Manchester United have now picked up wins over Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool under the guidance of Erik ten Hag, but Wednesday’s display was by far and away United’s best showing of the season - a sentiment Erik ten Hag agrees with:
“I think it was the best team performance so far this season,” new manager Erik ten Hag said after his side beat Tottenham Hotspur convincingly at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
“First, you get organisation, in and out of possession,” he told the game’s UK broadcaster Amazon Prime Video. “Then, when you have that right, you need the right intensity. You have to dictate the intensity, and I think that is what we did today.”
On what impressed Ten Hag the most, he added: “It was so many things that were so really good.
“Our pressing organisation was fabulous, magnificent. Also, I think the rest defence and the counter-press was good, but also in possession. A lot of dynamic (movement) in front.
“Against this Tottenham, you need good pressing, you need good counter-press because, from there, you can create chances.”
And it was this group pressing that led to a very successful United display.
The pressing in question suffocated Tottenham, leading to the Lilywhites having just two shots on target all night.
It was also the reason for Manchester United’s first goal of the day and here is how they did it.
Tottenham play a 3-5-2 formation to build from the back, which gives them multiple avenues for build-up play, with Manchester United largely focused on cutting out the supply in midfield.
When Tottenham tried to build play from the right side in a line of four defenders, for example, Antony moved inside to block the passing lane to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Bruno Fernandes was tasked with marking Yves Bissouma and Jadon Sancho was on the left ready to pounce on Matt Doherty if Cristian Romero played a pass to the right wing-back.
Fred was also sat further back covering Tottenham’s final midfielder, Rodrigo Bentancur.
This would often force the ball carrier to go long, attempting to find Harry Kane. This is where Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane came in.
One of the centre-back duo, often Martinez, would push forward to challenge Kane or Heung-min Son for the aerial ball. And if a second-ball option was created, Casemiro, who was given a free role vs Spurs, was tasked with sweeping up any danger and starting an attack.
Tottenham also attempted to build out from the back in a three. United maintained the same pressing methodology, which is denying access to their opponents’ midfielders while leaving a man free.
But for this to happen, United need to adjust their pressing shape, which is where Marcus Rashford comes in.
Rashford would press Cristian Romero, with Sancho next to him attempting to cut out the nearest passing lane.
Fred then pressed Bissouma, leaving Luke Shaw to come in and mark Bentancur. Fernandes then picks up Hojbjerg, Anthony stays right wide for Davies, and Casemiro is once again left as the free man.
And when the ball was played back to Lloris by Romero as he had no decent options, the goalkeeper would attempt to find the left-wing-back, Ivan Perisic.
This triggered Diogo Dalot to move higher up the pitch and contest balls with Perisic.
Manchester United’s well-executed pressing system worked very well all evening and was crucial to their first goal.
In the build-up to the first goal, Hojbjerg drops into the Spurs back line to help the build-up, with Davies higher up the field. Antony, Fernandes, Fred and Sancho maintain their previously discussed pressing tasks.
This leads to a loose ball being played to Dier, who quickly has to clear it wide to Davies.
When Davies gets the ball his options in midfield are all cut off by the United press and as Diogo Dalot is closing in on him, he is forced to play the ball long to Kane.
The striker fails to control the ball and Martinez, who is being covered by the free Casemiro, wins the header.
The ball is then picked up by Bruno Fernandes and eventually worked to a Fred goal.
In summary, this was the most complete display from a Manchester United side in years, with every single player on the pitch having a key role.
Even Marcus Rashford, who has come in for criticism of late due to his poor finishing, was a key cog.
Rashford pressed Tottenham’s backline very well, something the now-banished Cristiano Ronaldo would not have done.