16 Conclusions on Spurs 2 United 2

It was a topsy-turvy encounter to blow away the predictions of nerves. Soldado still struggles, Rooney was excellent again, and Kyle Walker is more of a right winger than full-back...

Last Updated: 02/12/13 at 09:36 Post Comment

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* Pressure does funny things to football matches and players. With both managers accused of underperformance this season, it would have been understandable if the lunchtime kick-off on Sunday had resulted in a sleepy, tense, nervy, must-not-lose affair. Instead we got a topsy-turvy, ding-dong battle between two sides under intense pressure to perform. A recently criticised White Hart Lane crowd created a fervent atmosphere (aside from booing a substitution) for a match which ebbed and flowed almost every other minute, and gave the neutral a Sunday lunch treat without the need for gravy. As Michael Owen concluded to complete his football cliché bingo, "It was a great advert for the Premier League." Textbook.

That said, Spurs should be kicking themselves for not ending victorious. Twice they held the lead thanks to a midfield easily capable of over-running United's, and twice they were pegged back thanks to individual cases of ineptitude. It may be unfair, but these are the mistakes that can cost a manager his continued employment and a side a top-four place, and both Kyle Walker and Hugo Lloris should be knocking on their manager's door this week, heads bowed low.

* Before the game it appeared through the selection of Mousa Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho as if AVB had changed his formation to a 4-3-3 system, but Paulinho actually operated as the closest central player to Roberto Soldado in the usual 4-2-3-1. The jury is probably still out regarding the Brazilian's effectiveness in the position - whilst his through ball for Aaron Lennon's one-on-one chance was excellent, he did very little else to impress during the first half, having the second worst pass accuracy of any outfield player and winning just one of his ten duels. He improved during the second half as the game became stretched, but still created just one chance all match. Still, good to see a change in tact from the Portuguese.

* 'Are United better without Robin van Persie?' was the theory mooted in the Mailbox this week, and it is a question that represents more than a churlish aside. With Van Persie injured, Rooney is able to operate closer to the penalty area, so crucial when on one of those runs, but also allows Shinji Kagawa to function in a central position, rather than being shunted out onto the left wing. Whilst no United fan (and certainly not David Moyes) would ever wish injury upon their Dutchman, his lack of availability did remove a potentially tricky selection headache.

* In Van Persie's continued absence, David Moyes chose a trio of Antonio Valencia, Danny Welbeck and Kagawa in behind Wayne Rooney, but whilst Valencia was usually to be found hugging the right touchline, the other three demonstrated a tactical fluidity that often saw Rooney drift deep, Kagawa shift left and Welbeck move into a striking position.

Rooney was excellent once again, justifying his Man of the Match selection. Once again at the heart of all that United did well, he was the complete focus of his side's attack - whilst Rooney had five shots, the rest of United's team combined had three. Rooney is in the middle one of his incredible runs where everything he touches turns to goals. Two goals and four assists in four days represents hugely impressive work.

* Let's be clear, the job of a defensive wall is not just to make sure that the ball does not go over your head, but to go past you at all - that includes underneath. A study of Kyle Walker's free-kicks would have almost instantly indicated that his is not a curl-it-up-and-down style, a fact that would surely have been hinted at by Walker running up to the ball like a sprinter.

From just outside the area and with that sort of technique, why would United's wall consider jumping in the air as the appropriate response? Theirs may have merely been the natural reaction, but it left David De Gea helpless and cost their side the opening goal.

* It is not the first time that Aaron Lennon has given Patrice Evra a torrid time, but we finally saw the exciting winger from two (three? four?) years ago. Operating on the right rather than as the 'inverted winger' of previous weeks, Lennon tore his opponent ragged during the first half. He had more shots (and shots on target) than any other Spurs player during his time on the pitch (Walker eventually overtaking him), but actually also made more tackles than any of his team-mates in this time, immediately quashing any attacking threat from Evra.

All of which made the decision to remove Spurs' best player with a quarter of the game remaining all the more bizarre, especially given the comparative ineffectiveness of Nacer Chadli on the opposite flank. It was a substitution met with wholesale boos from the home crowd.

* The selection of Nacer Chadli himself was slightly strange, particularly if Erik Lamela was dropped from the squad due to performance rather than fitness. Chadli had not started a Premier League match since the defeat to Arsenal on September 1, had registered just two successful crosses all season and was yet to hit the target with any of his seven shots on goal. He had no shots and created no chances against United.

"I brought Chadli back in because he did well against Tromso," was the Villas-Boas' pre-match explanation of the winger's selection. You don't need me to highlight the gap between the two different opponents.

* If Kyle Walker goes to the World Cup as England's reserve right-back, we should prepare to keep those fingers crossed whenever Glen Johnson goes near anything potentially hazardous between now and June. The commentators may have labelled his deflection into Wayne Rooney's path as "unfortunate", but it was nothing of the sort.

