Chris Henderson analyses five key talking points from Manchester United’s 1-0 win vs Tottenham at Old Trafford.
1. Both teams missed key men.
The big news before kick-off at Old Trafford was that Harry Kane would miss the match with a hamstring injury. Spurs’ form in the past has been solid without their main man, and Son Heung-min again astutely led the line for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. They missed his presence here though, as summer signing Fernando Llorente struggled to make an impact from the bench.
Paul Pogba continues to be hugely missed in the heart of United’s midfield, as whilst Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic did their jobs well defensively, the lack of creativity is evident when Pogba is out of the team. The Frenchman has been in Miami recovering from his injury and he looks close to a return – it can’t come soon enough for United.
2. The most crucial three points of Manchester United’s season so far.
In their last two league matches, United have dropped five points on Manchester City. Another draw here could have seen the Red Devils heading to Stamford Bridge next week seven points behind City. At full-time, that margin was only two points.
Romelu Lukaku looked deserted for most of the match, with Tottenham’s rear guard appearing comfortable. Anthony Martial’s winner came as a hammer blow. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the straightforward nature of the goal, via an old-school punt forward.
Dele Alli wasted Spurs’ best chance midway through the second half after a peach of a through-ball from Christian Eriksen. With another clean sheet at home, it’s United’s most crucial three points in their pursuit of their local rivals.
3. José Mourinho was justified in his substitutions.
There were muted boos across Old Trafford as Anthony Martial replaced Marcus Rashford. Not for the Frenchman, but perhaps because Mourinho refuses to play Rashford and Martial together. It would have come as no surprise if Lukaku, so often looking lonesome and ineffective, was the man to be replaced.Embed from Getty Images
Mourinho proved to be correct, as Lukaku and Martial combined for the only goal of the game. It was the Frenchman’s fourth goal of the season as a substitute. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, playing in the space behind Rashford and Lukaku, has looked poor since the home victory against Everton. Large sections of Old Trafford were also justified in their desire to unleash the Rashford-Lukaku-Martial trio early into a match.
4. Tottenham looked leggy from their recent fixture list.
There are some worrying signs of fatigue across the Tottenham squad. Harry Winks, in particular, looked leggy in the final half-hour at Old Trafford. It was to be expected, considering their recent fixture list against some of Europe’s leading teams.
The extent of the squad’s exhaustion showed on Wednesday night as Spurs blew a 2-0 half-time lead in the Carabao Cup against West Ham. Yet again, Tottenham flagged in the final quarter of the match. The return of Mousa Dembélé on the hour-mark provided a silver lining for a tired Tottenham team.Embed from Getty Images
Most troublingly, Real Madrid are next up at Wembley on Wednesday night. Despite a stunning performance at the Bernabeu, Harry Winks should be rested. This time around though, no matter how Spurs line up, Madrid will punish them convincingly if they are not at maximum fitness.
5. Some stunning defending on show – a great game doesn’t always need goals.
Playing in a 3-5-1-1, the trio of Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld looked immensely solid in the first half. Alderweireld, in particular, is one of the best central defenders in world football on current form. This was why the route-one nature of the goal came as such a surprise and will infuriate Mauricio Pochettino.
Equally, United’s defence is the best and most resolute in recent memory. This was another clean sheet, their fifth in five matches at home this season, the first time they’ve managed this feat since the 2007/08 season.
Despite an outpouring of criticism on social media about Mourinho’s supposed tactical negativity and the apparent ‘snoozefest’, the game was as intriguing as it was entertaining. At the very least, the defending on display was a joy to watch.
Written by Chris Henderson; @toejamfooty, of toejamfootball.blog