Tottenham go into this game looking to maintain their 100% start to the season against their frequent bogey team Manchester United, who were hoping to bounce back after losing away to Brighton last weekend.
Both managers set up in unusual shapes: Jose Mourinho picking a 3-5-1-1 with Ander Herrera at centre-back, whereas Mauricio Pochettino opted for something resembling a 4-2-2-2 or 4-3-1-2, with Lucas Moura partnering Harry Kane up front while Dele Alli shuttled between joining Christian Eriksen in support of them or staying deeper, to the left of Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele shielding the defence.
United had the better of the first half. They pressed high up the pitch, making it hard for Spurs to play out from the back. Utilising man orientations, their midfield diamond squeezed out all the space from the centre – Jesse Lingard generally marking Dier then closing down Toby Alderweireld when the centre-back received the ball, while ensuring the pass into Dier was still closed off, Romelu Lukaku on Jan Vertonghen, Fred stopping Eriksen and Paul Pogba dealing with Alli, with Matic covering behind the two when Pogba had to step up onto Dembele or Fred onto Kieran Trippier.
As the centre was too congested, Spurs often looked to go down the outside, but this didn’t work for them either. With the safety net of the back three behind him, Antonio Valencia pushed wider and higher, close to Danny Rose, ensuring the left-back rarely had much space or time on the ball. Trippier was typically closed down by Fred, as his deeper position would have been too much distance for Luke Shaw to cover, with Matic picking up Eriksen when the Brazilian left him, leaving Shaw as a spare man.
The back three also aided in United’s attacking. The home side would initially look to play short to the centre-backs, knowing that Kane and Moura could be drawn into pressing them or the goalkeeper before sending the ball long to Lukaku to lay off for Pogba, Lingard or Fred. When Kane and Moura pressed, the midfielders behind them would push up to compress the space, in turn opening up more space in front of the defence for United’s attackers to pick up the ball in.
United also countered well, sending quick passes up to the forwards who would then switch play to the wings, with Shaw and Valencia unafraid of getting high and wide.
Nevertheless, despite United having the better of the game, some poor finishing meant they didn’t have the lead and Tottenham soon made them pay. Just a few minutes into the half Kane scored from a corner, a simple bit of movement winning him some space from Phil Jones – moving towards the ball to make Jones follow him, then moving forwards to meet the header with the defender now caught under the ball.
That corner had originated form an attack down Tottenham’s left though. The man orientations described above are how United typically defended, however it could frequently vary depending on who was close by to which player, and one of those variations led to the goal.
Having to mark the midfielders, Lingard had been dragged too far away to press Alderweireld when he received the ball, with the task instead falling to Fred. As a result Fred was left unable to press Trippier. As Trippier still positioned himself quite deep, Shaw was nowhere near him, but the left-back had still been drawn up the field so Trippier played a ball in behind him for Eriksen to run onto and cross, with Alli’s shot deflected for the corner.
The move was repeated minutes later for the second goal. Fred closing down Alderweireld, Shaw, albeit closer this time, unable to stop Trippier from playing a pass behind for Eriksen to run onto, crossing for Moura to finish. Eriksen rarely found the space for these inside-to-outside runs in the first half largely because Shaw had been in that space, however with Fred pulled away from Trippier, he was forced to vacate it, giving Eriksen the space to finally break the deadlock. It was very similar to the opening goal in the FA Cup semi-final in May, although where Pogba simply didn’t track Eriksen’s run, Matic didn’t have the mobility to keep up with him, and for the second he either didn’t track him or didn’t think he had to, unaware that Herrera was playing everyone onside.
Mourinho soon made changes, bringing on Alexis Sanchez for Herrera and switching to a back four. Herrera had struggled all game, having to face one of the league’s best strikers after Kane and Moura switched sides early on to take advantage of his inexperience, rarely looking like he knew how he was supposed to position himself. The loss of the back three didn’t help matters though, as Shaw and Valencia now had a harder time pushing forward without the extra security, while Spurs could no onger be dragged up the pitch to press, as they were content to sit back now they had the lead.
United had no real solution to this problem, with the only attacking change being the introduction of Marouane Fellaini so they could lump the ball forward, Spurs solidifying their lead with a third on the counter.
A record home loss for Mourinho does little to assuage fears that he’s in meltdown mode again, however the criticism does seem harsh in this case, as United played well despite the scoreline.