Last Updated on 31 Oct 2021 4:27 pm (UK Time)
United Bounce Back Against Toothless Spurs
If Manchester United were looking for a morale-boosting win after a torrid week of soul-searching in the wake of last Sunday’s thrashing at home to Liverpool, they could not have hoped for more accommodating opponents than Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs side at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium who were booed off the pitch at half time and full time by their own supporters.
A promising start to life for Tottenham under Santos evaporated yesterday as large sections of the home support openly turned on the Portuguese coach, standing with arms out wide, reacting to the inept performance on display and angrily questioning his decisions. So much so that when he swapped out Lucas Moura for Steven Bergwijn after 9 minutes of the second half, a crescendo of boos morphed into a chorus of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing‘ and ‘We want Levy out.’
It was easy to see what provoked the mutinous atmosphere that swept the vast arena. Tottenham were in disarray – ponderous, lacking shape, urgency, commitment, giving the ball away cheaply, and with no obvious desire to win it back. In truth it was a woeful performance and the stats were damming: Spurs created nothing of note going forward in the ninety minutes, not one shot on target, save for a very obvious offside effort from recent signing Cristian Romero.
Harry Kane, drifting deep and out wide was anonymous, still clearly smarting from the breakdown of a summer move away from the club. His galvanising influence on the squad, the glue that has held Spurs together in recent times, is conspicuously absent. The best that could happen for all concerned is that their former talismanic captain moves on to pastures new and allows a new team to emerge.
Amid all this discontent United took full advantage and helped themselves to a much-needed win.
A formation shift to 5-3-2 gave the team in red more solidity at the back. And the reintroduction of Raphael Varane to the heart of the defence, the new shape and welcome discipline with and without the ball produced a platform for the team to express themselves with confidence higher up the pitch. This was helped in no small part by the pairing of Ronaldo and Cavani up front whose movement, nous and experience gave Bruno Fernandes, drifting into a creative no 10 role behind the front two, something to work with, in stark contrast to Rashford, Greenwood or Martial of late.
Indeed, it was from this axis that the first goal arrived on 39 minutes.
Fernandes receiving a lay off from Cavani was untroubled by any Tottenham pressure and had time and space to deliver a pinpoint ball to the far post where Christian Ronaldo watched it clear the head of Ben Davies and pounced to deliver an unerring and majestic first-time volley past Hugo Lloris into the far corner to give United the lead.
Like all great players when faced with adversity, Ronaldo was immense here. At the heart of everything good United produced, a lightning-fast and willing runner, closing down, tracking back.
Having notched up the first, Ronaldo then turned provider in the 64th minute for his strike partner, Cavani. Fernandes robbed a dithering Hojberg in midfield, fed Ronaldo with a short forward pass and in a flash the United legend had produced a deft flick to rid himself of the attentions of Lo Celso and speared a through ball to the new darling of the Stratford End, Edinson Cavani. The ‘King of Uruguay’ was at his deadly best: deft movement, one-touch, a clipped finish over the advancing Lloris and the ball was in the back of the net much to the delirious delight of the away fans.
Sensing the jugular now, United brought on Marcus Rashford to kill the game off and he duly delivered. Receiving a ball from fellow substitute Nemanja Matic, the young forward outpaced a leaden-footed, Dier, and gave Lloris absolutely no chance as he arrowed a shot across the Tottenham keeper into the far corner. As he ran to the jubilant supporters to celebrate, the three points safely in the bag, the Spurs fans had seen enough and emptied the stadium in droves.
United will have stronger tests to come. Not least in the shape of a tricky Champions League tie against Atalanta in mid-week and the visit of neighbours, Manchester City the following Saturday. This performance, though, was a step in the right direction, some would say, a long-overdue step, with a better shape and attitude. But credit to the United players for producing a performance and result that will do their confidence the world of good, and give their manager some much-needed respite.
As for Spurs, there is much bridge-building to be done between supporters, chairman and manager. Tottenham players, too, will need to look at themselves long and hard in the mirror, as their counterparts did in this difficult week, and give their deserving fans something much better to shout about.