If, for whatever reason, you’ve shielded yourself from the world of football in the last 24 hours, then you may have missed Manchester United losing 3-0 at home to Spurs.
The side’s second loss of the new season is by far the most frustrating. Perhaps, you could go as far as saying it’s the most frustrating since Jose Mourinho began his reign at the club.
It was certainly a landmark defeat in some respects. The result marked Mourinho worst ever home defeat. Jose’s post-match presser alone is enough of an indicator to show the kind of turmoil the club is facing – even if we are only three games into the season.
However, the game marked a significant difference in the way in which Mourinho structured his attacking line. United’s attacking style during the game – mainly the first half – is what many fans have been craving to see amidst the relentless bus-parking games that, granted, have given the side some crucial points.
So, what was different about United’s attack in this game? Let’s take a look.
Much like a lot of games against top-six opposition under Mourinho, this game saw the ‘Special One’ shake up the structure of his team, reverting to a back three – a formation he used heavily during pre-season.
Despite reports in the lead-up to the game claiming we could see Nemanja Matic drop back to join the defence, it was actually Ander Herrera who’d joined Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in United’s back line. Herrera played on the right of the three, Smalling in the centre, and Jones on the left.
Meanwhile, Luke Shaw and a returning Antonio Valencia filled the wing-back slots, while Pogba, Fred, and Matic completed the midfield trio. Finally, United’s attack consisted of Romelu Lukaku alongside Jesse Lingard, who was making his first appearance of the season for the Reds.
United finished the first-half looking the better of the two sides. Jose’s men went into the break having enjoyed 53% of possession in the opening 45 minutes, and totalling 10 shots at goal, two of which were on target.
Based on the statistics at the final whistle, the scoreline should have been much different. United totalled 23 shots compared to Spurs’ nine, while Jose’s men finished the game with a dominant possession percentage of 57%.
What separated the two, however, was how clinical each side’s attacks were. Both teams finished the game with five shots on target, yet only one side managed to find the net. In fact, they did so three times.
Utilising United’s Most Under-Rated Attacking Threat
The extra body in defence brought stability to the back line which allowed the rest of the team to join in the attack – with the exception of Nemanja Matic. Both Shaw and Valencia often found themselves high up the pitch, each being a key component of United’s attack.
Shaw would link up with Jesse Lingard, running past him on the overlap to get into a position to cut inside and create chances. Meanwhile, Valencia played more relaxed, providing the United attackers with most of their service from the right-wing.
Shaw and Valencia created a total of seven chances between them. Shaw also tallied the most successful take-ons of the game (three), and the most passes made in the attacking third by any player on the field (17).
This game saw Jose use his full-backs in attack more so than the vast majority of games since taking over in 2016. Luke Shaw was certainly a player who thrived off these new tactics, arguably being the only beacon of hope throughout the whole game.
Fred’s Best Game So Far
This game also gave us the best indicator yet to the heights Fred is able to reach at Manchester United. The Brazilian was able to join the attack much more than in previous games.
He operated on the inner channels of the midfield as the side’s ball-winner. However, this time, he swapped sides with Pogba and played on the left of the three.
A key factor of United’s attack was the deeper-lying players looking to fire long balls behind the Spurs defence, while the attackers look to run beyond the opposition’s defence to get onto the end of these passes.
Lukaku fluffed United’s best chance of the match after a ball through from United’s midfield. Fred also nearly bagged himself his first United goal after getting the end of a similar pass.
He also managed to create four chances for his team-mates and even tallied a whopping 10 ball recoveries.
The Return Of The High Press
United teams during the Sir Alex Ferguson era were renowned for their high pressing of the opposition’s back-line. This game, particularly in the first half, we saw this high press return for the first time in years.
United’s off-the-ball movement was as sharp as ever. Both Lingard and Lukaku charged at Alderweireld and Vertonghen whenever they were on the ball.
Perhaps, against a lesser-composed back line, United could have forced a defensive error that could have led to a goal. But there was no chance you’d see the Belgian duo crumble under United’s persistent pressure.
Not much can be said to defend United’s shoddy performance. Nevertheless, they were unlucky to not get more out of the game and certainly looked the better side in the first half. It was two defensive errors from United’s shaky back-line that resulted in two of the three goals.
Phil Jones should have done better to cope with Harry Kane from the corner for the first goal, while Chris Smalling’s shambolic defending of the third was the nail in the coffin for United.
Both players have been in the firing line for their inadequate performances, and this game could spell the end of their time at the forefront of the United defence. Perhaps, against lesser opposition, such errors would go unpunished. However, against Spurs, especially Harry Kane, you can’t afford to make silly mistakes like these.
United’s attacking shape in the first half is the best I’ve seen in a long time. Herrera making way for Sanchez in the 54th minute compromised the side’s structure. They certainly looked more comfortable before reverting to a 4-3-3 with Lingard and Sanchez on the wings.
If Jose persists with this type of attacking shape, then it could make for a relatively successful season for United. Although, the repercussions for not reinforcing the side’s defence are beginning to show.
Maybe Jose was right all along…