PRE MATCH FOCUS : Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur

In what should be a classic New Years Premier League match, Manchester United host Tottenham Hotspur in a game that is vital for both clubs. When they last met at the beginning of December, they played out a very entertaining 2-2 draw with United coming from behind twice to get a point. Both teams were struggling at that stage but things are quite different just one month on. United are starting to find some form having won their last 6 games on the trot. Spurs have replaced Andre Villas-Boas with Tim Sherwood and are also finding some form now, unbeaten in the league since Sherwood took over.

Using the stats at our disposal, we took a look at the game at White Hart Lane to try give us a better indication of what we can expect when these two sides meet again. The basic stats showed that United had the majority of the live ball possession (56%) whereas Spurs had more shots on goal and shots on target than United.

Tottenham Hotspur

Manchester United




Shots on Goal



Shots on Target



We found it particularly interesting that despite having the majority of possession, United were unable to turn this into shots on goal and vice versa, with not as much possession, Spurs were able to have more shots on goal and more than double the shots on target than United.

With this seemingly anomaly, we looked at how the two teams advanced up the field and into dangerous positions. Naturally, the aim of every game is to get the ball into the opposition half and then into a position where any player from the team will be in a position to score a goal. On the flip side, it is important to defend against such attacks and different teams employ different methods of doing this.

Spurs managed to break United’s first defensive line on only 23 occasions with Sandro responsible for 6 of these. United do play with a very high line of defense which meant that as soon as Spurs would break the defensive line, they would find themselves in a dangerous position from which there was a chance on goal could be created.

Once past the first defensive line, they came up against the second defensive line and they managed to break this 14 times with Soldado doing it three times which included 2 passes to Paulinho, who of course is injured and won’t be taking part in this game.

United, on the other hand, managed to break the Spurs first line of defence on a whopping 45 occasions. Interestingly, the United player who did this the most was Chris Smalling with 7 such passes. 4 went to Valencia, 2 to Rooney and 1 to Phil Jones. Smalling played as right back in this game and thus these breaks occurred on the right side of the field.

As for the second line of defence, United, just like Spurs, managed to break this 14 times. Rooney was involved in 6 of them, twice passing to Valencia. One of his passes to Welbeck led to the penalty from which Rooney equalized for United from.

It is very interesting to see that the top deliverer behind the opponent’s second line of defence, for both teams was a striker and the top receiver was a midfielder.

The lesson that can be learnt from the above is a well known one for United. They have loads of possession but are missing that creative spark in the middle that would allow them to create a chance at scoring. One need only look at the difference in numbers between breaking the first defensive line and the second. They get the ball into that position but lose or do nothing with it once they are there. A creative midfield presence would surely increase the quality of play once the first defensive line has been broken. The fact that both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are both fit again and Ashley Young is on a run of good form could help them improve in this situation in the game at Old Trafford.

As for Spurs, it is clear that when they had the ball and found themselves in decent positions, they make them count and created a dangerous situation for United to have to deal with. Unfortunately for Spurs, their lack of possession ultimately costs them. If they were able to hold onto the ball more, they may find themselves posing a greater threat to United.  With both teams desperate for the points and a chance to move up the table, this game promises to be a cracker!


  1. Rick Given January 2, 2014 4:13 pm  Reply

    I watched the game yesterday and, as a united fan, was totally gutted. We are a shadow of our former selves. Having reread this post now I see you got it spot on when it came to United having the possession but not being able to do anything with it!
    Let’s hope it changes, but my hopes are fading fast…

    • admin January 5, 2014 5:43 am  Reply

      Hi Rick, thanks very much for your comments. It certainly has not been an enjoyable season so far for Manchester United or their fans but this is football and things do change all the time. Should Moyes buy the right players during the transfer window and sort out the midfield, things may get better for the Red Devils!

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