5 Things We Learned: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United
By Piers Barber
1. Jonny Evans is becoming a crucial cog in the United defence
Jonny Evans is quietly becoming a mainstay of United’s starting XI, having partnered Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones at the heart of the team’s defence in recent games. Evans is not the quickest or most spectacular defender, but his reading of the game and willingness to put his body on the line are underrated and essential qualities in a centre back. He is growing into a classy player and a genuine leader of the United back line, demanding the highest standards from his colleagues and not being afraid to let them know if they are failing to meet them. His unflashy playing style and boring haircut will mean he continues to be derided by opposing fans, but the Northern Ireland international is a vital player who could well be a potential captain in the making.
2. Central midfield difficulties continue
David Moyes chose to go with Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley in central midfield against Spurs, electing to leave Marouane Fellaini on the bench and to rest Ryan Giggs following his age-defying heroics in midweek. Jones again proved a useful nuisance figure in the middle of the park, breaking up play and capably protecting his back four throughout. Cleverley, though, continues to look an awkward fit, frequently shying away from receiving the ball in all but the simplest of positions and proving persistently unadventurous with his distribution when he does get it. Although he picked out Danny Welbeck with one fine pass in the second half, he repeatedly lost the ball with careless dribbles and once again played too many backwards passes. If he is to ever become a dominating presence he must quickly learn to be more efficient at converting the team from defence to attack, rather than the other way around.
3. A testing afternoon for the full-backs
Although a persistent attacking threat, without the ball Patrice Evra experienced a torrid first half hour against the lightning-quick Aaron Lennon. His skills defending against pace have never been too convincing, but the Frenchman did well to reassert himself in the second half, to the extent that Lennon was later substituted. Chris Smalling, meanwhile, lost out in the battle of the England right-backs on an afternoon when Roy Hodgson was in the stands to assess his and Kyle Walker’s performance ahead of the World Cup next year. Although Walker was at fault for Wayne Rooney’s first goal, the Spurs man presented a persistent attacking threat, fizzing in several wicked crosses and getting on the scoresheet with a smart free kick. Smalling remains the antithesis of Evra: solid at the back (his defensive headers are consistently excellent), but limited as an attacking force, rarely looking comfortable on the ball and reluctant to go on the overlap. Rafael waits in the wings.
4. Statistically, Rooney is indisputably one of the United’s all time greats
Wayne Rooney was again United’s man of the match, scoring both his side’s goals and assuming fifth place in the list of the highest goalscorers in the history of the Premier League in the process. Following his four assists against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, he once again demonstrated impeccable close control, classy finishing and excellent distribution, picking out Antonio Valencia on the right wing with pinpoint accuracy at will. He also worked tirelessly throughout, making space for others and providing some vital defensive contributions in his own half. Rooney’s return to form remains the best thing to have come from Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement so far.
5. Manchester United are in danger of losing sight of their win-at-all-costs mentality
Although United responded almost instantly to both Tottenham goals, they seemed reluctant to push for a winner as a frantic game drew to a slightly anticlimactic close. Moyes did all he could to provide the team with an extra attacking edge, bringing on Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young and Nani to try to initiate a final breakthrough. Yet United’s tiring players never looked likely to grab a winner, a characteristic which is a becoming a worryingly common trend during the Moyes era. Now ten points behind league leaders Arsenal, United must start picking up difficult wins away from home if they are to get back into contention for the title. The likes of Ferguson, Neville and Keane would never have settled for anything less.
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