Monday, December 2, 2013

Three thoughts on Tottenham 2 Manchester United 2

I am starting my new year's resolution of writing something on this blog every day a month early. To kickstart this process I provide three thoughts on Sunday's entertaining Barclays Premier League encounter between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

Spurs regret missed chances

After suffering a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City last weekend, most Spurs fans would have been happy to take a share of the spoils against the reigning champions at White Hart Lane. In most contexts a 2-2 draw against Manchester United would be considered a great result. However, Andre Villas-Boas and the Spurs squad will probably realize deep down that they squandered a golden opportunity to defeat the Red Devils at home for the first time since 2001.

Unfortunately for Roberto Soldado a large portion of the blame will be attributed to the Spaniard, who missed a golden opportunity to put Spurs 2-0 ahead just before Wayne Rooney equalized. Aaron Lennon, who it must be stressed had his best game in white for a while, was also guilty of wasting some excellent crossing positions, while Paulinho - somehow still guaranteed a place in the starting eleven, stalled several good passages of attacking play by overrunning the ball or ceding possession with careless passes.

AVB and by extension Spurs shouldn't automatically think their problems have been resolved on the back of this good performance, for despite their midfield dominance, Tottenham's goals came from a direct free kick, and a moment of individual brilliance from Sandro that is unlikely to be repeated too often. Soldado continues to struggle up front as the pressure mounts on him to deliver, and AVB still hasn't figured out how his central midfielders are going to link up with the front three, nor has he identified the correct personnel for the triumvirate.

Kyle Walker's defensive dereliction

In typically exaggerated fashion, the British press have heaped an enormous amount of praise for Kyle Walker's opening goal for Tottenham. The quality of the free kick and the organization of the Red Devil's wall will be debated for a while, but of more concern for Spurs will be Walker's performance at the back.

Walker's part in Rooney's opening goal seems to have been painted as some form of bad luck, when in reality it was brutally inept defending from a cross. Hugo Lloris has been blamed for United's equalizing penalty, and the Frenchman was certainly at fault. However, Wayne Rooney was afforded acres of space and ample to time to deliver the killer ball to Danny Wellbeck because Walker had embarked on a glory run to try and retrieve a lost cause in attack when there was absolutely no need to. Until AVB manages to solve Tottenham's attacking problems in the final third, Walker's overlaps provide a crucial outlet for Spurs. However, there is no hiding from the reality that as far as defensive duties are concerned, the Englishman is simply an average right back.

Man U's Midfield Malaise

Just where would Manchester United be without Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie? Has Michael Carrick's stock ever been so high? Wasn't Anderson supposed to be the next great midfielder to prosper under Sir Alex Ferguson's tutelage? Finally, wasn't Marouane Fellaini's signing suppose to prove that David Moyes would solve's Man U's central midfield conundrum?

Apparently not. It's an indictment on the Belgian's first few months at Old Trafford, that the increasingly average Tom Cleverly continues to start in the centre of the champions midfield without contributing much either in an attacking sense or providing defensive stability. That Phil Jones is entrusted to do a better job in the big matches must surely irk Fellaini, who played so well in the same position at Goodison Park. That Fellaini is struggling to adjust under the same manager who made him a Premier League star must be considering one of David Moyes' biggest failures in his nascent reign at Old Trafford.

Many pundits and football writers have repeated the argument that over the past few seasons, the winning mentality instilled by Ferguson ultimately prevailed over the large void in United's midfield. Whether Moyes has the force of personality to overcome such a glaring weakness in the team - both tactically and technically, remains to be seen, but the signs shown in the first quarter of the season are not very promising. If Moyes truly wants to establish his own legacy, he has to rectify the mistakes of the summer, and sign a couple of central midfielders as his foremost priority in the January transfer window.
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