Talking Tactics: How Spurs put three past United

Tottenham smashed United 3-0 at Old Trafford last night but how was this possible… here we are talking tactics. This includes the change of formation, how Spurs exploited United’s defence, Moura’s pace, the bonus of keeping Toby Alderweireld and of course the magic of Mauricio Pochettino.

The effective change in formation – vs Manchester United in comparison to Fulham:

  • Tottenham’s starting line-up vs Fulham:

Tottenham Hotspur's starting line-up vs Fulham

With the Fulham game we originally started with 3 at the back with the wing-backs pushing into midfield. This is something that has often worked well for Tottenham as it provides pace and width, something that previous Spurs teams have lacked. However, despite during the game against Fulham we were getting the ball to the wing backs and out wide, it however, left us short in midfield which meant there wasn’t a lot of space for playmakers’ like Eriksen and Dele to create. This then restricted Moura from using his pace to get in behind and get the supply he needed.

Nevertheless, a fantastic strike from Moura did eventually put us into the lead, however Fulham were still in the game, and had many chances to get back level. Just after half time they took their chances when Mitrovic nodded in the equalizer. Tottenham knew something had to change in order to get three points here.

  • The critical change by Pochettino in the second half of the Fulham game:

Key change of formation in the second half of the Fulham game

Pochettino didn’t wait long to change it up when he switched from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1; replacing Sanchez with Dembele. This changed the game for Spurs as it added an extra body in midfield which gave Eriksen, Dele and Moura the extra yard they needed. Not long after Spurs’ change, they were creating dangerous chances with Harry Kane hitting the bar immediately. The change continued to make an impact when Dele found space and as he went to play Kane through, he was hacked down and as a result of the foul, the free-kick, was whipped in to the top corner by Kieran Trippier to give Spurs the lead. It wasn’t before it was 3 for Tottenham as Lamela, in space, made a beautiful 40 yard run to play in Harry Kane who sealed the three points for Spurs. By going to a back four, they played with more freedom, more creativity and more space and were creating chances after chances.

They used the change in formation to play in a diamond, in midfield, and it created the extra space the attackers needed to create the key chances. Dembele coming on was key in holding the diamond and it allowed players like Lamela and Moura to break the Fulham defence.

Tottenham's third goal against Fulham

This shows the freedom Lamela (Moura previously) was given from the change to a back four. This was the chance that led to Kane making it 3-1. By playing the diamond allowed Spurs to get in behind Fulham’s midfield.

  • Tottenham’s starting line-up vs Manchester United:

Tottenham Hotspur's starting line-up vs Manchester UnitedFollowing on from the effective formation change during the Fulham game, Mauricio Pochettino kept that formation for the starting line-up against Manchester United. With Dembele replacing Sanchez again, and Rose in for Davies.

Despite the Red Devils controlling most of the possession, this formation allowed Moura, Alli, Eriksen and Kane to catch them on the break and they were able to use their pace in order to do this.

Eriksen and Dele often switched and Moura also joined Harry Kane up front or ran in behind, with Kane then dropping slightly deeper. The formation was very flexible throughout the United game with the squad playing in different positions at different times.

The game – Analysis of Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur:

Man United started off the better of the two sides creating the most chances and having most of the possession. Lukaku came close and Hugo Lloris making several saves as well as Toby and Jan making crucial tackles. Penalty incident

Despite Spurs’ poor start, they were looking sharp on the break and had a huge shout for a penalty when Phil Jones clattered into Lucas Moura. However, it was waived away by the referee. But, looking closer at it, clearly shows contact.

But, the key part of this incident was the run Lucas Moura made. It highlighted the pace he has and showed what could be the missing part to previous Spurs squad’s since Bale and his pace left for Real Madrid.

One thing Spurs seemed to focus on towards the end of the first half, was how deep Man United’s defence were sitting. By keeping them deep and our attackers putting the pressure on allowed big space to be opened up between Manchester United’s defence, midfield and attack, allowing Moura, Eriksen, Kane and Dele to run in between and behind.


This example above shows how deep Manchester United sat, in this incident Vertonghen could almost walk through towards the final third. It gave him time to pick out a ball and where the defence were lying so deep Moura exploited it by making runs in behind which then by one ball, Spurs were in the six yard box, and were unlucky not to score in this example. Once they noticed it and began to put this pressure into effect, they continue to push further forward and push United further back.


Another example above here, showed the press had pushed Herrera almost to sit on the edge of the penalty box. It led straight to Pogba just kicking the ball out of play for a Spurs throw-in. The Spurs boys mastered it effectively as they all continued to push United back as a team.


Again, here is another example, all of these three chances were within 10 minutes of each other. One simple ball by the Spurs defender, to play Dele Alli, this time, in behind for another shot at goal which was eventually blocked. But, it highlighted the space Tottenham had in midfield to exploit and get in behind with simple balls.

Going in at half-time at 0-0 was a good result for Tottenham as they didn’t really make themselves present in the game until later in the first half with Manchester United all over them at the start. However, the start of the second half, the Lilywhites kicked into life. They started using the diamond like the game against Fulham and continued to exploit the space in behind and this allowed Lucas Moura to have space to run into and link up with Harry Kane.

