– Manchester United dealt a severe blow to Tottenham’s Champions League hopes with a superb turnaround
– Heung-min Son fired Tottenham into the lead on 40 minutes after tucking home from Lucas Moura’s cross
– United were left infuriated when Edinson Cavani’s finish was ruled out for a foul on Son by Scott McTominay
– Fred restored parity for the visitors after tucking home a rebound following Hugo Lloris’ parry from Cavani
– But ace Cavani proved to be the hero after finding the net once again late on with a superb stopping header
– United broke away late in stoppage time to add a third with Mason Greenwood firing inside the near upright
LONDON –How one responds to conceding a goal is important. How one responds to scoring is also telling.
Here Manchester United passed the test and Tottenham did not and the way this game eventually panned out tells us much about where these teams are under their respective managers.
United are far from perfect but they do have an identity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. They do not often give anything away for free.
Here, trailing after coming out the wrong side of some first-half controversy, they were superb in the second half. They scored three unanswered goals and looked like a group of players with a point to prove. They should try it more often.
Tottenham, on the other hand, look lost under Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese still talks the talk ahead of games like these. From that point of view, he continues to have few equals.
But on the field? Not so much.
Tottenham were okay during a first half that offered nothing in way of a spectacle until it was livened up by a disallowed United goal. Spurs scored soon after – a good goal – and the afternoon was there to be shaped and dictated by the home team.
But they couldn’t do it, not by a million miles. While United came out for the second half and played with energy and purpose and enterprise, Tottenham just waited for things to happen and when they did they tended to be in their own penalty area. In the end they lost by a margin of two and it could have been more.
In the first half United did nothing to indicate just what they were to be capable of later on. It was a poor game for half an hour, characterised by niggly fouls and poor passing.
Nothing of note happened until Paul Pogba played Edinson Cavani in down the left and he scored across goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 34th minute.
Both Pogba and Cavani went on to have influential games but this goal was not to count.
Referee Chris Kavanagh was encouraged by the VAR officials to have a look at the pitch side monitor and when he did he saw United’s Scott McTominay pushing his hand back in to the face of Heung-Min Son as he drove forward with the ball 40 yards from goal.
It was a foul but Son’s reaction was to fall theatrically to the floor. Within minutes the same player was scoring a goal at the other end.
Serge Aurier found Harry Kane with a cross field ball, the striker turned a lovely first time pass round the corner through Victor Lindelof’s legs and Lucas Moura squared for Son to convert at the far post.
It was a really good goal but it was almost possible to feel United’s discontent as they left the field at half-time.
Whether they had actually been wronged or not was inconsequential. In fact there was an argument to say McTominay should have been sent off. He had already been booked.
No, what mattered was that United’s players clearly felt a sense of injustice and it was this that drove them from that point on.
From the very first moments of the second half, this was United’s game. The change in Solskjaer’s players was absolute and was impressive to watch.
Suddenly they moved the ball forwards quickly and smartly. They snapped into hard, clean tackles. Pogba found fresh energy and Cavani led the line cleverly. Tottenham needed to sense that the whole contest had moved up a notch and do something about it but they could not. They just stood and watched the carpet being pulled from beneath their feet.
The United equaliser was a lovely goal, one of the best of their season.
The goal scorer Fred, hardly known for his attacking prowess, was involved in the move four times, playing one-twos with Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford before following up Cavani’s shot to prod the ball home after Hugo Lloris had saved.
Briefly there was a flicker from Tottenham as Son drew a save from Dean Henderson.
But largely the traffic was now flowing only one way and Lloris had to save well low to his left from Fernandes before Pogba attempted to apply a back flick to a far post knock down only for Eric Dier to get in the way.
With 20 minutes left we at least had a proper game. Spurs were not out of it as Kane showed when working Henderson at his near post in the 73rd minute but Mourinho had sent Moussa Sissoko on to bolster his midfield by this point and that spoke volumes. It was the tactical deployment of a manager by now looking for one point when three were actually still available.
Ultimately, United’s extra desire got them home and that is something that we should never say when discussing games between top teams.
The decisive goal arrived with ten minutes left and was another beauty. Fernandes teed up substitute Mason Greenwood on the right and his first time cross was headed in by the diving Cavani at the far post.
Even when Tottenham briefly threatened an equaliser, United had to do the work for them. Pogba flicked on a Spurs corner at the near post and then in attempting to clear the danger Cavani headed the ball on to the frame of his own goal. Tottenham had the chance to convert the rebound but could not do it.
Then, in the last minute of added time, Pogba supplied Greenwood on the far side and he drove the ball in to the corner at Loris’s left side.
United’s attacking play had carried a threat for the whole of this period. They will not catch Premier League leaders Manchester City but this was still a sign of progress.
Tottenham merely look stagnant and once again it all comes back to the manager. At the moment Spurs look very much like his team and that is not supposed to be a compliment.