THE MIGHTY SPURS ARE TRUMPED BY DANCING - A SOMEWHAT CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR VS MANCHESTER UNITED - 19/06/20

By Timothy Lewis
Jun. 20, 2020

Below is my not so objective, not so critical, and certainly not so analytical review of the above match. Of course, with Jonathan Moss as ref, you might expect a decent game. Alas, fate dictated otherwise.

First half

The first half of the match saw United dominating possession, with some early forays into the Spurs half, but only to limited effect. Their best opportunity was casually dismissed, with Rashford deemed offside; a poor decision on the part of the linesman in my humble opinion. Yet, for all their superiority in holding on to the ball, it was Spurs that did more with it. Lamela fluffed a good opportunity to play Son in over the top, trying to exploit the high line held by United, and generally Spurs looked more effective on the offense.

Erik Lamela was a key component of the Spurs side throughout the first half. He was tenacious, snapping at heels and getting into good positions, albeit without achieving anything. By contrast, United’s best player to start was probably Rashford; when the ball fell to him after a Bruno Fernandes cross, his first-time, left-footed shot had to be smartly saved by Hugo Lloris.

Then came the real football, or lack thereof. Harry Maguire, operating with the grace and decorum of a reversing dump truck, allowed Steven Bergwijn to skip easily past him. Lindelof, predictably, was flat-footed, but the real horror show was De Gea letting the ball fly through his body. For someone who was once flirting with Real Madrid, De Gea’s downfall has been sad to see. In his defence, he did pull off a world class save a few minutes later, from a Heung-min Son header, but I remain unconvinced as to his quality.

The rest of the first half went by at the speed of snail. Lamela went through the back of Rashford, and yet Dan James was somehow the only one booked in the half, seemingly for falling onto Davies. Harry Winks sent a shot about 3 miles over the bar, then blamed Fernandes. Spurs, however, did finish the half on top, and to sum everything up from a United perspective, Scott McTominay passed the ball out of play. Typical.

Second half

The ‘explosive’ second half that the commentators promised us returned with a whimper, as Bruno Fernandes tried a long ball that made it all the way to Hugo Lloris. My notes indicate a whole range of failed passes, sloppy play, and simply rubbish football. Scott McTominay, who seems to have cropped up a lot, managed to blast the ball straight at Daniel James, who took it like a champion and soldiered on.

Then, in the 62nd minute, United’s saviour entered the game. Pogba and Greenwood replaced James and Fred. Their introduction almost led to a shot on goal. Credit where it is due, however. Fernandes found Martial with a clever ball, and were it not for the heroic efforts of Eric Dier, Martial would have scored. In a similar, but more agile and cat-like manner, Lloris also denied Martial, in what was perhaps an even better save than De Gea’s, high and to his left. He did seem rather feline at the time.

Following that, Pogba apparently decided to hug Lamela and was penalised for doing so. Spurs made substitutions, bringing on Gedson Fernandes and Lo Celso, who between them may have touched the ball all of three times. In another raft of substitutions, presumably to make the game more exciting, Solskjaer brought on Ighalo and Matic, for Martial and Lindelof. The tactical masterstroke here was to employ two midfielders at centre back, and allow Harry Maguire to run riot in the box? It almost worked, as big Harry has incredibly tricky footwork for a man with a head the size and shape of a domino’s pizza.

Pogba then did what everyone had been waiting for; he danced on the right wing and was awarded a penalty for his exertions. Dier had played well up until that point, but apparently his brain circuitry was fried at the sight of Paul Pogba shimmying around. Fernandes converted, and every United fan in the world breathed a sigh of relief. Nonetheless, to give credit to the Frenchman, he did win the penalty with some lovely skill, and almost pulled off a moment of magic with a long ball from nowhere to Rashford, who naturally failed to control it properly.

The real controversy came with a 90th minute penalty. Or rather, it would have done, had VAR not stepped in and actually done its job for once. However, the conclusion to the game was somewhat enjoyable. Rashford was inches and a Sissoko block away from being through on goal, and Greenwood’s shot went just wide of the post, in what was almost the last kick of the game. It was at this point that I realised Harry Kane was, in fact, on the pitch. The more you know. Fernandes also took a longshot, but the less said about that, the better.

Some thoughts

Right from the start, and throughout the whole game, both teams remained compact and retreated into shape far more than the Premier league is used to. This seems to be a common trend, observable in the Bundesliga over the past month; perhaps a result of managers and players lacking fitness and confidence? I see it as a game of chess. The managers line up their pieces, train for the game, and in the end are predictable and boring. Of course, no disrespect is meant to the historic game; if anything, I’d have preferred to watch a chess match than the opening ten minutes.

The point is, it may take some time to return to normal. Project Restart is like starting a new season without pre-season matches, and players need time to get match-fit and to sharpen up. Of course, some players will never do that, but we may have to wait a few matches to see the teams that we all know and love playing good football.