What Man Utd can learn from Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham

Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday raised further questions about the job Erik ten Hag has overseen in his time at the club.

The Red Devils ended the game with just 36% possession and they were outshot by 16 to nine. Much of the noise came from the travelling north London contingent, with home fans only really treated to runs on the counter attack.

Ange Postecoglou has been praised for the work he’s done with Spurs, but what can United learn from them?

Erik ten HagErik ten Hag

Ten Hag’s second season has been underwhelming / Alex Livesey – Danehouse/GettyImages

Ten Hag has made no secret that he has somewhat reneged on his vision for United this season due to their injury list and admitted this side is incapable of playing the free-flowing possession-based style he was famed for at Ajax.

Those excuses were put to shame by Postecoglou, who similarly has missed key men for the last couple of months and Tottenham’s style has not changed. They were able to go to Old Trafford and play precisely in his vision despite missing three of their best players in Son Heung-min, James Maddison and Dejan Kulusevski, while Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven started together for the first time since November following hamstring injuries.

Post-match, Postecoglou praised the commitment of his returning centre-backs for putting side over self in their recoveries. There is a unity at Spurs which now runs from the team to the stands. Everyone is on the same page.

United were trending upwards last season but have come crashing back to Earth. Ten Hag might not get much more time to prove that this year is the actually the outlier.

Kobbie Mainoo, Christian EriksenKobbie Mainoo, Christian Eriksen

Tottenham ran rings around Man Utd’s midfield / Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

In the week leading up to this fixture, 90min’s Scott Saunders preached that one of United’s main weaknesses is they take far less care of the ball than Tottenham. He was proven right on Sunday.

Spurs always sought to build from the back and worked well as a unit to progress the ball as a team. Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg switched between the six and eight positions to retrieve possession from defence, and a frontline which appeared to be lacking in creativity and control managed to keep calm and composed.

Even if Ten Hag is not aiming to replicate his Ajax style, he should at least be able to coach his side to keep possession. Instead, they hoofed it long at any given opportunity, even if their pacy frontline weren’t yet ready to run in behind. Their default was to take the game step-by-step, while Tottenham already knew what they were going to do, when and how.

There’s so much talent in United’s squad and they shouldn’t be limited to such a measly figure of possession, even if Spurs are now one of the Premier League’s better teams in that area.


Antony was given a run-out late in the day / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/GettyImages

Ten Hag has almost lived and died by signings from either his days at Ajax or players who had experience in the Eredivisie. United’s transfers have come under intense scrutiny in the last decade, but the Dutchman’s choice to keep going back to players most familiar to him has damaged the makeup of his squad.

When Postecoglou joined Tottenham, he was tipped to have brought some of his Celtic contingent with him, but he resisted that temptation and cast his net wider.

Guglielmo Vicario was a relative unknown on these shores until the summer, but the Greek-Australian was impressed by his character and the adversity he’s had to work through to get to where he is, with the goalkeeper reiterating this week he would have walked to north London and signed his contract in blood to seal the move. James Maddison, although absent here, is the perfect Postecoglou player, as is the monstrous Micky van de Ven, who Tottenham were somehow given a free run for.

This all, in part, boils back to the identity point. It was easier for Spurs to identify these signings because they knew how they were going to play. Ten Hag isn’t trying to replicate Ajax but is still relying on those he was there with anyway. It doesn’t add up and has only added to the Old Trafford confusion.

Ange PostecoglouAnge Postecoglou

Postecoglou has quickly rebuilt Tottenham / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

The suggestions that Postecoglou walked into a model club at Tottenham have been extremely disingenuous.

Supporters protested against Daniel Levy and ENIC’s ownership for the final three months of the 2022/23 season, going as far as to booing their end-of-year highlights during their last home game. Antonio Conte brought the club into disrepute with his explosive and ultimately parting press conference. First-team players had to reimburse fans who travelled to their humiliating 6-1 loss at Newcastle United in April.

Most pre-season predictions had Spurs finishing outside the top six, let alone the top four. After Harry Kane – the best player in the club’s history and their all-time leading scorer – was sold one day before the start of the season, some even tipped Tottenham to drop into the bottom half.

It’s to Postecoglou’s credit that he’s made Spurs look utopian from the off. He’s the one who has galvanised the club, but he’s also proved that football can change so rapidly.

Hope is not lost for United. They were good last season and can be good again in the near future. Like Spurs, there have been extensive gripes with ownership, but the arrival of Sir Jim Ratcliffe – a fan who is not looking to make profit – should signal brighter days on the horizon.

The mutinous mood at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has been replaced by vibes likened to a ‘nightclub’ by Postecoglou. Old Trafford may soon become the Theatre of Dreams again.


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