Tottenham 0-0 Manchester United: goalkeepers rarely tested

January 16, 2011

The starting line-ups

A contest that never really took off.

Harry Redknapp played the usual 4-4-1-1. Peter Crouch was preferred to Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko, whilst Wilson Palacios got the nod over Jermaine Jenas.

Sir Alex Ferguson went with a 4-4-2 from the start, with few surprises. Edwin van der Sar returned in goal, and Ryan Giggs started on the left.

The first ten minutes suggested this was going to be a cracking game – both sides wanted to attack, both pressed high up the pitch, and both played direct football down the flanks.

Bale v Rafael

The most eagerly-anticipated battle was Gareth Bale up against Rafael. The Brazilian right-back had subdued Bale well at Old Trafford earlier in the season when Balemania was at its peak, and he seemed determined to deal with Bale in a positive, aggressive way. Rather than sitting back level with his centre-backs, Rafael took the initiative and pushed forward when United had the ball – often with solo runs himself – pushing Bale back into his own half of the pitch.

It was a similar attitude when it came to dispossessing Bale – although he was beaten a couple of times early on, Rafael played on the front foot and looked to stop the service into the Welshman, and made more interceptions than successful tackles in the game. The tendency to play like this contributed to his two bookings, though – he went chasing a ball he didn’t need to in the first half, then was shown a second yellow for a trip when caught too high up the pitch.


Rafael did particularly well because United were rarely able to double up against Bale. Often, when United face a tricky left-winger they are keen to get Darren Fletcher out to support the full-back (see how Fletcher helped Gary Neville against the threat of Ronaldinho last season), but with just a two-man central midfield pairing, Fletcher’s job was about closing down Luka Modric. Fletcher is usually made for games like this, but was relatively poor today – Modric played in a deep position and Fletcher was rarely in a position to put pressure on him. The Croatian was by far the best player in the midfield zone.

Another case of not doubling up was on the flank where Nani was stationed, with Redknapp having a lot of faith in Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s capability at left-back. Luckly, Assou-Ekotto had a good game – unlike Rafael he took a conservative approach and waited for Nani to try and beat him, but Nani was off-form and was a peripheral figure here.

Lack of creativity

The game suffered because none of the creative players (with the exception of Modric, positioned very deep) were on form. Bale and Aaron Lennon’s crossing was generally poor, Nani was invisible, Ryan Giggs was tidy but nothing more. Rafael van der Vaart struggled for space and drifted into wide areas, whilst Crouch’s knock-downs rarely found their intended target. Wayne Rooney had another disappointing afternoon – he didn’t take a couple of early chances and he misplaced too many passes, finishing with just a 50% completion rate.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Second half switches

Things threatened to get interesting when Ferguson introduced Anderson for Nani, pushing Rooney to the right of a 4-2-3-1. It’s possible to argue otherwise, but this seemed like a defensive move from United, as if Ferguson was scared of Modric and wanted another body in the centre of the pitch to contain him.

Anderson and Giggs both played in centre-left positions and allowed space on the right for Alan Hutton to motor into, meaning that, after the switch, Spurs focused their passing down the right.

11 v 10

Rafael’s dismissal meant Spurs were even more dominant. Redknapp threw on Defoe in place of Wilson Palacios, as Spurs went 4-4-2 with two strikers, two wingers and two creative midfielders. Ferguson brought on Javier Hernandez to provide energy, in place of Berbatov and he occupied Spurs’ centre-backs well, whilst also helping out defensively.

In the end, Spurs simply could create good enough chances, mainly thanks to Nemanja Vidic, who had a superb game at the back. Crosses continued to come into the box but neither striker could get free from their marker. The best chance fell to van der Vaart, who curled over the top.


Relatively little to analyse here. Neither side did enough with the ball and the result was a frustrating game.

United got four shots on target – three were hopeful attempts from long range by Rooney, another an ambitious effort from an impossible angle by Rafael. Spurs, despite dominating much of the game, failed to test Edwin van der Sar from open play – the Dutchman was only called into action by two (tame) free-kicks from van der Vaart and then Bale.

by Guardian Chalkboards

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