Manchester United got back into the competitive swing of things tonight against fellow top-four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur.
The two sides squared off in an eerily empty Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in a game which had the potential to reignite the Premier League after it’s four-month hiatus.
The Reds lined up with a standard back-four featuring the usual suspects of number one choice goalkeeper David De Gea, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire at the heart of the defence with Aaaron Wan-Bisska and Luke Shaw taking up the full-back positions.
In the middle, there was to be no starting midfield pairing for Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba with manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer opting to play a three of Fred, Scott McTominay alongside the Portuguese attacker instead.
During the opening 20-minutes, United appeared to be the quickest out of the starting blocks with Spurs looking to deploy the counter-attack.
Marcus Rashford came closest around the 20-minute mark but was denied by World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.
Despite the positive nature reverberating from the away side it was the London side who struck first just seven minutes later. Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring with the help of some poor goalkeeping by Spanish international David De Gea.
De Gea’s weak shot stopping was the catalyst behind ex-skipper Roy Keane’s scathing half-time criticism. The Irish pundit said, “I would be swinging punches for him.”
After the break, United, again started the better of the two sides, failed to make their chances pay with Spurs sinking deeper and deeper towards their own goal.
Solskajer held out until the 62nd minute before opting to make a double substitution. Fred and Daniel James made way for the long-awaited return of Paul Pogba as well as youngster Mason Greenwood.
Within moments of the world-class midfielder being on the pitch, his quality and ability to change games became apparent once again.
One of the Frenchman’s stand-out moments in his half hour cameo came when he played a 40-yard cross-field pass to on-rushing Rashford. He sprayed a superbly executed pass which fizzed straight into the path of the attacking Englishmen who failed to capitalise upon the gift that his team-mate had provided him.
Pogba’s offensive influence was clear to see and later reaffirmed by top Twitter stat provider, Statman Dave.
#MUFC have created as many big chances vs. Spurs in 5 minutes with Paul Pogba on the pitch as they did in 63 minutes with him on the bench (1).
Catalyst. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/hHlMbBaHCv
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 19, 2020
United left-back Luke Shaw had a solid game and looked one of the sharpest players on the pitch. In the 66th minute he burst down the left flank like he had done so many times during the evening and provided a pin-point low ball into the box for striker Anthony Martial to latch onto. The young French forward made a decent connection with the ball but was to be denied once again by an in-form Lloris.
However, it was to be the direct nature of what appeared to be a new-look determined Pogba that earned the Reds a vital opportunity to get back into the game. With 10-minutes plus injury time to go, the strong midfielder went on an incredible run and with the use of some classy trickery rightfully won his side a penalty at the expense of Eric Dier.
Step forward Fernandes.
The ever-composed Portuguese attacker stepped forward and cooly slotted the spot kick home in a unique penalty style which is fast becoming his trademark. One all.
With 10-minutes left on the clock the Reds were determined to keep the tempo up with the encouragement of a vocal Solskjaer on the sidelines.
Greenwood began to show his quality on the right hand side and was a constant threat to the tiring Ben Davies. The young English lad was often able to pick the ball up in a deeper position and run at the Spurs back-line causing no end of problems.
The game’s most dramatic moment came at the turn of the 90-minute mark when Fernandes went down in the box under a challenge of centre-back Dier. Referee John Moss blew his whistle and pointed to the spot for the second time in 10-minutes.
However, upon closer inspection, it became apparent that Moss may have jumped the gun in his decision, as VAR clearly showed that the challenge was more of a result of Fernandes going into Dier opposed to the other way round. The decision was correctly overturned by the officials at Stockley Park.
The last chance of the exciting match came from the lively looking Greenwood who picked the ball up on the right side of the box and teased Davies before unleashing a shot which went just wide of the far post.
Despite United’s best efforts, they failed to breakdown a defensively solid Spurs, something football fans have come to expect from a Mourinho side.
Overall, United have reasons to feel positive after their first game back in four months. The squad’s fitness looked good with the likes of McTominay and Fernandes failing to tire. Elsewhere, Rashford managed a full 90-minutes in his first appearances since a long-term back injury and both full-backs, Shaw and Wan-Bisska looked very capable going both forward and backwards.
Solskjaer and his staff will now be looking ahead and getting their side fully focused on their next mid-week match against top-half side Sheffield United on June 24.