5 Things We Learned: Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United
1. Defending as a team was superb
All Andre Villas Boas and my Spurs supporting mates talked about last night was how they dominated possession and had 23 shots. Well, this must be the first game in a long time between the two sides that Spurs fans have been able to cheer statistics like that. Whereas many will jump on the bandwagon, claiming United were lucky to get away with a point and rode their luck, I am beaming at a pretty fantastic, all round, defensive display. I even heard some murmurs that United had parked the bus, which gave me a chuckle. Chastised all season for conceding first and unable to stop shipping goals. Now when we put in a resolute display against a top four rival away from home, we’re likened to a conference side scoring first in an FA Cup tie and clinging onto the hope of taking a big team back to our ground for a replay for the rest of the game. While David de Gea pulled of a couple of impressive and vital stops and we came under a barrage of balls into the box late in the second half, I think we simply worked together to nullify the home side’s threat, which was constant. The midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverly played ever so well. They were equally as effective going forward – our attacks often beginning with the former Spurs man, while Cleverley’s teasing cross allowed Robin van Persie to score his 22nd goal of the season – as they were tracking back. Carrick was especially vigilant late in the game in shadowing Aaron Lennon and blocked several attempted crosses from the tricky winger and even dispossessed him. So, enjoy the one-upmanship Tottenham fans. You may have got a late goal, but with our defending returning to some state of normality, the Vidic and Ferdinand partnership starting to anchor the team once again and United tightening ship as we approach the business end of the season, United have their eyes set firmly on the horizon and the treasure chest that is regaining the league title.
2. Jones continues to Phil his potential
Phil Jones was superb against Spurs. As a team we defended well, a point I’ve already touched upon, but Jones typified our spirit. Patrolling the middle of the field, marauding back and forth and barging his way around the pitch, he ran Carrick very close in my opinion to the man of the match award. He worked tirelessly and terrifically in tandem with Rafael to stagnate the threat of the very dangerous Gareth Bale and just exuded effort. He is going to be some player. The only problem is, having declared his future as lying in central defence and being used for the majority of his short United career either in the middle or on the right hand side of the back four, his performance on Sunday reopens the debate of where best to play him. It’s fantastic that, until he really establishes himself in the United first team, he can fill in at a variety of positions when called upon, but I fear that constantly switching between defence and midfield will not bring out the best of his talent.
3. De Gea slammed again
From day one, the Spaniard has been hammered. He should have saved Edin Dzeko’s long range effort in the 2011 Community Shield and the ‘calamity’, ‘error prone’ and ‘dodgy’ tags have followed him ever since. His failure to get enough on his punch to Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cross in stoppage time yesterday, which ultimately led to Clint Dempsey’s equaliser, must have had hacks and those eager to criticise licking their lips. Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen even claimed in Monday’s Telegraph that the 22-year-old ‘must surely be on his last chance now’. Maddening as the de Gea-hating is, I tend to rise above it. But amid recent speculation that he’ll be sold to Real Madrid, all the rumours of Fergie now dropping and now Hansen’s comment on him, I think this is the most ridiculous and unfair criticism he’s had to date.
Yes, of course he should have done better with his punch. He came out to deal with a similar situation earlier in the second half and got a good fist to it (surprise surprise Hansen didn’t think that was very good either) but the constant vilification of him is starting to go beyond a laughing matter. Everyone seems to ignore the fact that he played superbly well yesterday and kept us in the game with some excellent stops – most notably the saves from Bale’s deflected shot and when one on one with Dempsey. I said at the time of the goal that I would have loved him to have come and claimed the ball and clear out anyone in his way. ‘Who cares if it’s Vidic, this ball is mine’, let them know who is boss. At the very least if he’d done that and not been able to grasp it he’d probably have got a foul. De Gea is still developing and I know he’ll improve his aerial ability/dealing with crosses because that, for me, is the only glaring area he needs to work on.
4. Vidic & Ferdinand approaching something close to their best
I’ve already talked about the team putting in a solid defensive performance but I think the most pleasurable aspect of the defensive display on Sunday was that Rio and Vidic reminded me of the Rio and Vidic that they used to be. They were commanding and ruthless, brave and last ditch at times, but impressive. I thought (despite Fergie appearing to try and dress up his substitution) that Vidic might have tweaked his troublesome knee injury against Liverpool and that he would not appear on Sunday. Yet there seemed to be no problem with it or him and as each games comes and goes, he visibly appears to be getting stronger. Rio was his usual classy self and appeared as if from nowhere to block Jermain Defoe’s goal-bound effort when I thought for sure he was going to equalise. I said recently that Jonny Evans’ development has been nothing short of fabulous and, when fit, he would be the first centre back on my team sheet. He’s out injured at the moment and if Rio and Vidic continue to replicate the form the partnership was once famed for, Fergie will have to stick with his two generals.
5. Disappointed not to win but a point’s a good one
Edin Dzeko said in a newspaper article on Monday that he is confident Manchester United will continue to drop more points in the coming weeks and months. A gap that was seven points and a few weeks ago could have been 10, is now down to five. But there’s no need to quiver. To concede late on Sunday was annoying, a taste of our own medicine, but most of us would have taken a point before kick off – against an in-form Spurs, a top four rival, away from home. It’s another difficult away trip out of the way (we’ve been to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Goodison Park, the Etihad, St James’ Park and now White Hart Lane). Of course we have big home games coming against City, Everton and Chelsea and are yet to go to the Emirates, but the toughest part of our campaign has been conquered and so long as we maintain form and focus, we’re in the driving seat. I have a feeling that Sunday’s draw may turn out, at the end of the season, to be one of those games when we look back and say ‘that’s where the title was won’.
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