Manchester United’s transformation at Tottenham after their horror show against Liverpool was both instant and emphatic – but exactly how did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turn their fortunes around?
That was the topic of conversation on Monday Night Football, where Jamie Carragher dissected United’s pressure 3-0 triumph at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which lifted the pressure on Solskjaer after last Sunday’s humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.
United’s transformation was apparent to Carragher inside the opening minute on Saturday, with Solskjaer’s side pressing aggressively as a unit within a new-look 3-5-2 formation which laid the foundations for the morale-boosting victory.
“There was talk that Manchester United cannot press high, that they don’t have the players to do it. I don’t necessarily agree with that; a team should be able to press high at times and drop off at others. That is what Manchester United did really well at Spurs,” Carragher said.
“In the first half, before they took the lead, United were aggressive, on the front foot, and pressed high. Second half they dropped off because the goal changed the game, and they go their other two on the counter from a deeper position. But in the first half Manchester United pressed high.
‘Liverpool and Spurs performances poles apart’
“Against Liverpool at Old Trafford, Manchester United go it wrong in terms of the press. For Liverpool’s first goal, Bruno Fernandes made a silly decision which was compounded by Mason Greenwood, who was nine yards away from the ball.
“Then Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes a silly decision, he was 12 yards off the ball, and everybody got caught nowhere near a Liverpool player. There was the first mistake, and then it was compounded by every other player.
‘United were compact and aggressive at Spurs’
“United changed the system at Spurs, you expected them to be more organised and the respond, after all, this was a team that had faced a ton of criticism. Instantly you could split the two in two, they had seven players back organised, and three attackers pushed up.
“With less than a minute on the clock you could see the reaction straight away. Edinson Cavani was outstanding, his decision to go and engage the press was aggressive and he sprinted, and it was followed up by Harry Maguire. United were on the front foot, right on top of Spurs.
“Inside the opening minute, there were six Manchester United players in a 12×12 area, together, compact, aggressive – everything they were against Liverpool. There was no doubt they wanted to make that fast aggressive start and put Spurs under pressure.
“There was talk that Manchester United can only defend deep, but they were not deep at Spurs. They played on the halfway line, the front three were pushed right up on the edge of the Spurs box, and when anything went long, Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof gobbled it up.
“The opening goal absolutely typified the performance. As the Spurs defender headed the ball clear, United had Varane high up against Harry Kane, the distance between Varane and Ronaldo was 21 yards.
“This was not a team defending deep, it was a team on the front foot, high and aggressive, and also narrow and compact. It was almost like watching Manchester City, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, on the front foot with all 10 outfield players together, compact.
“Because Maguire was up high, he kept the attack alive, and that is where the first goal came from as Fernandes’ fantastic pass was volleyed in by Ronaldo.
“Manchester United were outstanding. I know there has been a lot of talk since about how poor Tottenham were, but we cannot criticise United for conceding five goals at home against Liverpool, looking all over the place, and then going to Spurs and stopping the opposition having a shot on target.
“Any away ground in the Premier League is a difficult game so you cannot keep looking at Spurs, it was really good from Manchester United.”