EPL Gameweek 15: Man Utd 1-0 Tottenham

Premier League logoTwo of the league’s most frequent drawers came up against each other at Old Trafford with Jose Mourinho looking to put an end to a run of four consecutive home draws.

In the opposition dugout, Mauricio Pochettino was hoping his side could grab the win that would take them level on points with Man City following their defeat at Leicester on Saturday.

During the pre-match interview, Mourinho said that Tottenham are the best team in the league. A questionable statement given that prior to kick-off, they found themselves in fifth position having drawn six of their 14 games and failed to qualify from a favourable Champions League group. But perhaps Mourinho was providing himself with a readymade excuse should his side once again fail to win or further enhance the victory should it arrive, which it subsequently did.

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The interpretation of the four draws Man Utd’s fans have had to endure in recent weeks can swing either way.

Drawing games that they should be winning based on the balance of play suggests that it’s not a disaster and if you’re Mourinho, just really bad luck. The stats below show that especially against the ‘lesser’ sides, Man Utd did more than enough to win the game.

But others would point to the team’s inability to convert that dominance/control into three-points as a cause for concern. The late equalisers conceded to Stoke, Arsenal and away at Everton last week also raised questions over the team’s mentality. Areas where previous Mourinho sides would normally excel.

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Line-ups
Mourinho named the same back four for the fourth consecutive league game while Michael Carrick made his fourth start from the last five league matches.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan kept his place following a positive return to the side in the last fortnight, including an impressive solo strike in the Europa League against Zorya Luhansk last Thursday.

For Spurs, defender Toby Alderweireld returned to the starting line-up having been out since October through injury.

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Possession and chances
Tottenham, despite being the away side, actually repeated United’s previous failings as they struggled to make more of their dominance with the ball.

The Lilywhites enjoyed 60% of possession but could only create one clear-cut opportunity, and that came from a set-piece in the second half.  Unfortunately for Pochettino’s men, Christian Eriksen’s delivery found a misfiring Victor Wanyama who failed to direct his header on target despite being unchallenged at the far-post.

The free-kick aside, Man Utd’s defence was organised and resolute throughout. That made it difficult for star striker Harry Kane who ended up having a quiet afternoon. His efforts to break down the dogged backline weren’t helped by Spurs’ lack of creativity in the final third.

Man Utd, meanwhile, were more direct in their approach, utilising the speed of Anthony Martial and Mkhitaryan on the counter. The latter would provide the only goal of the game with a thunderous finish after a turnover of possession in the home side’s half.

Mourinho’s team showed a greater level of efficiency with the ball and that led to better scoring opportunities. This saw 60% of their attempts on Hugo Lloris’ goal come from inside the penalty area while Tottenham could only manage 25% of theirs.

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Tottenham created very little in Man Utd’s area with Wanyama missing their best chance.

Passes
Further to that, Tottenham only completed six passes inside the penalty area, less than half of Man Utd’s 14.

A clear indication of the opposing approaches was highlighted by Lloris completing more passes than any United player apart from Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

The French international goalkeeper received three times as many backpasses as David de Gea at the other end (18 to six). That goes some way to explaining how United’s centre-backs, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo only completed nine passes between them in the entire game, while their defensive counterparts, Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, managed 52.

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Tottenham retained possession in their defensive third while Man Utd were clearly under instructions to avoid this so to nullify their opponents high press.

A lack of interest in playing keep ball in the defensive third is understandable against Tottenham who have a reputation for pressing high and fast.

Herrera’s passing stats were symbolic of his Man Utd’s strategy. The Spaniard managed to create the most chances (four), including the only goal of the game, from his total of 26 passes. He was also top for ball recoveries (11) and second for tackles (5/8).

For Tottenham, Wanyama was their top passer in the final third with 15, only outdone by Man Utd’s Pogba with 20. This suggests that United were defending deep, content with Tottenham’s most defensive midfielder and weakest passer having more of the ball in the final third.

It also endorses that Man Utd’s direct approach often went through Pogba who is able to enjoy more of a free role when Carrick is partnering Herrera in midfield.

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Both players were their side’s top passer in the attacking third. Pogba was far more penetrative than the limited Wanyama, a tactic imposed by Mourinho.

Tottenham’s depth
With just over half an hour remaining and the game delicately poised at one-nil, Pochettino introduced Moussa Sissoko for Son Heung-min. The French midfielder – who has come in for recent criticism from his manager following his big summer move – put in the sort of performance that was more commonly associated with his national side than his club last season. He even managed to finish with a game high of four successful take-ons despite playing only a third of the match.

But his supremacy over Matteo Darmian down Man Utd’s left failed to conjure up the equaliser the travelling supporters were pining for and Spurs’ other two subs highlighted a lack of squad depth in attack.

With Erik Lamela and Vincent Janssen still absent through injury, Pochettino could only bring on Harry Winks and Georges Kévin-Nkoudou to try and spark the attack into life.

Compare that to the bench Mourinho had at his disposal and it’s no wonder Pochettino is so highly regarded. The six outfield players on United’s bench were Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini, Daley Blind and Eric Bailly. All of those players, bar Bailly, could make a difference in the attacking third. That bench cost over £130m in transfer fees with Tottenham’s around £60m.

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Sissoko made a big impact having come on just before the hour mark. The Frenchman had a lot of joy down the right-wing.

Summary
Mourinho needed this win more than Pochettino and that was clear by his animated performance on the touchline in the closing moments as he berated substitute Rashford for his lack of application.

The Portuguese manager displayed his tactical brilliance by avoiding Tottenham’s high press while encouraging their weakest ball-playing midfielder to have possession and opting for efficiency over dominance, despite being the home side.

He’s also benefitted from the resurgence of Mkhitaryan who is starting to live up to expectations. The Armenian’s rhythm, however, appears to be disrupted for a few games after injuring his ankle following a foul by the game’s most fouled player, Danny Rose.

Tottenham will expect to return to winning ways with home games against Hull on Wednesday and then Burnley at the weekend. Man Utd meanwhile, have tricky away trips to Crystal Palace and West Brom – who were unfortunate not to have held out for a creditable draw at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 15):
Watford 3-2 Everton
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke
Burnley 3-2 Bournemouth
Hull 3-3 Crystal Palace
Swansea 3-0 Sunderland
Leicester 4-2 Man City
Chelsea 1-0 West Brom
Man Utd 1-0 Tottenham
Southampton 1-0 Middlesbrough
Liverpool 2-2 West Ham