- Sanchez (24)
- Herrera (62)
- Alli (11)
Manchester United sealed a 20th FA Cup final appearance with a 2-1 win over Tottenham in this thrilling contest at Wembley Stadium. Dele Alli had given Tottenham the lead 11 minutes in, but goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera completed the comeback for United. It’s Spurs’ eighth successive defeat at this stage of the competition, as Mauricio Pochettino’s hunt for a first trophy with the club goes on. Here, our professional coaches analyse the tactics and key moments from United’s win – and assess what went wrong for Pochettino and Tottenham.
Manchester United set up in a 4-3-3 structure. Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez supported lone striker Romelu Lukaku, while Nemanja Matic protected the back four. Ander Herrera provided additional defensive cover in central areas.
It was clear from the opening few minutes that United were looking to attack via crosses into the penalty area. In the opening 15 minutes, they tested the Tottenham back four with multiple crosses from both flanks. Lukaku, naturally, was their main target, as he positioned himself in between Tottenham’s full-backs and centre-backs.
Lingard’s movement initially caused Tottenham issues. They struggled to attach a consistent defensive marker to track the England international’s movements from right midfield into a central attacking role. Eventually, though, this began to hinder United attacks, as they had too many of their own players occupying the same central space. For Tottenham, this became relatively straightforward to defend, as the central part of the pitch was inundated with players from both sides.
Despite going a goal behind, United continued to build using crosses. The equalising goal came when Paul Pogba robbed Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele of the ball high up the pitch, and guided another cross towards Tottenham’s full-backs. Sanchez rose highest to nod the ball into the bottom corner. United grew in confidence as a result and ended the first half strongly, with Pogba and Lukaku shooting from distance with decent efforts on goal.
The central midfield trio of Pogba, Herrera, and Matic were superb when out of possession, particularly in the second half. They constantly shifted and screened the back four, providing solid defensive cover throughout the game.
During defensive transitions, the trio worked back tirelessly, but still had the energy to assist attacks – and United’s second was a perfect example of their dynamism. Sanchez chased down a long ball from David de Gea before crossing into danger. With Lukaku stretching, the ball bobbled free. Herrera arrived with a late run from deep, striking the ball low past Michel Vorm.
United immediately recovered into a compact defensive low block, denying any Tottenham attack. As Spurs pushed players forward to get back into the game, United were still a threat on the counter-attack. Pogba’s accurate long-range passing set Lukaku and substitute Marcus Rashford free, but neither could add a third goal. Nonetheless, United successfully saw the game out to book a place in this year’s FA Cup final.
Manchester United set up in a 4-3-3 structure. When defending for prolonged periods, Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard recovered deep, defensively supporting the central midfield trio and the full-backs.
Jesse Lingard often moved inside to join Paul Pogba as a central attacking option, with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic covering. This also created space for Antonio Valencia to move up from right-back.
Manchester United’s main attacking threat was from central crosses into the box. The intended targets – Romelu Lukaku, Sanchez or Lingard – positioned themselves against the Tottenham full-backs, who were weaker in the air.
United's three central midfielders – Pogba, Herrera and Matic – worked tirelessly to protect the back four. Even on defensive transitions, they recovered back time and again, blocking Tottenham’s route to goal.
Throughout the second half, Manchester United were effective on the counter-attack. Forward runs from Lukaku and Sanchez provided a continued threat against Tottenham’s high line.
Tottenham set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Both Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli often drifted inside from wide to support Harry Kane in central attacking areas.
Eriksen drifted into central attacking areas from the right side of midfield. With a switch of play, Kieran Trippier could now get forward and attack Ashley Young one on one.
Defensively, Tottenham overloaded central areas, reducing the threat of United’s attacks. With Jesse Lingard moving inside and Antonio Valencia not always overlapping, Tottenham could aggressively counterpress in large numbers to regain possession.
With Young continuing to press Trippier, Eriksen resisted moving inside and made runs in behind the United left-back. This gave Tottenham chances to penetrate from deeper crosses. Ben Davies also moved much higher from left-back during the second half.
Spurs tried everything to get back on terms: wide crosses from deep, crosses from central areas, long-range shots and intricate passing combinations. In the end, nothing could break down United’s overcrowded defensive block.
Tottenham set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli supported Harry Kane in attack. Michel Vorm continued in goal for Tottenham, as with previous FA Cup fixtures this season.
Tottenham started brightly in the familiar surroundings of Wembley Stadium. Despite a frantic start to the game, they were the first to build sustained periods of possession. They looked to build short from Vorm, with Eric Dier dropping in between the two centre-backs for support.
The opening goal came from short build-up play. Davinson Sanchez played an accurate long ball over Manchester United’s disorganised high-pressing attackers. Eriksen received with space to attack and provided a simple, inch-perfect cross for Alli to tap home at the back post.
While the movements of Eriksen were similar to those of Lingard for United – moving inside from right midfield, creating space for the right-back to attack – Tottenham’s right-back, Kieran Trippier, attacked in the wide areas much more frequently. This helped stretch United’s back line, providing further space for central players Kane, Alli and Eriksen to attack.
To reinforce the defensive structure, Ander Herrera often dropped into United’s back line and acted as cover for left-back Ashley Young, who was forced to press in wide areas against the rampaging Trippier. With Herrera deeper, Tottenham’s central midfielders, Dier and Dembele, had much more freedom to drive forward and attack. Dier capitalised on this freedom when he struck a low drive that cannoned off the post minutes before half-time.
In the second half, Ben Davies provided attacking width for Tottenham, moving high from the left-back position. In contrast to the first half, Tottenham now had both full-backs attacking high and wide. But while this strengthened their attack – as United struggled to deal with inside runs from Son and Eriksen – it also left Tottenham exposed during defensive transitions.
Despite heavy pressure from Tottenham, it was a failure to deal with a straightforward long ball from De Gea, coupled with unco-ordinated defensive blocking, that led to Spurs conceding. From this, Tottenham changed personnel, with Lucas Moura coming on for Ben Davies. This enabled Eriksen to play more centrally, as Moura looked to drive down the right side as a more traditional wide player.
As United converted into a low defensive block, Tottenham tried everything to penetrate. They looked for quick passing combinations in central areas, but United’s heavy numbers made this an unrealistic option. They adapted into attacking with crosses, both centrally and from deep, but with their main threat Kane double-marked by Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Tottenham struggled to create a clear-cut chance and failed to fight back.
The movement of Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier was key for Tottenham. With Eriksen moving infield, Trippier could overlap into the wide right position. Manchester United were quick to react to the movement of the Tottenham pair, however.
Despite Spurs enjoying some early success through the movement of Eriksen and Trippier, this led to Ander Herrera dropping deeper into Manchester United’s back line. While left-back Ashley Young was often forced to press alone in the wide areas, the inclusion of Herrera meant United still had a back four intact.
Had Eriksen made more wide runs directly in behind Young during the first half, Tottenham could have created much more meaningful chances on goal. Early in the second half, Eriksen began to make these wider runs and, for a moment, Tottenham had a clear method of penetration.
As Eriksen looked to receive centrally, the threat of Tottenham’s attacking build faded. Manchester United consequently sat off in a compact block, enticing Tottenham to push more players into attacking positions. As they committed players higher, United sprung into direct counter-attacks, creating a number of chances.