The game itself was rather open as both teams tried to control possession and break quickly when the opportunity presented itself. Both sides lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation, with their central midfielders dropping deep to receive possession, although there were differences between the two systems. United’s wingers, Luis Nani and Ashley Young, came inside often and the front men, Wayne Rooney and Welbeck, alternated dropping deep (Rooney played deep predominantly in the second-half) and pulling wide, while United’s full-backs had more licence to get forward. Tottenham on the other hand used a more ridged system. Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale stayed wide and Rafael van der Vaart played in the hole, behind Jermaine Defoe.
United started quickly and may narrowly have been the better side in the first-half. Both sides played attractive football, but struggled to create. United could not find a final ball and Spurs were wasteful in the final third. Defoe was isolated and van der Vaart’s passing and decision making were erratic.
In the second half-Rooney played deeper and linked with midfield more effectively, as United exerted more control in the fixture, eventually breaking the deadlock on the hour through Welbeck’s header, and United were soon in charge of the game.
Tottenham tired, their centre-backs Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul, after starting strongly, looked more ragged, and the defence as a whole struggled with United’s movement upfront. Spurs had opportunities to trouble United but all too often their decision making and passing were poor, while United’s back four (made up of Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra) remained solid, intercepting passes and closing down threats with vigour. Anderson added a second after Welbeck’s neat back heel before Rooney got the third to wrap up a good night’s work.
It was an impressive display by United and their young players look the part. It will no doubt worry their title rivals that without their first choice centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic United have looked so strong at the back. Jones in particular impressed with his anticipation and communication. Evans too was composed and Smalling’s athleticism was on show as he bombed forward throughout the game. David de Gea improved upon his last two showings – he made some smart saves and showed good distribution throughout, although there was a late error where he dropped a cross which, on a different day, could have been punished.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased that his young side has been so impressive and professional. It seems that his new crop of fledglings are ready to follow in the same tradition as their predecessors.