SPURS vs MAN UNITED
Contrary to some of the pre-match hype, this result will not decide anything with regard to who succeeds José Mourinho on a permanent basis at Manchester United in the summer. Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham lost but it is not curtains for the Argentinian’s candidacy. He will remain of great interest to the power-brokers at Old Trafford.
What the result did do was swell the feelgood factor at United that has built under the caretaker management of Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Remarkably he has now won each of his first six matches in charge – no United manager has ever done that – and this was a big one in what was the first acid test of his tenure.
Spurs have established themselves as a Premier League force under Pochettino and they threw everything at United in a fine second-half performance. Unfortunately for them they ran into a goalkeeper in inspired form.
David de Gea made a succession of saves and blocks with his feet in that unshowy manner of his to merit the man-of-the-match award. He could not have been expected to make some of them. It added up to a fourth league defeat of the season for Spurs at Wembley and it came coated in misfortune, with the added blows of injuries to Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko.
The former limped off at the very end after twisting his ankle under a challenge from Phil Jones, and Spurs will hold their breath on the results of scans. Kane has a history of ankle problems and it is certainly bad timing, with Son Heung-min now departing for the Asia Cup.
Most pleasing from United’s point of view was how Solskjær’s team came to play and attack. He sprang a tactical surprise by starting Jesse Lingard, rather than Romelu Lukaku, as the central striker, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial either side of him and the trio gave United a pacy and energetic feel.
United’s visits to top-six opposition under Mourinho had, with only a couple of exceptions, been grisly wars of attrition. They did not just park the bus but throw the keys into the stand and the statistics showed only two wins from 13 matches – and 11 goals scored.
It was a different story here and United deserved their half-time lead, which came on 44 minutes when Lingard, perfectly positioned by Solskjær, intercepted a loose pass from Kieran Trippier. He found Paul Pogba who, in keeping with Solskjær’s philosophy, got United moving quickly. It was his sumptuous crossfield ball that released Rashford in the inside right channel and offered the latest evidence of the freedom with which the Frenchman is playing under the Norwegian.
Rashford got himself up against Jan Vertonghen, who was back after two months out with a hamstring injury, and the Spurs defender never looked like stopping the United forward, whose first touch was assured. The angle was tight but the low finish was arrowed into the far corner via Hugo Lloris’s fingertips.
It was always going to be interesting to gauge Spurs’ intensity levels after Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea, when they looked jaded. United, by contrast, were fresh from a warm-weather training break in Dubai. Sissoko lasted only 42 minutes before succumbing to a groin problem, and it was while Spurs tried to reorganise that Rashford scored.
Spurs created a few moments of danger in the first half, mainly through Kane, but it was the visitors who looked the slicker and more threatening before the interval. They could look back on a chance for Lingard, which he snatched at and lifted over, and low shots on the break from Rashford and Martial, both of which Lloris kept out.
United had their chances at the other end. Pogba saw a header and a low shot both saved by Lloris and there was another moment when he chased his own blocked shot, brushed aside Christian Eriksen and tried to lob the Spurs goalkeeper, who made a wonderful reaction save.
This was good Pogba, fusing muscle with deft touch to lift things to a higher plane – almost bullying the opposition – but there was a flash of bad Pogba on 78 minutes when he left a nasty boot in on Alli, for which he was booked. He diced with further trouble by hurling the ball away immediately after the foul.
It was thrillingly open, the sort of game United fans used to see on a regular basis. Thanks in large part to De Gea, they could also bask in the result.