The big game. Spurs’ chance to stake their claim to a Champions League place. Mauricio Pochettino’s opportunity to prove he has usurped Louis van Gaal, the new generation of tacticians replacing the old guard. It turns out van Gaal still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
It all started so well. Kane pressurised Jones into a thirty yard back pass that almost ended up in his own net. The resulting corner flashed across the United box, the Spurs striker inadvertently stopping it reaching Vertonghen with the goal at his mercy.
Nevertheless, the warning signs were there. In the early exchanges Wayne Rooney got behind our defence on the left (Tottenham’s right). Fortunately his pull back was behind the onrushing Mata. United getting behind Kyle Walker was to become a running theme.
Van Gaal’s team were bullying Spurs. First to every ball, the moment a Tottenham player took possession an opponent was charging towards him, biting at his ankles. Even Kane was struggling, starved of service and given a rough ride by some very tight marking.
The young Spurs star is going to have to get used to this sort of treatment. Fame as a forward in the Premier League comes at a price. Opposition managers will be looking at hours of tape working out how to neutralise him. It will be interesting to see how he copes in the potentially difficult second season.
The damage was done by a Tottenham old boy. Michael Carrick was Spurs’ Luka Modric before Luka Modric was. I’ve always thought he was criminally underrated. The fallout from his departure took years to repair and ultimately cost Martin Jol his job.
Here Carrick’s passing was key to United gaining the ascendancy as they skilfully worked their way round the Tottenham press and ruthlessly exploited our high defensive line. He played a major part in the opening goal.
The United midfielder made a run behind a negligent Chadli. Mason came forward to cover him leaving Fellaini free to run between Dier and Walker. Carrick played a simple ball through and Fellaini finished well.
This was Fellaini’s best game in a United shirt (doesn’t everyone have theirs against us?). A thorn in Spurs side from high balls but also surprisingly adept on the floor, making passes, getting in behind the defence.
The second goal came from a more conventional Fellaini contribution. Mata swung in a corner. The big Belgian won the header. Chadli’s clearance was poor but somehow Mason and Walker, who had both been close to Carrick, turned to watch the ball and lost the United midfielder. He can’t have scored many with his head.
There were two obvious ways United were prospering against the Spurs defence. Firstly through the problem right hand side, where Townsend and Walker were completely overrun – not unlike the recent game against West Ham.
Secondly, from balls over the top of our defence – rather like last week’s victory at QPR. You might get away with such lapses against the relatively minor teams but not when faced with the likes of Rooney, Mata and Fellaini.
Although the defence was partly to blame, the midfield cover was not good enough. Walker, though not distinguishing himself was being left isolated and outnumbered. The high line defence, though slow to get back, were being picked off by a United midfield under no pressure.
Pochettino made an early substitution that made a lot of sense. The ineffective Townsend went off – the winger had been extremely slow to track runners and was certainly a part of the problem. Dembele was brought on, presumably to provide some power and steel.
The change was immediately rendered irrelevant as Bentaleb gifted Rooney possession in the Spurs half. For a brief moment the England forward became the teenage wonder-kid of old, as he ran past the despairing challenges of the Spurs defenders. Dier was left dazed and confused, kicking at fresh air.
3-0 after 34 minutes. It could have been much worse.
Where did this United performance come from? Until now they had looked slow and laboured, here they were sharp and incisive. Maybe van Gaal has finally stumbled on a winning formula. We were unlucky to face them in this kind of mood.
Part of their resurgence has to be down to Tottenham. Most sides come to Old Trafford to defend, we were very open. The big criticism of Pochettino is that he doesn’t adapt, there’s no plan B. Away to a strong side, wouldn’t it have been better to switch to a solid 4-3-3 and counter attack?
The second half had a strange, eerie feel to it. Bentaleb and Mason appeared to have swapped sides. The Algerian has much better defensive instincts than his midfield companion and helped stem the flow.
In truth both teams were going through the motions, the game had long since gone and with it any dreams of Champions League football coming back to White Hart Lane next season.
Were Tottenham bad or were Manchester United good? Should Pochettino have changed his tactics? Let me know your opinions in the comments below.