Seconds after kick off against Tottenham last night, it all looked like it was going to be ok. From kick off Tony Valencia had the ball wide, he sent it forward, Lingard jumped to nod the ball onto Fred and Fred’s attempt went wide of the post. It was a signal of intent from a player and team that needed to come out and show something after the disaster at Brighton. Mourinho made six changes, back came Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Herrera and Matic and we were led to believe they would probably line up in a 4-3-3 but Jose kept everyone on their toes; Ander Herrera started more defensively, Pogba alongside Matic in midfield and we’d clearly be demanding a lot of Valencia and Shaw for the width. Jesse Lingard started as part of a front two with Lukaku. It seemed like a positive and confident statement from a manager knowing his team would be under the lens, but then you might well ask yourself, when aren’t Manchester United under the lens.
Sixteen minutes into the first half, it all looked like it was going to be ok. With Spurs in possession the ball found Danny Rose who made an instinctive pass back to his keeper, the pass was too short and Lukaku pounced, taking it round Hugo Lloris but with an empty net to aim at the United number nine sent the ball agonisingly wide. It looked odds on a goal but Spurs escaped. There was enough evidence early on to show us that there would be no hangover from last week’s trip to the seaside. The players seemed to believe the breakthrough was coming and because they believed, the crowd believed, and the crowd fed the players and United flowed forward in ways we hadn’t seen too often under Mourinho. Nemanja Matic broke up a Spurs attack on the edge of the United box, Pogba looped the ball into the air towards Luke Shaw and Shaw played a lucky one two off a Spurs man’s leg then found Jesse Lingard and continued his run down the wing for the return pass; Shaw’s cross found Romelu Lukaku but the shot was sent into Hugo Lloris.
Fred seemed to pop up everywhere, Lingard was excited, Shaw had purpose, Matic was sensible; dare I say it even Paul Pogba seemed to be doing his job, there seemed to be only one way this was going to go. United were doing enough surely, it would come, wouldn’t it? The fact United were unable to find the net during a 20-30 minute period in which they were very much on top was a concern. The fact that Lucas Moura had become more present in the game and therefore increasingly annoying, was a concern. Ander Herrera received a yellow for giving the Brazilian his full attention and David De Gea’s kick out only just cleared his head, Matic had the ball mugged off him when he wanted an hour with it, Dele Alli would have got a shot away if it had not been for Chris Smalling denying him the opportunity. Spurs had apparently soaked up all they were willing to and now saw chances to play into the game. Lucas Moura again threatened to put Spurs ahead going like a ferrari with Phil Jones for company. Jones made contact and was lucky the official wanted no part of it, Moura was knocking on the door and would not be denied all night. United continued though, Fred curled an effort wide, he then went on to set up Pogba for a shot which Lloris saved; Matic’s effort from the return cross looked as if it was going to loop into the net but it didn’t. There were signs of this becoming a game for either side to take hold of, but as the clock ticked into the last 15 minutes of the first half there was no sign of the carnage that was to follow.
When Tottenham appeared in the second half it was as if they believed they had withstood everything United had, and having gone in level at the break when they could have and should have been behind, they were now going to push on and see what they could get. Harry Kane fizzed a shot or a cross into the danger area, De Gea might have been aware that Lucas Moura was ready to pounce and got a hand to the ball flicking it clear but just over the head (again) of the Brazilian. Lingard looked to attack into the Stretford End as both teams looked for the advantage and thats where this ends as a contest.
The visiting side made the breakthrough; Dele Alli was found in space and when the ball hit Chris Smalling and went out for a corner, everything United had built about to be taken apart. Harry Kane’s looping header in the 50th minute looked like the simplest thing in the world. United had kept him largely silent up to this point and I dare say Phil Jones thought he had done his job but the World Cup golden boot winner backed off Jones and sent the ball into the net beautifully. David De Gea and Romelu Lukaku could only watch and United were one down. Within 2 minutes and 12 seconds later Lucas Moira got the goal his quality display deserved but unbelievably and undeservedly, United were two down.
From a United point of view it now became about asking questions of Spurs and seeing if we could get ourselves a goal. Whenever that occurred, if indeed it could, would determine what we could get out of this game. Unlike the Brighton game when United never even looked like recovering from the shell shock, at Old Trafford on Monday night they did keep their heads high. Phil Jones was hauled off injured and was understandably frustrated by it, Lindelof came on as his replacement and we all collectively hoped that other Victor would turn up; the one that looked half decent in his displays for Sweden and not the one that was had on toast in against Brighton. Matic came off and Fellaini came on, perhaps surprising some who might well have wanted Rashford in the hunt for goals. Ander Herrera had already been sacrificed to see what Alexis Sanchez had to offer.
Sanchez was into the action quickly enough, his long ball was nodded down into Lingard’s path, the ball couldn’t settle and the shot went over for a corner but United soon found their way forward again; Fred’s pass across to Pogba sent the Frenchman back a bit to collect and the cross deflected for a corner but the Stretford End still roared. United kept possession, Spurs tried to push out from their area and Luke Shaw kept the ball going in the right direction. Paul Pogba won a free kick which Fred took and sent to the post but Lindelof’s header failed to trouble anyone.
Victor Lindelof was about to answer the question United fans asked when he came on, this was the performance of a man visibly short of confidence, rightfully roasted and shrinking before our very eyes. Jamie Carragher all but wrote his United obituary after the game and when he nearly gifted Spurs a third goal, you can’t really argue with that assesment. Spurs’ Danny Rose had played his own keeper into similar trouble in the first half, Lindelof’s pass back was more central but equally as weak and needed David De Gea to sprint into action. Dele Alli was pushed wide and couldn’t glide round our keeper as he wanted to, De Gea then saved the resulting shot and earned the thanks of a sheepish Swedish defender. If Victor Lindelof is going to make it at Manchester United he is going to have to improve far beyond what we have seen this month. Perhaps in past seasons he would be able to grow into United without the spotlight but this is the way things are currently and he’s getting asked questions in front of a critical audience. It’s perhaps unfair but some will doubt that he can improve. He remains one of our defensive options so he has until January.
It looked unlikely United would be scoring, one move pretty much encapsulated the home team’s evening when Luke Shaw sent ball fizzing goalwards goalwards and Lukaku narrowly avoided making contact with his head. Frequently the ball was in the right areas, Tottenham constantly trying to send it away and United continuing to ask questions. I have the feeling they could have been there on Tuesday morning and still the ball would not have found the net.
On Monday night the final flicker of United hope was extinguished fittingly by Lucas Moura, a thorn in our side all night. Spurs were clearing from a United attack, the ball bounced over Fred and fell for Kane who played in Lucas Moura; Moura accelerated away from Chris Smalling, who did attempt a tackle more in hope than expectation before Moura finished lethally.
A United performance that promised so much and looked for most of the first half like it would deliver, in the end gave us nothing. 3 – 0 is probably unfair, and does not tell the full story of the match but it does tell the story of a football club. There are lots of things to be positive about (Shaw for one) but there are negatives we are all too aware of will not go away and as a football club we will remain under the microscope. GTS