Spurs began to move positively with the ball, going forward rather than back. This is something they haven’t often previously done against the ‘big 6’ which has ended in them winning just 2 away games out of 20 against the ‘big 6 – Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal’ – with their North London rivals the only team with a worse record.

Again Manchester United continued to sit deep, and it wasn’t long just after half-time when Tottenham finally took their chances. It came from a corner whipped in by Kieran Tripper which was perfectly headed in by Harry Kane to give Spurs the lead. However, the corner which resulted in the goal again highlighted the space Tottenham had to play.

image1 (1).jpeg

As you can see, Tottenham again played one simple ball over the top and were in behind United’s defence again. Dele’s resulting shot was blocked out for a corner which led to Kane’s goal, but it shows how deep United again sat and how easily Eriksen, Lucas and Dele could run in behind and create chances.

It was only 132 seconds (approximately) before Spurs were able to double their lead with again another ball behind and a beautiful finish by Lucas Moura. But, the build up play was almost identical to the Dele Alli chance prior, to which lead to the resulting corner for Harry Kane’s goal.

image1 (2).jpeg

As you can see again a simple ball over the top by Kieran Trippier to Eriksen who pulls it back to Moura who again has so much space in the box, as the midfielders are again too far back, and he just slots it into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 Tottenham. By having that change in formation with four at the back instead on five, just added that extra man in midfield and allowed the attackers to have more freedom to get in behind and push further up the pitch.

Six minutes from time Lucas Moura got his second and Spurs’ third goal of the game to wrap up all three points for Tottenham. It was a sensational run through the United defence by Moura who then whipped it straight in the back of the net. Again the build up play prior was excellent from Spurs as they once again exploited the space in behind Man United’s defence and in between midfield.

image1 (3).jpeg

As seen throughout the game, huge space between midfield and the defensive line which Kane plays it into, to Moura, who runs at the last man, with a little dummy is round him before blasting it past De Gea. The back line too of United again all over the place but to Tottenham’s credit they exploited that, tactically Mauricio Pochettino and his staff got it spot on.

Pace and Lucas Moura:

Something that is often lacking in a Spurs side since the departure of Gareth Bale is pace. They have previously made several signings to try and replace that such as Sissoko and Lamela etc, but they just haven’t been as effective. They always seemed to be missing that player who could run at a defence with pace but also with quality.

Last night and the second half of the Fulham game, Lucas Moura seems to be providing the missing piece of the puzzle for Spurs. He tirelessly ran at the defence and exploited the space in behind to create chance after chance for Tottenham. Highlighted in all the previous analysis of the goals above and he was making runs which caused Man United trouble after trouble.

By him playing this role with a four at the back rather than five gives him more freedom. It also improves Harry Kane’s game as it provides him not only with support but someone with pace who can help press the defence deeper but also make runs off him to drag away the defender and give Kane more space too. Lucas could be crucial in Tottenham’s push for a trophy and gives them their best chance since the departure of Bale.

The importance of Spurs keeping Toby Alderweireld:

Tottenham keeping Toby Alderweireld always seemed far fetch when the transfer window first opened, however, in last nights victory against Manchester United highlighted how important he is for Spurs and how good him and Jan Vertonghen work together.

Toby made countless interceptions and tackles to keep the Red Devils at bay. One interesting interception is the one shown below. This is very similar to Moura’s second goal, in which the attacker is one on one with the defender, who is the last man. In Lucas’ case, he got round the defender and was through on goal, in which he also put it away. Where with Alderweireld’s example below unlike the United defender who first stood off from Moura, Toby, stood up, which allowed him to get a toe on the ball to take it slightly out of Lingard’s grasp, rather than allowing Lingard to run at him and the goal. This could of so easily turned out how Moura’s goal did, which would’ve put United in the lead at the time.

image1 (4).jpeg

By Toby not running back towards goal and changing direction to go towards Lingard meant if Alderweireld missed the ball, his defensive partner Jan Vertonghen had managed to get round on the cover as Lingard wasn’t allowed to run at the defence and was stopped (slowed down) in his tracks. This was demonstrated again throughout the game to prevent United using their pace to get at goal.

The Spurs boss, Mauricio Pochettino:

Finally, not only did he get his tactics right, his players followed the plan and mastered it perfectly at times. Like the Fulham game, it shows he isn’t afraid to take risks and change things when they need to be changed which is something some may suggest previous Tottenham managers have be scared or hesitant to do. But, as you can see from yesterday’s performance it paid off.

Mauricio Pochettino was obviously delighted with the result and here is what he had to say:

“We feel so proud. I’m so happy, so proud but now we stay clam and work hard to prepare for the next game. It was clear we are a team on the pitch and outside. We worked so hard preparing for the game.”

“It’s belief, always. Belief in the way that you work, the trust, the confidence and all together trying to fight for one objective. It’s special to win at Old Trafford.”


+ Thank you for reading, and hope you enjoyed this piece. COYS!

Sophie England – @SophieThfc10

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