A display of invigorating aggression and imagination – Manchester United’s best under Erik ten Hag – was far too much for a tame Spurs side, second-half goals from Fred and Bruno Fernandes bringing United to within four points of Spurs, with a game in hand.
United were excellent in the first half, monopolising possession and pulling Spurs about with their passing and aggression. But, though they had 19 shots at goal – more than in any 90 minutes this season – and though Antony hit the post with a fine effort from distance, they only made one clear-cut chance, a shot from Marcus Rashford which Hugo Lloris tipped away.
It took just 76 seconds of the second period for United to take the lead, Fred’s effort beating Hugo Lloris via a flick off Ben Davies – after the ref had waved away an offside flag against Harry Kane, allowing United to counter. Then, on 69 minutes, Fernandes curled home gloriously from outside the box, after more good work by Fred.
United saw out the remainder of the game easily enough, looking more likely to score a third than Spurs did a first. They are moving in the right direction; despite their loftier league position, the same cannot be said of Spurs.
When Antonio Conte joined Spurs, they had a side good enough to contest the Champions League places. Last season – helped by the awfulness of United and Arsenal – they achieved that.
This strengthened the manager’s position, so he was able to cajole Daniel Levy into releasing more funds than he has allowed any other manager. Except Conte spent them all on players who appear to be of that same level and he organises them in reactive, rigid manner.
As such, it should be no surprise to see them run all over by a younger, cleverer and more skilled team. Erik ten Hag spent his money on players who might hit the kind of level that can win titles, then instructed them to play in a dynamic manner. The difference between the sides looked like the difference between the past and the future.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) There were so many who excelled, Fred and Dalot in particular, but Fernandes is the soul of this side. He was everywhere, winning back possession, driving forward and using the ball well – and scored a gorgeous goal.
Manchester United: De Gea 6, Dalot 8, Varane 7, Martinez 7, Shaw 6, Casemiro 7, Fred 8, Bruno 8, Antony 6, Rashford 6, Sancho 7. Subs: McTominay 6, Elanga 6, Eriksen 6.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris 7, Doherty 5, Dier 5, Romero 6, Davies 5, Perisic 5, Hojbjerg 4, Bissouma 4, Bentancur 5, Kane 5, Son 5. Subs: Moura 6, Sanchez 6, Sessegnon 6, Skipp 6, Spence 6.
10’ – BRUNO IS LOOKING LIVELY – He sets United away again and again the ball ends up with Antony. Again, he dips inside to create his angle – in that aspect, he’s the new Arjen Robben – and this time, he lets go a gorgeous low curler that clips the outside of the far post. Great effort.
21’ – AND HE DOES IT AGAIN! – Fred slides a terrific ball in behind and it meets Rashford’s run perfectly! He’s down the right of the box and immediately leathers a shot towards the far corner, but it’s too close to Lloris, who’s able to tip away. Well played all round, but it should be 1-0.
24’ – ANTONY COMES INFIELD AND SENDS DALOT DOWN THE RIGHT – He skins Perisic and crosses to the back post where Shaw larrups a tremendous volley … but again, Lloris tips over the bar and the corner comes to nowt.
47’ – GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur (Fred) United work this beautifully, but it all begins when Martinez rushes out to win a colossal header. He finds Bruno who moves the ball infield to Sancho. With no shooting lane open, he finds Fred, who punches goalwards from 20 yards … and the effort flicks Davies, wrongfooting Lloris, and United have the lead their approach-play merits.
48’ – UNITED KEEP AT IT! – Rashford, down the right side of the box, dips inside Dier and leathers a shot that Lloris seems to have but dives past, and he flings hand above body to scoop away. Fine save.
69’ – GOAL! Manchester United 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur (Fernandes) A lovely goal from a lovely player! Antony nashes down the right and when the ball comes in, Fred’s shot flicks off Dier and arrives at the feet of Bruno who, from 20 yards, curls beautifully into the far side-netting! That was a really difficult shot to take on as the ball had just bounced, but he’s played beautifully tonight so I’m not surprised he took it.