As statement wins go, Manchester United’s comprehensive 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford was as bold and as striking as you’re ever likely to see.
Make no mistake; United were as forceful and aggressive as Spurs were timid and cowed, but the sheer intensity of Erik ten Hag’s burgeoning side forced Tottenham back and prevented Harry Kane and Son Heung-min from being supplied with any quality service.
Ultimately, United reigned 28 shots down on Spurs’ beleaguered goal, with Hugo Loris making a season-high eight saves to keep the score down. But what are the key takeaways from the match and where do both sides go from here?
#1. Ten Hag’s Blueprint is Becoming Increasingly Clearer
Ever since pre-season, Manchester United have played with considerably more drive and tempo than previously, with slicker, one and two-touch passing being enabled by the side’s improved attacking and defensive shapes.
The transition between these two shapes is also becoming much smooth under ten Hag, enabling United to increasingly dominate possession and move the ball quickly while also sustaining attacks throughout the 90 minutes.
However, the victory over Spurs saw United dominate a match for the full duration for the first time under ten Hag, with the Dutchman’s high-press and vertical ball movement more evident than ever before.
This has set a standard and blueprint for future performances, while creating an identity that fans can buy into going forward.
#2. Conte’s Side Lacks Midfield Creativity
If you were a fan of the betting site gopoker.global, you may be inclined to describe Antonio Conte’s tactics as something of a gamble.
After all, the Italian remains heavily reliant on Kane and Son to exploit space on the counterattack, banking on their efficiency and ruthlessness in front of goal while they deal with an often-limited supply line and absence of support.
This was certainly the case at Old Trafford, and during previous ‘big six’ clashes against Chelsea and Arsenal. Here, Conte opted to play Yves Bissouma in the absence of Richarlison, creating a change in shape that made Tottenham more defensive and less direct than usual.
However, there remained very little creativity in the Spurs side, while the forward passes that did emanate from the midfield were largely eliminated by the aggressive Lisandro Martínez and imperious Raphael Varane.
This is a major issue for Conte, who will either have to address in the next transfer window or revert to the more familiar 3-4-3 and move the ball quicker from front to back.
#3. Varane and Martinez are Quite the Defensive Pair
On the topic of Varane and Martinez, they appear to have struck up a highly effective partnership since first being paired in the 2-1 win over Liverpool in August.
Aside from the 6-3 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City (in which Varane was substituted at half-time with an injury), these two have proved to be rocks at the heart of the United defences, holding the line with poise and aggression while showcasing a genuine desire to keep clean sheets.
While Martinez uses his pace, aggression and ability to read the game to step out and stop attacks at source, Varane leverages positional expertise and his natural height to sweep in behind and dominate aerially.
Both players are also comfortable on the ball, helping United to build successfully from the back and laying the foundation for ten Hag’s core style of play.