Tottenham 1 Man United 1: Lessons learned as Dempsey rescues a point
Tottenham 1 Man United 1: What lessons did we learn as the Red Devils were held to a draw thanks to Clint Dempsey's late equaliser?
Lively Lennon helps rescue a point for Spurs
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a narrow looking line-up at White Hart Lane, starting Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck alongside Robin van Persie, while Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones were tasked with overwhelming Tottenham’s midfield. With Spurs possessing two of the most dangerous wingers in the Premier League, on paper it looked as if Patrice Evra and Rafael could be set for one of the more testing 90 minutes of their season. The France international struggled against Aaron Lennon in the first half as the pacey right midfielder was a rare positive for the home side. Inside the opening 20 minutes, the Leeds United youth graduate had already beaten Evra twice, showing variation to his play. Lennon is often criticised for lacking an end product, but it wasn’t the case against United as he won an early free-kick in a dangerous area before drawing a smart save from David De Gea in a later move. For Gareth Bale, it was a more frustrating opening period as Rafael and Phil Jones doubled up on the Wales international. In frustration, the 23-year-old drifted infield, hoping to gain a stranglehold on the game, but he was unable to have a telling impact, aside from an instinctive shot just before half-time which drew a top save from De Gea. Bale did show more adventure after the interval as he outpaced Jones and Rafael to fizz in several dangerous low crosses. In what looked to be the best opportunity for Spurs to conjure an equaliser, Lennon darted off the right wing, slalomed past two challenges before sliding Defoe one-on-one with De Gea – the striker took too long to steady himself and his resulting shot was blocked by Rio Ferdinand, who recovered well. It appeared to be game up for Spurs with 10 minutes remaining. However, Lennon finally made the telling contribution that his performance so deserved. When the ball fell to the diminutive winger in the United area, the 26-year-old showed the presence of mind to tee up Clint Dempsey to net a dramatic 92nd-minute leveller.
Classy United unlock Tottenham’s defence
Remarkably, United have the second worst defensive record in the top half of the Premier League this season, conceding 29 goals – only West Bromwich Albion have shipped more (32)! But it matters little for the Red Devils when Ferguson’s side have Robin van Persie scoring at will. The Netherlands international netted in his fifth successive Premier League match, equalling his best scoring run at Arsenal, and taking his tally to 10 in his last 10 outings with his 18th in the league this term. But there was more to United’s opener than Van Persie’s sheer brilliance. Rio Ferdinand started the move deep in United’s half, with Kagawa showing deft skill and vision to find his midfield colleague Michael Carrick. The England international spread the play out to the left with a beautiful ball before it was switched to Tom Cleverley on the opposite side of the pitch. With Spurs in disarray, the 23-year-old curled a teasing ball into Hugo Lloris’ area, and inevitably, Van Persie was on hand to provide the finish. It was teamwork at its finest.
Carrick and Parker endure mixed returns to the Lane
United’s trip to Spurs threw up an interesting clash between two of England most undervalued midfielders over the past decade. Carrick and Scott Parker were returning to White Hart Lane in vastly different circumstances. The Red Devils midfielder spent two seasons at Spurs before completing a £14m move to Old Trafford in 2006. Almost six-and-a-half years after joining United, Carrick appears to be in the form of his life as he continues to be the ever-reliable architect of his side’s success in midfield. The 31-year-old was in fine form against his former club, not least playing a key part in the winner. Carrick’s reading of the game is superb and at times his distribution of the ball looks effortless. His decision making is rarely questioned, even willing to pick up a booking in the first half to prevent Dempsey wriggling free as Spurs countered. While admitting in a candid interview on Sunday that he is far from the perfect tackler, Carrick was able to make vital interceptions to halt Andre Villas-Boas’s midfield finding any real rhythm – a superbly timed tackle in De Gea’s area against the lightning-quick Lennon was a glowing example of his composure. For Parker, it was an unhappy return to the Spurs first-team after a spell injured and out-of-favour. Sandro’s absence provided the former Chelsea dynamo with the chance to impress the Tottenham boss. But Villas-Boas withdrew Parker with 20 minutes remaining after a subdued return to first-team action.
De Gea continues to improve
Benefiting from a sustained run in the Red Devils first-team for their Premier League outings, De Gea was imperious against Tottenham as he helped United restore their seven-point advantage over Manchester City at the top of the table. Since Anders Lindegaard’s horror show in a 4-3 victory over Reading in early December, Ferguson has largely opted to start De Gea – and the Spaniard is showing steady improvement. The 22-year-old was criticised for not parrying his save from Steven Gerrard’s effort clear of danger last week, allowing Daniel Sturridge to pounce on the rebound to ensure a nervy climax for United in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. On Sunday, the former Atletico Madrid keeper had to be alert to save from Lennon before he showed there were no issues with his concentration span – as suggested last week at Old Trafford – with Defoe’s cunning near-post shot failing to catch De Gea out. While the Under-21 Spain international still needs to work on his distribution – a few clearances caused panic in the United defence – there is no doubt he is growing in confidence. His best moment came just before half-time when he used his feet to block Bale’s low shot, which took a wicked deflection off Ferdinand. There was little he could do about Dempsey’s late goal, and overall, it was a promising display from the youngster.