This article was published in 90MAAT…
1. The most crucial three points of 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. Before the 3pm kick offs, that margin is now 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.
2. 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, had been the man to be replaced.
Mourinho proved to be right, 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 off-the-boil since the home victory against Everton. A section of the Old Trafford faithful are understandably keen to unleash the Rashford-Lukaku-Martial trio early into a match.
3. Both teams missed key men
The big news before kick-off was that Harry Kane would miss the match with a hamstring injury. Spurs’ form in the past has been good without their main man, as Son Heung-min astutely led the line again here. They missed Kane’s 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. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic do their jobs well defensively, but 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.
4. Tottenham looked leggy from the 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. 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 at Spurs blew a 2-0 half-time lead against West Ham in the Carabao Cup. Yet again here as Tottenham flagged in the final quarter of the match. The return of Mousa Dembélé on the hour-mark looks promising for Tottenham.
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.
5. Stunning defence – 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 in their first five home matches of season, the first time they’ve managed the feat since the 2007/08 season.
Despite an outpouring of criticism on social media about Mourinho’s supposed tactical negativity, the game was intriguing as it was entertaining. At the very least, the defending on display was a joy to watch.