Kieran Trippier Controls the Right-Hand Side as Tottenham Demolish Man Utd

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In simple terms, Tottenham brushed Manchester United aside. Mauricio Pochettino’s men were far too good for Jose Mourinho and his players, and in truth, Spurs dominated every aspect of the contest. They applied better defensive pressure, attacked with more cohesion and, crucially, outpointed the opposition tactically. That makes it a little difficult to pick out just a single area in which they were obviously superior, but one glaring problem for United was their horribly exposed left-hand side.

This had to do with a few things, one of which was personnel. Alexis Sanchez, their newly-acquired big-money signing, started on the left wing, which meant that there was a United rookie in that position. The Chilean wouldn’t have known the finer points of Mourinho’s system, and that raises the question of whether he had the clearest possible idea of what was expected of him without the ball.

In some ways, though, it’s hard to know whether that’s an accurate assessment. After all, he played a lot on the left prior to his arrival at United, and because of that, he should have turned up with at least a decent idea of the duties attached to that position. Tracking the fullback is, at least usually, the first item on the agenda, but Sanchez seemed more eager to cover the middle first.

That therefore suggests that it could be a system thing. It could’ve been Mourinho’s answer to mitigating the threat of Tottenham’s centrally-based players, as well as that of the right-sided Christian Eriksen, who uses his location on the wing as a mere starting point before coming infield. Instead of simply covering Tottenham right-back Kieren Trippier, Mourinho may have decided it was more important for Sanchez to sit in a central spot to help out the likes of Nemanja Matic in dealing with Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli. He might’ve decided that protecting the centre was the first priority, and that players such as Trippier were only to be covered when necessary.

Regardless of whether it was Sanchez’s lack of familiarity with the system or Mourinho’s tactical instructions, it’s clear that leaving Trippier alone was a bad idea. The right-back bombed along the touchline with a massive amount of freedom, and when Tottenham worked the ball out to him, he had time to either bring the ball back infield or run towards the byline and cross. He relished the time and space afforded to him, and while he’s not necessarily the most popular fullback around, he dominated his duel with Sanchez.

The most obvious example of this Sanchez-Trippier dynamic came in the lead-up to Tottenham’s second goal. Having gone ahead early, within the first minute of the match, Spurs were looking to assert their superiority. They moved the ball through the centre of the field in order to do that, with a couple of players getting touches in that part of the pitch. This meant United’s midfield line was very obviously sucked inside, with Sanchez included in that group. He had completely vacated the flank, and because of that, Trippier was wide open. All that Tottenham needed to do was find him, and following Alli’s nutmeg of Sanchez and Eriksen’s ensuing pass, they did exactly that.

This allowed Trippier to maraud into the final third and cross. He hit a low, skidding ball towards the near post, and although there wasn’t a Tottenham man on hand to knock it in, Phil Jones did it for them. The Manchester United centre-back fizzed the ball into his own goal, and at that point, Tottenham were 2-0 up and on the way to a win.

Trippier’s positioning continued to cause trouble for United, and sometimes he didn’t even need to have a massive say for that happen. On another occasion, Sanchez pushed higher up the pitch to close down Spurs centre-back Davinson Sanchez, so when Trippier received a short pass, he was unmarked. That meant Ashley Young had to vacate the backline to cover the English fullback, which caused something of a chain reaction for United. Matic moved out to the flank to cover Eriksen, but that, in turn, left the centre wide open.

Trippier responded to that by playing a pass back infield, at which point Alli was left with acres of space to work in. The youngster quickly whipped a pass out to Eriksen, who wasn’t tightly covered by Matic, and the Danish playmaker hit a lovely first-time pass into the onrushing Kane. The prolific centre-forward, who had run in behind Jones, latched onto it with ease, but his shot lacked the substance to beat De Gea.

Even so, this was how Tottenham went to work against United. They recognised an area to exploit, and by using the right-hand side 39% of the time, they did so ruthlessly. Perhaps because of this, Mourinho tried to make a change out there, shifting Anthony Martial back from United’s right-hand side to his preferred left-sided slot. That enabled Sanchez to move into the middle, and therefore away from the wing he was leaving so exposed, but by then Spurs were already 2-0 up and cruising.

Pochettino’s men strolled to victory, and against a Premier League heavyweight like United, that must have felt good. They got strong performances from all players on the team and from all sectors of the field, but in a lot of ways, their ability to take advantage of the room available to Trippier was what really enabled them to thrive.

There were other reasons too, of course, but with Trippier either running riot or drawing players other than his direct opponent towards him, Tottenham claimed an important victory. Perhaps more than that, Pochettino also walked away with bragging rights over Mourinho, and upon leaving Wembley, that might have been the thing that pleased him the most.

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