That’s more like it, right? Truth be told, this is the kind of performance we’ve become accustomed to seeing from United against the so-called ‘Big Six’ thus far this season. This three points will not only buy patience from fans, but perhaps more pertinently – it keeps the José Mourinho revenge narrative at bay. For all that performances have been poor and substitutions questionable in United’s previous two outings, the players stepped up on a big night under the lights and delivered when their manager needed it most.
The return of Scott McTominay was a welcome boost to United, reunited with Fred, with the two having been paired in United’s most recent league victories against Norwich and Brighton. That fact in itself cannot be a coincidence. The Scot brought much-needed energy and vigour, with his presence also bringing out the best in Fred – who produced one of, if not, his best performances in a red shirt. Given that United look most threatening from counter-attacks, McTominay’s pace of passing and urgency is vital in creating the quick transitions necessary. Notwithstanding his own individual development this season, the fact he elevates those around him is a mark of his continued improvement.
United started brightly and opened the scoring through Marcus Rashford’s low skidding shot, cutting in from the left-hand side. Although, Paolo Gazzaniga in the Spurs goal should really have done better. Such is Rashford’s current confidence, he tried his luck from range soon after, hitting the crossbar via Gazzaniga’s fingertips. United’s front three kept Spurs on the backfoot for most of the first period, with Mason Greenwood providing the running that Anthony Martial has lacked when he doesn’t fancy it – as has often been the case. The equaliser from Dele Alli, whilst a moment of great skill, was very much against the run of play – and similar in its preventability to that scored by Josh King in United’s defeat to Bournemouth last month. It meant the teams were level at the interval, with a feeling of deflation on United’s part – such was their dominance.
Given that United have dropped 12 points from winning positions this season, you felt this was going to be a massive second-half. It really couldn’t have got off to a better start, with Rashford winning a penalty after being clipped by Moussa Sissoko just inside the area. He converted calmly from the spot, a pleasant change to United’s previous penalty profligacy. Chances were few and far between for both sides from then on, with Spurs having the majority of possession – but failing to really test David De Gea. They were limited to long range efforts predominantly, and when they did manage to get beyond Fred and McTominay in central areas, United managed to get bodies in the way. Rashford was a constant threat throughout and has really stepped up in recent weeks, with nine goals in his last 10 club games. Dan James stung Gazzaniga’s palms with a curling effort, but United kept Spurs at arm’s length into the closing stages.
The final whistle brought a sigh of relief from the home crowd, and a pat on Mourinho’s head from Solskjaer – who will savour a fifth league win of the season. This was probably United’s best performance of the season, and a result which handed Mourinho his first defeat as Spurs manager. Any external pressure on Ole alleviated, for now. Next up is the small matter of City at the Etihad on Saturday evening, where United will look to extend their unbeaten record against teams currently occupying top 4 positions. It’s the hope that kills you, but you’d rather have it than not at all.