A lot of emphasis was placed on the battle between Rafael and Gareth Bale, two of the respective sides stand out stars this campaign, but the primary battle was fought in the middle of the park. The central midfield partnerships played very different games, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher sitting deep for United and rarely pushing forward whilst Luka Modric and Wilson Palacios took turns in pressing the ball when United had the ball at the back. Indeed, it was often the case that one of the two players would be at least 10 yards in the opposition half, meaning that United struggled to have a platform to build from and Spurs retained the majority of the territory.
Chances during the first half were few and far between, with Peter Crouch having the only clear cut opportunity poking a shot wide following a cross from Alan Hutton after he was put through down the right flank by Modric, who had got in behind Fletcher and Carrick.
The other primary difference in how the teams played was the positioning of the wingers. For Spurs, Bale and Aaron Lennon held their positions and hugged the touchline, whereas Ryan Giggs and Nani generally cut infield to try and make use of the space between the lines when Modric and Palacios pushed on and pressed the ball high up the pitch. The problem for United, though, was that in spite of the wingers (more prominently Giggs) pushing infield they were too slow to capitalise on what space existed before the Tottenham midfield got back.
To combat Spurs’ wing play United implemented a systematic pattern of defending. With Rafael van der Vaart usually dropping deep into the space, one defender was left free and it was this defender that covered behind their closest full back, with Michael Carrick filling the vacated space. With Crouch generally pulling to the far post, it meant that United were always able to deal with the majority of the threat that Spurs posed.
Before Rafael got his marching orders, Sir Alex Ferguson managed to effect a change in the pattern of play by replacing Nani with Anderson. Making the midfield narrower, and allowing more players to push forward centrally they managed to get some semblance of dominance for a period of the second half and stymie the dominance of Modric and Palacios.
Even after the red card, United never looked likely to concede, managing to stifle Tottenham by defending deep and narrow. This was not helped by Harry Redknapp’s decision to put Jermain Defoe on for Palacios, meaning nobody was playing between the lines in the centre and they weren’t able to break down United.
Both teams will be happy with the point; a fair result for both sides as Tottenham played well without managing to create many chances. United, for whom Nemanja Vidic in particular was outstanding produced a solid defensive display worthy of a point.