Oct 27, 2017

With Kane out, Poch will need tactical masterclass for Spurs to succeed at Old Trafford

Tottenham Hotspur face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday in a battle for second place in the Premier League. With Harry Kane out injured it will take all of Mauricio Pochettino's tactical guile to outwit Jose Mourinho's carefully laid plans to park the bus.

Yes, we expect Mourinho to park the bus even with Kane now officially ruled out. Because that's what Mourinho does. It may be rooted in his failure to make it as a player, but whatever its cause we don't expect Mourinho to deviate from it now. So an element of surprise is needed. In their last league game against Liverpool, Spurs' 5-3-2 lineup shocked Juergen Klopp's defense into submission in minutes. Klopp, far all his charms, is nothing of the defensive mastermind that Mourinho is. Or even close. In fact, Klopp is looking more and more like a decidedly average manager in general. But let's leave Liverpool and their latest savior alone for once as they've suffered enough recently.

The point is, after Tottenham's successes against Real Madrid and Liverpool (we're not talking about the Carabao Cup here, sorry) Mourinho will now be expecting a 'WTF' Spurs lineup -- probably even more so without Kane. That element of surprise is gone. And with Kane out, so too is the option of really going for the jugular to reinstate shock and awe. One vision had Poch trotting out three strikers: Heung Min Son on the left, Kane in the middle and Fernando Llorente on the right. That's out the window. Instead, a lot of the responsibility for Spurs' attacking game falls to Dele Alli. Tottenham will again seek to exploit the width of the pitch as they did against Liverpool, aiming to catch United's slow defenders off guard. That will be a more difficult order than it was against the likes of Dejan Lovren. But it could still work. United's defense is not 1970 vintage Inter Milan. In fact, it's pretty average. Eric Bailly is really the only defender of true quality and with Victor Lindelof, Man U may have their very own Lovren in training.

But Bailly remains questionable for this match. Phil Jones is expected back from injury, so United will likely not have to go with Lindelof. Still, even without Kane Spurs' attack will present problems for this Man United defense. Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen can make quick work of the likes of Jones and Chris Smalling if given the space. Mourinho knows this so his gameplan will likely depend on throttling Spurs' midfield play, but here too his options are limited without Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick, also injured. The alternative, to attack, is simply not Mourinho's style, regardless of what Martin Keown says. Man U might need the win more, but fear of losing at home is more paramount at this stage. So expect Mourinho to risk little.

This is where Pochettino needs to get creative, again, with his wide players. Starting Serge Aurier on the left against Liverpool was a masterstroke. An even better alternative is Danny Rose, fit enough for 60 minutes of Carabao Cup duty at midweek (which we said we wouldn't talk about. But mentioning it is okay). Keep Aurier on the right and have the two wingbacks push up aggressively. The back three of Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld have proven they are capable without much support from the defensive midfield -- though Eric Dier is also healthy and available for that. Without Pogba, United's creative attacking duties appear to be falling to Jesse Lingard. That worked out fine in the Carabao Cup (okay, mentioning it again), but Spurs are better than Swansea City. Further bolstering the midfield battle in favor of Spurs will be Moussa Dembele, also healthy again, and ready to start according to some reports. This leaves Victor Wanyama as the only other absence for Tottenham, unless you count Eric Lamela of course, but he's been injured (or something) since the Obama administration.

In the end it probably won't be enough. This unfortunately has the look of another tactical stalemate match, not unlike United's visit to Anfield a few weeks ago. A lot of that depends on Spurs' ability to break through Man U's defense in the early stage of the match. The opening minutes will set the tone. Again, the element of surprise is largely gone and without Kane there may simply not be enough quality in Tottenham's attack to strike the early blow. Expect a scoreless draw from this one.


  1. Should have posted your blog 1 hour before because game has started and we definitely haven't parked bus at this game (we will do next week at Chelsea). Very even contest right now and some risk taking too. We are missing an additional midfielder like Mata but would lose a defender if we went down that route. Spurs definitely better technically than us and it's showing but we are looking at inspiration using the crowd or wait for a break. Lukaku has been pretty anonymous (ever since Pogba been out).

    1. Man U did come out aggressively. It was disappointing from Spurs in the end. Pochettino's lineup failed to make the necessary impact and United were able to clog the key passing lanes to prevent build up. Spurs' defense let them down on the goal. Losing at Old Trafford is no crime -- even less so without your best player -- so we'll just have to pick up the pieces. But Spurs were definitely out-managed on the day.