Spurs and Manchester United played a fierce game in the Premier League on Saturday night, with the home team winning 2-0.
The first half was goalless but there was no action. United missed three good chances, including a free header for Bruno Fernandes, while Pedro Porro hit the frame of the goal for Spurs.
But if Erik ten Hag’s team overshadowed the first half, Ange Postecoglou’s team dominated the second, scoring twice and underlining the fact that this is a new era for Tottenham Hotspur.
Here, our writers break down the key moments of the match…
The first half showed the dangerous element of Postecoglou’s high-risk football
“It’s back to Spurs” the stadium announcer roared less than 30 seconds before kick-off. When United got their first chance of the game after two minutes, the harried observers in the stands might have agreed with the bold proclamation.
It’s a new era and despite some scary moments in the first half, it’s one that Spurs supporters are all too ready to accept having endured a truly miserable 2022-23 and three successive managers preferred pragmatic, always safety-first football.
The atmosphere before the match, despite the sale of club record goalscorer Harry Kane just a few days earlier, was incredible. Ange Postecoglou changed the whole dynamic of the place.
But with enthusiasm in attacking football must come patience for Spurs to get it right. On several occasions they overplayed or faced trouble (Pedro Porro was always the guilty party) during a first half dominated by United.
It is high risk, but with little reward except for a couple of opportunities on the counter (Porro almost scored a beauty but hit the post). And with United plugging the midfield gaps they left against Wolves, it was an opening 45 minutes that showed this team could be a work in progress for a long time.
GREAT CHANCE! 😲
Bruno Fernandes fails to hit the target from 6 yards! 😬 pic.twitter.com/x13nT7o7RI
– Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 19, 2023
Andre Onana is United’s next great playmaker
A little past the twenty-minute mark, Andre Onana pushed in near the halfway line to help United keep the pressure on a Spurs side struggling to break.
Standing in a place where you’d normally expect Aaron Wan-Bissaka to be, he latched onto a loose ball and pinged a 60-yard diagonal pass to the grateful feet of Alejandro Garnacho on the left. Garnacho drives into the box, before cutting his square ball to Antony.
It was a pass that Bruno Fernandes would be proud of. After a chaotic performance at Wolves where he was noticeably playing himself, Onana allowed himself to go through his passing catalog here. At the time of writing, he is only behind Fernandes and Luke Shaw for United’s best forwards on the ball.
A word also on his saves in the first half. The Cameroonian’s passing is always a pleasure but he is also no slouch when it comes to stopping shots. His virtues on the one hand are not impaired on the other. He made three saves in the first half and also pounced to collect a cross from Spurs when Richarlison sniffed for a fumble and an easy goal chance.
United’s new goalkeeper will be crucial to how this team scores and prevents goals, but as the second half showed, he could do with more help from the players in front of him.
United faced back-to-back Spurs full-backs… until they didn’t
In Erik ten Hag’s first season at Manchester United, one thing that improved as the season went on was their pressing.
This season, the high-pressing was again in the first half against Wolves on Monday night, but after a positive start, United’s poor counter-pressing and the number of duels lost in midfield making them look more open than they should be. in defense transitions.
Against Tottenham the organization of the ball came back again in the first half with United wingers Alejandro Garnacho and Antony moving inside to mark Tottenham’s narrow full-backs when Spurs tried to build.
The narrow positioning of United’s wingers made it difficult for Yves Bissouma and Spurs’ centers to find their inverted full-backs, and when Tottenham midfielders James Maddison and Pape Matar Sarr dropped deeper or wider to help, Casemiro and Mason Mount knew and often exchanged marks with Antony and Garnacho.
Despite the chances created from United’s high turnovers, they failed to score and Pedro Porro came closest in the first half when his shot, from a narrow position near the edge of the penalty box, hit the bar.
As Spurs controlled the second half and there was a noticeable reduction in United’s pressing, Porro and Destiny Udogie became more of a threat in the final third.
Precisely, Ben Davies, who replaced Udogie in the second half, was in a very advanced position for the second goal – placed in his own net by Lisandro Martinez – after making an underlapping run in the final third. Erik Ten Hag wants to know why his team started on the front foot, but lost a grip on games as they progressed.
Tottenham’s new-look midfield is an exciting prospect
The biggest noticeable difference after the break was Spurs playing higher up the pitch, which saw their new-look midfield come into their own.
James Maddison enjoyed another impressive performance, showing composure in possession on several occasions, while as he did at Brentford last week Yves Bissouma was key in breaking up United’s attacks and helping Spurs .
Then there was the unlikely match-winner, Pape Matar Sarr, the 20-year-old Senegal international making his third Premier League start. Favored by the legs of Oliver Skipp, Sarr offers little contrast with his bombastic tackling skills (tracking back to deny Marcus Rashford in the second half got a standing ovation), he is aggressive, physical and loves to get into the box.
Sarr had three of Spurs’ first four attempts on goal in the game, then hit the post with a Luke Shaw deflection. And then for the most important moment of the game he was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some incredible United defending as they watched Dejan Kulusevski progress the ball from the touchline to six yard box unchallenged before Sarr was picked out. The fans were on their feet again when Sarr left near the end and rightly so – he and Spurs’ dynamic new-look midfield looked the real deal.
Spurs’ counter-pressing was the key to their dominance in the second half
After a first half where every time Tottenham lost the ball on the pitch, United’s offensive transitions gave the impression that they could score, Spurs significantly increased the intensity of the midfield after the break and their counter-press gives them protection in transfers.
Sarr and Bissouma’s effort in terms of limiting United’s opponents meant that Ten Hag’s side could not use one of their strongest weapons, and it was only a Casemiro header from a free kick and a chance of Antony early in the second half caused Guglielmo Vicario. Tottenham’s goal problems.
Considering the attacking nature of Ange Postecoglou’s game, the level of counter-pressing Spurs showed in the second half and in parts against Brentford was a must to ensure Tottenham were not caught in transfers. It’s still early days but the Australian manager has extracted a new level of performance from a squad that has played itself important for much of 2022-23.
Ten Hag’s problems continued on the road
Erik Ten Hag’s miserable record against the top half of the Premier League continues. So far, the United manager has just one win against a member of the top nine last season. And that win – against Fulham – was only made possible by a last-minute goal from Garnacho.
Spurs beat United by brilliantly overloading areas of the field with United weak on the right flank and dominating midfield. Ten Hag’s squad lacks the goalscorers who can put away the chances created by Bruno Fernandes and others and has a weakness in central areas that can’t be picked up when properly pressed.
The top teams know how to take advantage of that, and the Ten Hag lack a player who can work alongside Casemiro to solve many of the issues in the first round. That this season’s version of Casemiro looks more like a 31-year-old with over 400 senior appearances to his name, and less like a five-time Champions League winner, is also a concern. .
No one within the squad has the agility to handle threats like Bissouma and Sarr and no player is truly comfortable when asked to dribble into compact spaces and bring the ball through. intense defenses.
United are only two games into a new campaign, but are playing as if they are suffering from a physical and mental fatigue that only comes after 30+ games. Ten Hag enters 2022-23 hoping to close the gap on the country’s top two sides, but his players appear to have misjudged the Premier League’s early move.
(Header photo via Getty Images)