It was a big game for us. It potentially could have opened up a sizable gap between us and the opponents tonight, Tottenham Hotspur. Well, if you looking on first viewing, you would think the Red Devils are the ones in 3rd place. It was all us. Antony clipped the post in the first of a flurry of chances that Lloris was palming away in the first half. Shaw, Rashford, Bruno and Fred were also subjected to that. It really should have been a sizable gap between the teams at half time. Shades of Omonoia were ominous. The deadlock was broken with a lucky goal from Fred, that deflected past Lloris. United continued the pressure. Spurs had very little and their best chance, which would have been ruled out for offside, was Kane shooting into De Gea at point blank range. United played advantage and what an advantage. Bruno curled into the net as the ball broke to him off Dier. United could have made the score look as comfortable as the game was but alas, we had to settle for 2 but it was quite a performance from everyone involved.
Start From The Base
When you cook a layered cake, you always start with the base. It bares the weight of the other cakes and decorations on top so how it is made will be constructed taking into account these things. When Ten Hag came in, he tried a back to front approach in order to give Man Utd a solid foundation to work from. By employing a high press and choking the life out of teams as they build up, they would not get good possession to hurt the rearguard. Teams didn’t build out of the back initially and just wanted to hit us over the top. So the Dutchman reverted to a defend first approach to build confidence into the team and do the process of his philosophy step by step rather than what he planned at first.
Today, it was a return to the high press when Spurs were trying to build from the back and with the formation that Antonio Conte had to settle upon, a 3-5-2, it meant that much of Spurs team would be in the first phase of build up. Stopping good passage into their second and their deadly final phase of Kane & Son was incredibly important no matter the method.
The pressing from the front was relentless. Headed up by Bruno Fernandes, United continually shuttled Spurs into passes that they didn’t want to play and harried them when they had the opportunity to play passes they wanted to play. The big decision from Ten Hag was to leave out Cristiano Ronaldo for Marcus Rashford and it makes sense as to why with the way he wanted his team to play. Whether if the press was Rashford leading with Bruno backing up or the two as a pair, they coordinated extremely well. The first goal, in fact, came from Bruno winning the ball back high up, which had already been symptomatic of this game. The goal might have nestled into the goal fortuitously but the lead up to that goal was exactly what was planned.
However, Man Utd have often tried to press but that has come as consequence of the overall team structure. Tonight though, there was a willingness from both the two midfielders and the defence to back up the press. Varane and Martinez, just like against Liverpool, were instructed to follow their man when they looked to receive the ball to feet and make sure they play the ball off facing their goal, rather than being able to turn. Son and Kane will seldom have a night where they are constantly harangued as they were.
And Casemiro. It was quite emotional to watch an actual defensive midfielder, who could both screen the defence effectively when needed and go into press in the same vein whilst contributing to our build up play. Dalot and Shaw, as well, were excellent both on and off the ball. There is one man without mention yet and guess who it is?
Fred Again… Again.
If you read the review on Sunday, then you would have seen the scathing, almost obituary, that was written in Fred’s honour of his United career. Then you see performances like tonight, where he was quite literally everywhere. And I mean everywhere. If his heat map was a real fire, the fire fighters would have to douse the flames with one of those helicopters you so often see. He was electric and his energy transmitted to the team in a positive way. The things that he tried against Newcastle that didn’t quite come off, came off spectacularly. One could remember the little nutmeg he performed on Bentancur on a break that made the crowd give an “ooo” that it duly deserved. Rashford’s first of the three shots he pumped straight at Lloris came from a slick through ball by the Brazilian. The last of the three came from Fred’s relentless pressing. In a way, his goal was a summation of Fred. It was unclean and would have rolled harmlessly to the keeper if not for the intervention of Ben Davies’ foot. The up and down world of Fred continues.
Rashford had three chances tonight, as aforementioned, that Lloris beat away each time. The second, to be fair to him, was on his left foot, obscured by some defenders and created from his own endeavour so the way in which he finished was fine in a way. The other two, however, he should have taken with more composure. Thierry Henry, on punditry, said he has to look up to freeze the goalkeeper on the first at the halftime interval and he should have done that with the third. But, it was an excellent performance from him all round and as a No.9, no doubt.
If there was anyone who could come off the pitch a little disappointed, then it should be Sancho. He got an assist off the Fred deflected goal but he could have played with much more vigour. Especially when everyone else was.
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