Result: United 1 - Tottenham 0
The Prem is back… finally! Always one of the best days of the year and a really exciting first game as the last year’s 4th place team was home to take on the 5th place team. Louis Van Gaal went on tremendous spending spree in order to re-strengthen the team again. Tottenham instead off-loaded many players and only brought in a couple defenders to strengthen a backline that let up 53 goals last campaign (5th most in EPL).
Tactically, the game started very interesting because both teams showed their strong intent to press high up the field. This is a tactical staple of both managers. In the beginning, Tottenham without question broke the pressure better than United and when in the final third Kane and Eriksen combined really well. Eriksen was lively and creative as always and Kane showed he is more than a goal scorer by being industrious and a good combiner. United started first 15 minutes poor and you couldn’t even tell that Memphis was playing. Tottenham pressed well and applied swift pressure on Smalling and Romero who both looked shaky.
However, in soccer goals change games and after the 22nd minute United became the better team. A new confidence and mentality seemed to emerge out of them. What I was impressed with in particularly was Carrick and Schnederlin’s ability to effectively close down Tottenham’s holding midfielders. Because these two would lock-on quickly Tottenham had very little success breaking out of the midfield. First half weak link for Tottenham was without a doubt Bentaleb whose lazy passing and turnovers under pressure caused his team much trouble (so not surprising he got subbed quickly in the 2nd half).
In the second half, the focus of both teams shifted from successfully coming out of the back to more of controlling the tempo in the middle of the field. Having said that, it was a very even game for the whole half. Eriksen continued to be Spurs spark whether it was through his passing, set-pieces deliver, or quick snapshots. When Schweinsteiger came on I think he did little to influence the game. Tottenham finished the game very well and put lots of pressure on United who didn’t look all that comfortable. A neutral supporter would probably say Spurs were unlucky not to get something out of the game.
If I was LVG, my training focus would now be on a.) game management scenarios… so starting stronger and finishing stronger because both periods looked shaky. They were honestly rather lucky to get out with 3 points. b.) Focus on linking quickly from midfield to forwards. This was good when Carrick and Schnederlin successfully pressed and won the ball, but can they also link quickly during non-pressing transition? The positive highlight for United was wing-play. Mata did a great job drifting inside and finding the ball in front of the Spurs backline, which allowed Darmian to getting up the field wide. Young was also very lively and provided great services.