Tottenham vs Manchester United: Thoughts from White Hart Lane 5

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The Premier League Owl

The Premier League Owl

– Congratulations to the White Hart Lane ground-staff for ensuring that the game went ahead, and thank goodness they did, because it was fascinating. Two gifted sides, two opposing tactical approaches, and as absorbing a contest as you could hope to see in the Premier League.

– Had the game finished a minute earlier, the focus would be on United’s defensive shape and their manager’s tactical nous in containing Tottenham – but Clint Dempsey’ last-minute equaliser has changed the emphasis. Even so, for 92 minutes the visitors were quite brilliant in their own half, dropping deep and congesting both the central and wide areas. Not once did Gareth Bale get beyond his full-back, and both Phil Jones and Rafael deserve acclaim for that. Centrally, Spurs may not have been fully-loaded in the striker department, but Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick combined to break-up their hosts’ momentum and frustrate Tottenham’s forward players time-after-time. Carrick in particular was outstanding; the former Spurs player made twice as many tackles as any other player on the pitch (6), and read the game intelligently on his way to four interceptions. Carrick is someone who fans are loathe to love, but if ever there was a case for his defence it was today – he’s a smart, elegant player, and so the product of his performances aren’t always obvious, but today his merits were extremely obvious.

– If Andre Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy believed pre-game that investing in a forward this month wasn’t a priority, then hopefully they hold a different view now. Jermain Defoe didn’t play badly, but his 18 touches of the ball in 90 minutes illustrate how ill-equipped he is to operate as a lone-forward.

– Aaron Lennon was as good as he’s been all season for Tottenham, as was predicted by a few of the readers in this site’s preview of the game. Bizarrely, Lennon led his side in tackles (3), but it was his direct running with the ball that made him so impressive today. Obviously the winger made a vital – and composed – contribution for the equaliser, but he also created another chance for Clint Dempsey earlier in the second-half with a beautifully swift turn, and it was his shot which forced De Gea to cough-up a rebound to Defoe in the first-half. An excellent performance full of pace and trickery; that’s exactly what he’s in the team to provide.

– Chris Foy’s failure to award Wayne Rooney a penalty in the second-half was purely an act of cowardice. The official had an unobstructed view of Steven Caulker’s challenge on the Manchester United forward, and Foy backed-off the decision because of the preceding hostility from the home crowd. This isn’t a biased referee nor one with an agenda, he’s simply inept, and there’s a growing showreel of poor decisions with his name attached to it.

– Andre Villas-Boas’ substitution of Kyle Naughton for Benoit Assou-Ekotto didn’t change the game, but it did provide a very useful additional crossing threat for Tottenham – it’s no coincidence that the equaliser came from Assou-Ekotto deep ball to the back post. Naughton has done nothing wrong while deputising at full-back, and his incremental improvement over the season has been pleasing, but he’s always looked slightly awkward on the left-hand side, and is far less of a threat in crossing positions as a result. Opposing defenders have to back-off from Assou-Ekotto, because he possesses the threat to go down the line and beyond them, whereas Naughton is far easier to bottle-up against the touchline.

– Manchester United’s goal was a wonderful example of them at their best: swift, counter-attacking footballing which dragged the home defenders from one side of the pitch to the next, and eventually ended with Tom Cleverly’s inch-perfect cross being planted into the home net by Robin van Persie. Focus on the defensive errors if you like, but that’s really missing the point. Tottenham were carved-up beautifully.

– If a goal ever summed-up a player, then Clint Dempsey’s injury-time equaliser was a precis of what the Texan is all about. He’s not the most technically-gifted, he’s not the quickest, and he’s not the best finisher – but he never gives up, and he doesn’t shy away from putting himself into pertinent attacking positions. He works and he grinds, and eventually he gets the rewards which he’s owed. Aaron Lennon’s cut-back presented him with a good chance, but not an unmissable one; he deserves credit for calmly putting away and not lashing it high into the North stand. A great moment for a player who hasn’t enjoyed the most comfortable relationship with the home fans this season.

– David De Gea will be apportioned blame for Dempsey’s goal, but that’s quite harsh on the Spaniard. Yes, he should be more authoritative aerially, but Nemanja Vidic’s positioning also played a big part in conceding – the Serb obstructed his own keeper. It was undeniably a goal United shouldn’t have given away, but accrediting it purely to De Gea is unfair. That aside, this was probably one of the best performances he’s given since joining from Atletico Madrid: he’s shot-stopping was outstanding, his reactions to deny both Bale and Dempsey were truly magnificent, and, last-minute aside, he was very accomplished under the high-ball. A bad finish shouldn’t wholly-detract from what was otherwise an extremely good performance.

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