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article imageSpurs blitz Man United following Van Gaal's bizarre decisions

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 10, 2016 in Sports
Prior to Louis van Gaal’s appointment at Manchester United, the Dutchman’s return to prominence at the 2014 World Cup was based around collective man-marking in midfield.
Spurs’ title challenge under Mauricio Pochettino involves dynamic high-pressing, and Van Gaal utilized the aforementioned strategic defensive ploy to negate their threat at White Hart Lane. United’s attack has often been dull and uninspiring under Van Gaal, but their defensive work combined with the David De Gea’s heroics provided a showdown between the best defensive sides in the league.
Perhaps this explains the scrappy affair displayed for large portions of the match — Spurs constantly conceded possession in midfield zones, while the centre-backs nullified Harry Kane and Dele Alli encountered difficulties locating space between the lines due to Michael Carrick’s discipline. The congested midfield, however, limited both sides time and space to create quality chances from open play, thus leaving the onus on the wide players to execute in the final third.
Full-backs from both sides were adventurous when space was available in wide areas with Marcos Rojo and Timothy Fosu-Mensah failing to connect their crosses into the box with the attacking players. Although Kyle Walker’s powerful run past Rojo into the box forced a last-ditch tackle from Mensah to clear Spurs’ threat, it took the right-back time to finally receive space to storm past Anthony Martial. Juan Mata’s central positioning equally presented Danny Rose space to menace down the left, as Eriksen’s movement steered Mensah into central positions — still, Mensah comfortably coped throughout despite United’s issues on their right side of the field.
The key battle, pre-match, was billed around Walker and Martial, and Mauricio’s Pochettino instructed Moussa Dembele to drift over to the right to place the Frenchman in 1v2 situations when Erik Lamela didn’t trackback. Nevertheless, Martial was involved in United’s best openings by cleverly teeing up Jesse Lingard, while his individual slalom past Walker forced Hugo Lloris into an incredible save.
"Both teams fought a lot in the first half, both teams wanted to press and manage the game, and it was not clear who had the power to manage the game,” said Pochettino.
"But as it went on I think we went to dominate the game, start to find the space and create a lot chances."
Van Gaal’s attempt at gaining ascendancy witnessed Ashley Young replace Marcus Rashford upfront, opposed to his preferred wide position at the start of the second half. The decision was peculiar considering Young mainly positioned himself against Toby Alderweireld with his back to goal, despite failing to link play with his teammates. Where the United manager had Rashford chasing hopeless efforts in the final third, now the away side was devoid of a legitimate attacking scheme in Spurs’ half, as their entire quartet were operating in unfamiliar positions.
Spurs continued to push forward in spurts through the second half with both full-backs delivering dangerous crosses in the box, but it took another bizarre Van Gaal decision to alter the overall pattern. Spurs’ best chances were thwarted by the impressive Mensah, and while United’s meltdown subsequent to his departure is an indictment on the defence, it equally illustrated his value at White Hart Lane.
Despite a promising start to life at United, Matteo Darmian has endured a difficult Premier League campaign. The Italian’s positioning and individual defending has been questionable, and here, Spurs scored three goals in five minutes by exploiting space down his flank. It’s impossible to determine whether Spurs would score had Mensah not departed due to injury, but Darmian’s deficiencies were exposed quickly.
The buildup to Spurs’ winner epitomized the general pattern of the match, as a scrappy midfield battle saw Kane instantly play a loose ball into Christian Eriksen – Darmian failed to close down the Dane — who played a lovely cross for Alli to convert.
"It was a game with two teams who play, more or less, the same," Van Gaal said. "With high pressure on the ball, that's why I think you have seen a lot of unnecessary ball losses from both sides, because it is difficult to cope with that. The first goal was very important. I think it was more or less an equal game until the first goal.
Then, Darmian was guilty of earning a booking and conceding the free-kick that led to Alderweireld’s textbook headed goal. The final Spurs goal was an exceptional move built off their persistence to play long diagonals to switch the route of attack, but Darmian was again culpable of lazy defending to impede Rose’s cross.
A chaotic five-minute period saw Spurs blitz United, and while Mensah’s departure was significant, the away side’s performance is indicative of Van Gaal’s tenure at the club. United were competent out of possession, but their productivity in attack and his overall management of the match was dire.
Mensah’s performance showcased one of the few positive aspects during the Van Gaal era, but Darmian’s brief cameo is one of many examples that represents United’s stagnation, and why the club must head in a different direction.
More about Spurs, Manchester United, van gaal, Pochettino, Harry kane
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