As the man at the back post when a cross is delivered, your two responsibilities are to guard the late run from an opponent and to clear the ball should it come near. Heeling the ball with the outside of your boot across your goal and into the path of an opposing forward does not constitute 'clear the ball', I should clarify.

* Having said that, against United he did a fairly decent impression of a right midfielder, exemplified by the cross in the second half that Andros Townsend just failed to connect with. Walker also had more shots than any player on the pitch other than Wayne Rooney, created more chances than any other team-mate and had the best passing accuracy of any Spurs player.

So, we're agreed. For the World Cup England will play four full-backs - Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines on the left and Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker on the right. They'll be interchanging on the wings like it's 1969.

NB - I'm not fully mentioning Walker's touch that knocked the ball out for a goal-kick early on. It made me feel sick (laugh).

* Roberto Soldado has enjoyed plenty of staunch defences from Spurs fans this season for his lack of service (and rightly so in many cases), but this was one to file in the prosecution's pile. Beaten to the ball twice in the opening 15 minutes, it was less than a quarter of the game played when a Spurs supporter could audibly be heard to shout "You're jogging son (saaan?)."

And then came the opportunity to score. Played in by Paulinho, the Spaniard snatched at his opportunity, sending the ball high and wide.

If missing half-chances is not the final nail hammered in a coffin, sitting back on his heels just might be. On 40 minutes, Lennon ghosted past Evra and laid the ball across the six-yard area. As De Gea rushed out to claim, Soldado could be found static on the penalty spot. "He's not expecting the cross to come in there," was the defence given by the commentary team, rather misunderstanding the role of the poacher striker.

I am not comparing the two forward's effectiveness or quality, but Soldado plays 72 minute and has 25 touches. Jermain Defoe plays 18 and has ten. It can't simply be the system that is limiting the Spaniard's involvement in the game.

It's now two goals in 12 games for Soldado, one of which was a penalty, and compare him in the Lennon incident with the reaction of Rooney for United's first equalising goal. It was a dreadful touch from Walker, but Rooney was ready, the quickest of responses to put out a toe and daliver the ball high beyond Lloris.

* Michael Carrick is injured. Ryan Giggs played 90 minutes in Leverkusen on Wednesday, a match that you missed through suspension and were therefore completely rested. Phil Jones also played 90 minutes in that same game. If you cost £27.5million and are still not trusted to start ahead of either Jones or the overwhelmingly maligned Tom Cleverley, there must be something seriously wrong. Is Marouane Fellaini now in pole position to be considered as the worst signing of the summer?

* Making his 100th appearance for Manchester United, David De Gea was powerless for both of Spurs' goals. If the first owed much to a defensive lapse in the wall, the second owed everything to the brilliance of Sandro's hit.

One of those strikes when six or seven people in the office all shout "sh*t" at the same time. That's the sort of analysis we're rocking out.

* Michael Owen, Oh dear.

After penalty claims for a handball on Antonio Valencia were turned down during the first half, Owen stated confidently, "Mike Dean has awarded a few penalties for handball this season."

Mike Dean had not yet awarded a penalty for handball this season. Mike Dean had not yet awarded a penalty this season of any kind.

Or is he a psychic?

* Is anyone else annoyed by the tendency of referees to let bad fouls go without bookings simply because of the time in the match?

Evra's tackle on Lennon after just five minutes was as obvious as could be, and the Frenchman went on to be booked later in the game. Michael Owen's explanation of "later in the game that is a definite yellow" is completely accurate, but there is nothing in the laws of the game to allow for players to get one in in the opening stages of a match.

* That said, referees have been readily and rightly criticised for their questionable decisions in the last few weeks, so credit must go to Mike Dean for the penalty award to United. Given that it took until the second slow-motion replay for me to spot that Lloris a) got nothing of the ball and b) caught Danny Welbeck, indicating that Dean got it spot on after one instantaneous look. Well done, sir.

* Whether we conclude this as a point gained or two lost for either team probably depends on whether they use the result as a springboard for further improvement, and it would be too reactionary by far to suggest that problems had been answered. In fact, the obvious deficiencies in both sides arguably cost them the chance to win the match.

For Spurs, the issues in the final third let to them having just two other shots on target away from their two goals, and the miss from Soldado directly before United's first equaliser will have done little to exacerbate their manager's frustrations. It may take until the January transfer window for that particular problem to be solved, but Fulham and Sunderland as their next two opponents provide reasons for optimism. And they are only three points off second at the time of writing.

For United, another case of what might have been if they possessed a midfield that was not easily overpowered. Once again David Moyes was forced to rely not on a composed and commanding team performance but an in-form Rooney. One suspects that United supporters would rather shudder should you ask them to contemplate the first four months of this season without their best performer. Again, however, the fixture calendar looks favourably upon Moyes and his side for the next four weeks - Villa, Hull, Norwich and West Ham in their next six Premier League games.

After that, we'll all be back here again. The return fixture at Old Trafford is just a month away.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

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