Premier League Tactical Preview: Tottenham v Manchester United

Spurs will go into Sunday’s lunch-time clash with Manchester United still reeling from their 6-0 defeat to Manchester City. Manchester United twice took the lead against Cardiff City last weekend, only to be twice pegged back, meaning that both sides will be desperate for three points on Sunday. 

Spurs are actually slight favourites at 2.60 to the win, with United outside at 2.65 for the win and a draw available at 3.30.

Possible line-ups

We can expect Spurs to ring some changes following that shocking defeat at Man City. Andre Villas-Boas might look to tweak his line-up with Jermain Defoe possibly coming in for Roberto Soldado and Gylfi Sigurdsson replacing Lewis Holtby. At the back AVB is limited as Danny Rose's injury means he has no choice but to persist with Jan Vertonghen at left back.

Manchester United will likely play a similar side to the one that drew at Cardiff last weekend. Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic could return from injury though, which means Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand would miss out respectively.

Spurs porous high-line?

Little about AVB's tactics worked against Manchester City last weekend, as the side were routed 6-0. One feature of their play that will remain the same though is the high-line, that was obliterated by City's pace in behind, particularly in behind the full-backs. If we look at Spurs' players’ average positions from the defeat we can see how this was a feature of their play:

We can see here that the two centre-backs (4 and 20) are quite high up, with the full-backs pushed very high up (5 and 2) in order to provide the width, which in turn leaves big gaps in the space between the full-backs and the centre-backs that can easily be exploited.

Manchester United are a side that can exploit such a high-line effectively, as City did last weekend. In recent weeks United have opted for two quite direct wingers in Adnan Januzaj on the left flank and Antonio Valencia on the right flank. Both players are direct and will run at their opposite numbers, as well as being eager to get into the space in behind. This will stretch the play and mean that Spurs will have to cover their full-backs a lot better than they did against Manchester City. As the positional graphic above shows, Spurs' attacking players also clustered centrally and thus weren't best placed to defend the flanks.

Not only is this a concern for Spurs on the flanks, but they also need to be wary of the movement of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in behind their two centre-backs. Both players are incredibly intelligent on and off the ball, so will look to ghost in behind and get into any space. Unfortunately for United, Michael Carrick, who can pick a pass from deep brilliantly, is injured. Tom Cleverley however can also do this, as can Rooney if he drops off the front and takes up deeper roles. Van Persie though will likely play on the shoulder of the centre-backs to get in behind and exploit the space.

Where will Spurs' goals come from?

Despite spending over £100 million in the summer, Spurs are struggling for goals this term having scored just nine goals in 12 league games - of which just six have come from open play. In fact, only two teams have scored less goals than Spurs this season, Crystal Palace (19th) and Sunderland (20th).

One of the main reasons for this is that Roberto Soldado can at times cut an isolated figure up front for Spurs and is possibly not best suited to their current style. Soldado isn't the best at holding up the ball and bringing others into play, whilst the wide players cluster centrally and don't provide enough variation in attack for Spurs. The result has been Spurs enjoying a lot of possession (they actually dominated possession versus City with 53% of the ball), but failing to create tangible chances.

The lack of a creative deep-lying midfield playmaker is also problematic with Paulinho and Sandro providing energy and power, but not much in a creative sense. The loss of Christian Eriksen through injury puts further pressure on the rest of the players to provide a spark which has certainly been lacking. The emphasis then will be on the player supporting the front men, possibly Andros Townsend and Erik Lamela. Townsend can work hard to track back and cover his full-back, but Lamela wasn't great in this regard against City, with Jan Vertonghen too often left exposed.

United's defence has not been watertight though, having conceded 15 times so far this season, including the two goals they shipped at Cardiff last weekend. That should give AVB some confidence that his side can cause them problems, particularly by running at the back-line. In front of their home fans AVB has to get his side firing this weekend, or risk a further backlash following that 6-0 defeat and the recent home loss to Newcastle.


Spurs go into this tie as slight favourites, but they will be under the microscope following some dismal recent performances. United are playing confidently at the moment and one can expect them to take their recent good form into this game, especially considering that they have the personal to hurt Spurs in behind if Tottenham persist with that at times porous high-line.

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