TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (home) 2015/16
United were handed a tricky opening tie against a Spurs team who have enjoyed some success against the reds in the last few seasons at Old Trafford. Despite United retrieving three important points United crawled over the line in what was an edgy and at times dull match. Tottenham could have also taken maximum points and had Eriksen capitalised on a clever chipped pass from Harry Kane the following thoughts may have been a little different.
A gritty, determined and effective performance
United’s preseason tour was clearly haunted and driven by last season’s opening day defeat at the hands of Swansea, albeit in a very different looking starting line-up. Self-inflicted high pressure as a result and external expectations from a big money overhaul meant that players and fans alike suffered a very edgy ninety minutes at Old Trafford. The team showed grit and defensive organisation thanks to a newly assertive and authoritative “Mike” Smalling. Good communication with Blind and debutant Darmian helped barricade a determined Harry Kane, keen to rediscover his famous form from the 2014/15 season. The two contested a ninety minute battle and it was fair to say that Smalling won this round.
Carrick and Schneiderlin
The selection of this pairing shows that United were very focused on not losing the opening game again. Stats show that Carrick had four interceptions, no defensive errors leading to chances and a passing accuracy of 96%. However he made one key pass. Schneiderlin was one of United’s better performers, showing that he can roam in midfield dispossessing a maintaining a good level of possession for the team. He made three interceptions and tackles, a passing accuracy of 86% but no key passes and no shots on goal. United’s ‘back six’ won the ball back often and maintained a decent level of possession despite such a spirited show of front line pressing from the Spurs front line at separate phases of the match.
One of the most interesting moments of the game for me was actually the touch taken by Wayne Rooney before attempting to convert Ashley Young’s right sided cross prior to United’s opener. I was surprised there was a need for the control. Despite this almost compromising his chances luck was present and Kyle Walker’s interception/thinly veiled deft finish sealed the opening goal. The luck of the situation reminded me of a haphazard or lucky Chicharito volley/headed goal against Chelsea some time back, spurred on by his fortune he went on to do well for the remainder of the season. I hope the same applies for Rooney this season.
Ander Herrera, where art thou?
Ander Herrera’s inclusion in games at the business end of the 2014/15 season seemed to bring out the best in Mata. Despite being played out on the right wing Mata often cut in and had an available Herrera to pass to. This maintained possession well and stretched teams when combined with Valencia’s runs down the right hand flank. It’s only early days but Memphis and Mata’s partnership did not show the same spark, and the Carrick Schneiderlin duo sat too deep to achieve the same effect
Overall Depay had infrequent bright moments but not quite the spark Ronaldo provided when entering the scene in a premier league match against Bolton. This may have been a result of his role in the “number 10” position behind Wayne Rooney. Juan Mata is arguably the best player at the club in this role and it was slightly confusing that Depay was again deployed here. Ashley Young playing on the right wing in order to accommodate Depay on the left would surely be a smaller paradigm shift. It could also work very well with Mata’s game, which relies on runners either side and multiple passing options. Time will tell if this trend continues, so pay attention to the manager.