Tottenham focus: Man United 4/3/2012

March 5, 2012
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Tottenham’s 5-2 loss to Arsenal was a shock to most after throwing away a 2-0 lead. One big feature of that game was Theo Walcott struggling badly in the first half and then taking advantage of the masses of space Harry Redknapp’s team left behind entering the second half 2-1 up. They failed to keep the ball or defend deep effectively at the same time. This was surprising for a team managed by a person who is considered favourite to be England’s next manager, as on the international stage teams are having to be more reactive to match situations – not a good audition for Harry. Tottenham looked to get back on track by beating a Manchester united side they have struggled to get the better of recently.

Tottenham set out in a 4-4-2 shape with Sandro and Jake Livermore being a defensive block in midfield, Aaron Lennon stretching play on the right and Luka Modric on the left. Modric’s positioning was the most interesting feature of Tottenham’s set-up and had a big influence on the way Tottenham played.

Harry Redknapp’s classic 4-4-2 with Spurs has normally involved two flying wingers with one attack minded central midfielder alongside a central one. For this fixture, Modric did not look to run forward when his team had the ball but came inside into a deep position next to the two central midfielders to get touches on the ball as if he was a left sided deep-lying regista. A player like Samir Nasri likes to receive the ball high up the pitch, cut inside and combine with the forwards and midfielders which is why it works for Manchester City, but Modric was still inclined to stay deep even on the wing and this made Tottenham predictable even though they dominated possession.

Second half line-up

Sandro and Livermore tried to close down Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes early on in the game but this sometimes lead to gaps in front of Spurs’ defence and five minutes in Danny Welbeck managed to get into this space and got a shot away. When United started attacks out from the back, Rooney and Welbeck dropped onto Livermore and Sandro and, with Modric deep as explained above, Tottenham couldn’t get the ball out, but with Evans and Ferdinand not being particularly strong in the air they looked as if they could get some joy with direct balls to the forwards and quick balls to Lennon on the right flank.

Later on in the half, even though Modric didn’t have much of a direct effect on the game, his position allowed Louis Saha to find space as Phil Jones often ventured high up the pitch to close Modric down and Saha moved into the vacated space to receive the ball. This forced the rest of the back four to shuffle across and gave Lennon space on the right to try and penetrate. Sandro or Livermore could have attempted to make a late run but were playing it safe and didn’t exploit the gaps.

After going one down at the end of the first half, Modric seemed to be instructed to play higher up the pitch and break inside to a position behind Saha and Adebayor for the remaining 45 minutes, with Assou-Ekotto having room to overlap and Sandro covering the left flank more. This is where Modric could really try and influence the game and thread difficult balls through a deeply positioned United defence. However, with Spurs starting to look like they could equalise, United scored a second from relaxed defending. Then United found space in between the lines again, after beating Spurs’ pressing, for Ashley Young to fire a shot from outside the box home, after Younes Kaboul hesitated to close him down for the third goal.

Line-up after substitutes

Being three goals down, the game looked beyond Tottenham, but, to try and claw the game back, Niko Kranjcar came on for Sandro and Modric moved into the middle in a deeper position and his influence on the game dwindled again. Redknapp probably thought he would influence the game more in the middle but it had the opposite effect – nine minutes passing before he finally touched the ball. After the change, Rooney moved to an even deeper position and a combination of him, Ryan Giggs and Carrick managed to keep the ball away from Tottenham for a long period of the game. Jermain Defoe managed to get one back but it was far too late and, although dominating possession, Tottenham didn’t do it for most of the game in the right areas and were comfortably beaten.

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