Pochettino’s half time changes bring Spurs back to life after Mourinho’s smothering
On Monday night Spurs travelled to Old Trafford searching for a win, a thing that only happened twice in the last 28 years. A win that could in theory be the catalyst to overturn their poor performances away from home against the top 6 where they have only managed 13 points since the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino. United meanwhile are suffering from the Mourinho turmoil; off the pitch with the board vetoing his applications for further enhancements, and on it after two dodgy performances against Leicester and Brighton. With the Brighton performance being arguably United’s worst display during the Portuguese stint, a better performance was needed to redeem his side.
Spurs started the season in a 4–3–1–2 formation against Newcastle — a system that’s not a regular for Pochettino — and switched to the diamond again during the 2nd half of the game against Fulham to free Alli from his marker and give Dier more time on the ball to become a 3rd station for crossing. At Old Trafford, Pochettino decided to continue with this system by replacing Ben Davies with Rose. United on the other hand, fielded a 5–3–2; an option that Mourinho tends to turn to against top 6 sides, but this time Herrera as a right center back in a back three.
Previously, Herrera was fielded in a slightly higher position against Chelsea to man mark Hazard, this time it was to cover Dele Alli’s far post runs with the Englishman possibly Spurs’ best player in the first two games of the season. In addition to that, the Spaniard pressed Kane whenever he dropped to the left channel; a move that Spurs deploy during ball progression on the left side. Further up the pitch, United’s midfield trio was more associated with defending the channels to stop Dier’s crosses; Eriksen’s roams towards the right side and Alli’s threat on the left side. This was accomplished by positioning Pogba on the right side to help Valencia and Herrera, while Matic and Fred covered the right channel, Spurs’ main source of chance creation was neutralized.
Adding to their off ball positioning, United pressed the Spurs defence intensely in the first parts of the first half, leaving the Spurs defence uncomfortable while building up, whereas creating chances on offensive transitions. The most dangerous one came when Lukaku went pass Lloris only to miss an open goal. The three man defence had a major advantage against the diamond while building up, as there is always 1 more man, in this case it was Herrera, and seeing the right sided dependency in United attack shows that this wasn’t a coincidence. Fred’s movement towards the right side of midfield was quite peculiar considering his position, but his constant pressure and runs behind Dembele caused Spurs major issues. While he could have topped this with a goal, his shot missed the target. The right sided dependency and Fred’s movements meant that there was space for Shaw to attack, and the left back caused Trippier problems throughout the game. Spurs’ chance were minimal in the first half, the only major one was a Dele Alli shot which was blocked by Ander Herrera, however Lucas Moura showed sparks of brilliance and in theory could have got a penalty after a Jones’ tackle.
United failed to maximize their chances in the first half and turn them into a lead, a Spurs change was imminent and in the 2nd half Pochettino shifted his players. Keeping the diamond but moving Alli centrally, Eriksen to the right and Dier to the left side of the diamond. Putting Dier on the right side was mainly to strengthen the side defensively as it was United’s main area of ball progression through the first half, the Eriksen-Alli switch was the key on the day. The idea is that United’s marking of the channels left space in front of the defence and Eriksen’s roaming in the first half didn’t exploit it. Adding to that, Fred’s movement towards the right side, left a gap when in transition putting a goal threat in Alli in the space in front of the defence. While having Eriksen on the right side for more creativity proved effective as Spurs took the lead through a corner which was a result of an Alli chance in the space mentioned earlier created by Eriksen from the right side channel. Spurs doubled their lead through the same area, this time with the help of United’s shambolic positioning; Eriksen set up Moura, who blasted it into the net.
Mourinho’s reaction was to introduce Sanchez then Fellaini and switch to a 4–2–3–1, a long ball/crosses dependent style of play which felt too early in the game considering that there were still 30 minutes left. Pochettino reacted to the United substitutions by switching to a 4–2–2–2 when defending, keeping Dier and Dembele flatter to support Vertonghen and Alderweireld aerially. As a result, Spurs managed to clear most of the aerial balls and contain United’s aerial threat. United’s avalanche during the latter stages of the game meant that spaces appeared in the back line, and Lucas Moura’s pace was there to punish them and sweep United away.
Pochettino’s switch in the second half brought back Spurs in the game and the team which finished their chances eventually won it. The Argentine’s all black choice of clothes was reminiscent of Diego Simeone, but can the Spurs boss win the league as his fellow Argentine did in 2014.