for Spurs to get it right. On a number of occasions they either overplayed or ran into trouble (Pedro Porro was often the guilty party) during what was a first half dominated by United.

It was high risk, but with little reward other than a couple of opportunities on the counter (Porro almost scored a beauty but hit the post). And with United plugging the midfield gaps they had left exposed against Wolves, it was an opening 45 minutes that showed that this team will be a work in progress for some time yet.

Andre Onana is United’s next great playmaker

A little past the twenty-minute mark, Andre Onana pushed up close to the halfway line to help United maintain pressure on a Spurs side trying to break.

Stood in an area where you’d usually expect Aaron Wan-Bissaka to be, he seized upon a loose ball and pinged a 60 yard diagonal pass into the grateful feet of Alejandro Garnacho on the left. Garnacho would drive into the box, before his square ball to Antony was cut out.

It was a pass that Bruno Fernandes would be proud of. After a chaotic Wolves performance where he was noticeably playing within himself, Onana allowed himself to go through his passing catalogue here. At time of writing, he’s behind only Fernandes and Luke Shaw in for United’s best ball progressors.

A word too on his saves in the first half. The Cameroonian’s passing is always a delight but he’s no slouch when it comes to shot-stopping either. His qualities in one regard do not come at the expense of another. He made three saves in the first half and also leapt to claim a cross from Spurs when Richarlison was sniffing for a fumble and an easy chance on goal.

United’s new goalkeeper will be integral to how this side will both score and prevent goals, but as the second half showed, he could do with more help from the players in front of him.

Carl Anka

United dealt with Spurs’ inverted full-backs… until they didn’t

In Erik ten Hag’s first season with Manchester United, one thing that improved as the season went on was their pressing.

This season, the high-pressing was present again in the first half against Wolves on Monday night, but after a positive start, United’s poor counter-pressing and the number of duels they lost in the midfield made them look far more open than they should on the defensive transitions.

Against Tottenham the organisation off the ball was back again in the first half with United’s wingers, Alejandro Garnacho and Antony moving inside to mark Tottenham’s narrow full-backs when Spurs were trying to build-up.

The narrow positioning of United’s wingers made it harder for Yves Bissouma and the Spurs’ centre-backs to find their inverted full-backs, and when Tottenham’s midfielders, James Maddison and Pape Matar Sarr dropped deeper or wider to help, Casemiro and Mason Mount were aware and frequently exchanged markers with Antony and Garnacho.

Despite the chances created from United’s high turnovers, they didn’t manage to score and it was Pedro Porro who came closest in the first half when his shot, from a narrow position near the edge of the penalty box, struck the bar.

As Spurs took control in the second half and there was a noticeable drop in United’s pressing, Porro and Destiny Udogie became much more threatening in the final third.

Fittingly, it was Ben Davies, who replaced Udogie in the second half, who was in a very advanced position for the second goal — put into his own net by by Lisandro Martinez — after making an underlapping run in the final third. Erik Ten Hag will want to work out why his team are starting on the front foot, but losing a grip of games as they progress.

Ahmed Walid

GettyImages 1625613548 scaled

Davies and Martinez combined for Spurs’ second goal (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Tottenham’s new-look midfield is an exciting prospect

The biggest noticeable difference after the break was Spurs playing higher up the field, which saw their new-look midfield come into its own.

James Maddison enjoyed another impressive performance, exuding composure in possession on several occasions, while just as he did at Brentford last week Yves Bissouma was important both to breaking up United attacks and helping get Spurs going.

Then there was the unlikely match-winner, Pape Matar Sarr, the 20-year-old Senegal international making just his third Premier League start. Preferred to the legs of Oliver Skipp, Sarr offers something slightly different in his bombastic tackling skills (tracking back to deny Marcus Rashford in the second half earned a standing ovation), he’s aggressive, physical and likes to get in the box.

Sarr had three of Spurs’ first four attempts at goal in the match, then hit the post via a Luke Shaw deflection. And then for the game’s most crucial moment he was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some incredibly lax United defending as they watched Dejan Kulusevski progress the ball from the touchline to the six-yard box unchallenged before picking out Sarr. The fans were on their feet again when Sarr departed near the end and rightly so — he and the dynamic new-look Spurs midfield look the real deal.

Bissouma touches v United

Tim Spiers

Spurs’ counter-pressing the key to their second half dominance

After a first half where every time Tottenham lost the ball up the pitch, United’s offensive transitions gave the impression that they were going to score, Spurs significantly increased the intensity in midfield after the break and their counter-pressing provided them protection on the transitions.

Sarr and Bissouma’s effort in terms of limiting United’s counters meant that Ten Hag’s side couldn’t use one of their strongest weapons, and it was only a Casemiro header from a free kick and an Antony chance early in the second half that caused Guglielmo Vicario any problems in the Tottenham goal.

Considering the attacking nature of Ange Postecoglou’s game, the level of counter-pressing Spurs showed in the second half and in parts against Brentford is a must to make sure Tottenham aren’t caught out on the transitions. It’s early but the Australian manager is getting a whole new level of performance out of a squad who played significantly within themselves for much of 2022-23.

Ahmed Walid

Ten Hag’s problems on the road continue

Erik Ten Hag’s miserable record away against the top half of the Premier League continues. To date, the United manager only has one away victory against a member of last season’s top nine. And that win — against Fulham — only came about through a last-minute goal from Garnacho.

Spurs beat United through smartly overloading areas of the field United were weak in on the right flank and dominating the midfield. Ten Hag’s squad are lacking goalscorers who can put away the chances Bruno Fernandes and others manufacture and there is a softness in central areas that gifts possession away when properly pressed.

Top teams know how to exploit that, and Ten Hag is lacking a player who can partner Casemiro who can solve a number of issues in the first phase. That this season’s version of Casemiro is looking more like a 31-year-old with over 400 senior appearances to his name, and less like a five times Champions League winner, is also a concern.

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(Clive Rose/Getty Images)

There is no one within the squad with the mobility to handle threats like Bissouma and Sarr and there is no player truly comfortable when asked to dribble through compact spaces and carry the ball through rugged defences.

United are only two games into a new campaign, but are playing as if they are afflicted with a physical and mental fatigue that only arises after 30+ games. Ten Hag has gone into 2022-23 hoping to close the gap on the top two sides in the country, but his players seem to have misjudged the early pace of the Premier League.

Carl Anka

(Header photo via Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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