The biggest game of the first weekend back for the Premier League ended in a 1-1 stalemate in North London on Friday night.
Tottenham took the lead in the 25th minute when Steven Bergwijn picked up the ball on the half-way line and waltzed past the United defence, before smashing the ball straight at David De Gea who couldn’t keep it out. Spurs sat off after that and as fatigued increased, they dropped deeper and deeper which allowed Manchester United to start creating more. Their equaliser came after some incredible skill from substitute Paul Pogba saw him beat Eric Dier one on one and glide into the penalty area before being brought down, allowing Bruno Fernandes to score his 4th goal in the league since joining in January.
The Red Devils were nearly given the chance for a winner, when Bruno Fernandes was adjudged to have been fouled by Eric Dier and the referee awarded a soft penalty – but VAR overturned it, correctly.
The result itself wasn’t too surprising. Both sides were in a position were a loss could end their hopes for the Champions League, while the fitness of the squads just couldn’t demand a faster tempo to the tie. Chelsea will be the happiest of these sides following the results so far since the return with Spurs, United, Sheffield United and Arsenal all dropping points.
But the performances of both sides will not have pleased fans completely. Spurs started the game hungry and pressing high, but soon retreated and began camping in their own half. They were essentially looking to beat Man Utd at their own game – soak up the pressure and counter with great pace. Mourinho credited the result to fatigue and not having the depth on his bench that his opponents had, saying:
“The players did fantastic work defensively – they had two dangerous shots that Hugo Lloris saved and nothing else. Everything else was under control. I have to admit for the last 15 minutes I would love to have had Lucas Moura here, Dele Alli here. The last 15 minutes were difficult for us.
Lucas and Dele are players we need and we could feel that today. when you look to their bench and then to ours the difference in attacking options. Hopefully they will be back for West Ham because in this moment it is very, very important to change players.“Jose Mourinho via BBC Radio 5Live
For Manchester United, it was more of the usual troubles. A very lacklustre midfield display from Fred and McTominay saw the ball travel sideways more often than not, which didn’t help as they looked to build attacks. Daniel James’ pace was completely nullified by how deep Spurs’ defence was, while Marcus Rashford was physically bullied by Moussa Sissoko and Davinson Sanchez throughout. It wasn’t until Paul Pogba’s introduction in the 64th minute that the Reds started to disorganise the Lilywhites defensive shape. His ability to play the pass, physically compete with Spurs and beat a man one on one, as he showed to win the penalty, was the quality that United were clearly missing throughout the game.
Mason Greenwood’s introduction was also a factor as his ability on the ball rather than his physical attributes off it saw him receive the ball in great positions and make Tottenham think twice about what he was going to do. He had a chance to win the game at the death when he received the ball on the edge of the box, and his bipedality left Ben Davies bewildered as he produced a step-over and shifted the ball onto his right but sent the ball inches wide of the post.
A common problem for The Reds and Mourinho seemed to use it well here, but the fact of the matter is that Manchester United are at their least dangerous when you let them have the ball right now.
Pogba’s inclusion certainly made them better and he seemed to link well with Bruno Fernandes, something United fans were eager to see, but they can’t solely rely on the Frenchman to be the one to unlock everything or they will fall short of the Champions League places once again.