Harry for England, managerial disputes and some surprising results. An eventful weekend that culminated in a game widely seen as significant as the Premier League gets into the business end of the season. Manchester Untied travelled to White Hart Lane to take on 3rd placed Tottenham.
With Manchester City beating Bolton 2-0 the day before it was vital that United came away with 3 points to keep pace and with that would likely confirm that title battle as a two horse race for the remainder of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson named a strong side going into the game. David De Gea continued between the posts, with Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand the central defensive partnership in front of him. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra occupied the right and left back positions respectively. In midfield, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes looked to be the engine room centrally, with Nani on the right and Ashley Young replacing Giggs on the left.
Up front saw Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck leading the line. United started fairly brightly, playing the ball nicely, with Paul Scholes controlling proceedings but without any real breakthrough. However, the control did not last long as Tottenham began to assert themselves on the game, beginning to take control of possession in midfield and attempted to give United’s defence some headaches. Phil Jones in particular seemed involved in much of the action as he picked up a booking for a tackle on Adebayor, causing a free kick that proved fruitless. Spurs continued to press, although rarely found themselves with clear cut opportunities. An inaccurate kick from De Gea provided a means of attack, for which the Spaniard made amends, getting down low and saving well. In all the defence held together well as the home side continued to probe for a way through, with United finding little luck themselves going forward. Then, controversy, as a scramble in the area after Lennon’s run leads to Adebayor putting the ball into the back of the net from the line, only to have been judged to have handled the ball. No goal. One way traffic continued, until United were finally able to get forward more towards the end of the first half, finding some luck going down the left. Young’s delivery caused Friedel some problems as United won a corner in a half that seemed to be dominated by the men in white. Young fired in the corner, straight to Rooney, who nodded home to give his side an unlikely 0-1 right on the stroke of half time to knock the wind out of Redknapp’s side going into the break. Would United step up after such a mediocre first half?
The second half kicked off and little seemed to change, with Tottenham continuing to press, although without making a breakthrough on goal too often. De Gea was forced into action, saving incredibly well from Livermore’s deflected shot. And so it continued for the first period of the second half, but would the home side make their possession count? On the hour mark and Nani slips by Modric, charging on goal from the right, passing in from close range, the ball deflecting to a waiting Young on the left of the goal, who then volleyed home beautifully from approximately 10 yards out at an angle. Spurs switched off momentarily and United made it count, 0-2. Smash and grab. Giggs replaced Scholes soon after. 10 minutes later, Young pushes forward receiving the ball unchallenged, curling the ball into the top right corner from distance to leave Friedel helpless. 0-3, to the surprise of many. From here United seemed to want to see the game out, with Spurs beginning to look deflated, behind despite their best efforts on a day when most would agree they were the better side. There was still time to give United a sour note to end the day, as Defoe was let through and was able to finish smoothly past Ferdinand and De Gea to give his side a consolation with minutes left to play as United saw the game out at 1-3 and went back to within 2 points of Manchester City with many pointing to the crucial clash on April 30th as a potential decider. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Ashley Young – a brace and an assist. Made the difference
Take away Young’s contributions today and one sees a performance probably in line with the team as a whole, lacking in impact and on the back foot for much of the game. In fairness, for a player like Young that needs to have the ball getting forward to have an effect. However, one cannot deny the impact he made when it counted for all the goals on Sunday afternoon. For Rooney’s goal, it was his play that won the corner and his superb delivery to meet Rooney’s head and give his side the surprise lead, and giving United their 13th headed goal of the season. His two goals that followed were both brilliant in their own right. In my opinion, the first was perhaps the more impressive, angling himself from 10 yards out and volleying home sweetly into the far side of the net at an angle from Nani’s cross was well worked. His second was certainly not weak though, curling the ball brilliantly into the top corner in front of the away end and sending the fans into rapture. On a day where United were always second best, it was Ashley Young that ensured they came out on top.
2) Tottenham – the better side, United – clinical
For much of the game, arguably up until the third goal, there can be little argument that Tottenham were the side in control. They dominated play from midfield and were able to get forward with ease as United seemed almost too casual at times, especially in the first half. Carrick and Scholes seemed to struggle to assert themselves in the middle. In other areas places were misplaced and going forward Tottenham appeared well organised to deal with the situations. However, what mattered in the end was the way in which United did not waste their chances, taking them all effectively and showing a great deal of efficiency about their play. Whereas Tottenham toiled at times to break through and create clear cut chances, United found themselves able to take advantage if and when the opposition let their guard down. Young’s goals were an example of this. For his first, Nani exploited a moment where the other side backed off slightly, gliding by and bursting into the box to set up the finish. For the second, Young was allowed to get forward too easily and was not truly challenged as he was able to pull off his shot and score a brilliant third. By the time that goal had gone in, we found that United had got all 6 of their shots on target for the day, a striking show of efficiency as well as an example of their lack of chances on the day.
3) Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand, strong partnership
These last few weeks have been something of a watershed time for Jonny Evans. Despite criticism from many, including certain comments on this blog (not naming names), one cannot deny that Evans has improved considerably recently, and was definitely the highlight in a decent defensive showing on Sunday. Both he and Rio Ferdinand held their own in front of an assured David De Gea, to prevent Tottenham having too many clear cut chances on the day. For all the possession they had, they were unable to make it count, and this was in part due to the defensive organisation and the way in which the back four dealt with the attack as the opposition came forward looking for goals. Besides the controversial disallowed goal, the defence did not seem incredibly troubled too often although were perhaps a little guilty of switching for as Spurs were allowed a consolation late on. Phil Jones probably did not have his best game at right back, hassled for much of the game and booked early on, the young defender battled through to the end. His inclusion was probably the right one though, as one wonders whether or not United would have found themselves exposed had the forward thinking Rafael Da Silva been given a spot.
4) The disallowed goal – probably fortunate
Initially, having seen Adebayor get the ball over the line and subsequently have his elation ruined by the referee’s whistle, the official in me immediately agreed in that it was the right decision as a handball and that a free kick was justified. However, one must admit a degree of fortune in getting the decision. Certainly, one must admit that the touch that was taken by Adebayor’s hand in the process was not intentional, rather a case of ball to hand and an argument for the goal to have stood. Others will say that any advantage gained from handling the ball results in a free kick going the other way, and the goal being disallowed was justified. In truth it was likely one of those decisions that some days will go one way, and others in another, but one would understand the opposing fans sense of injustice given that United then scored against the run of play soon after.
5) Sir Alex Ferguson – 986 games, patience is a virtue
It seemed appropriate that the day in which Andre Villas Boas received his marching orders from Chelsea after only months in charge, despite the large fee paid for him, that Sir Alex Ferguson surpassed Sir Matt Busby’s record of games in charge at Old Trafford. It is a timely reminder that in and amongst all of the dismissals, be it justified or prematurely at every club, that Ferguson was given the time and resources to build squads time and again at Old Trafford, where patience by the board was rewarded with success for years to come. Even after a trophy-less spell, he was given time to build his side the way he saw fit and fans were rewarded with yet more success. Despite the criticism and what may be seen as an under-performing side at times this season, one forgets the challenge that is being mounted in the league this season, with what is argued is a reduced pool in which to fund signings faced with the seemingly infinite resources elsewhere. Regardless, with the stability of the management, and the control with which Sir Alex Ferguson has maintained over his squad in the years gone by, he is one of very few examples in which player power does not rule as it does elsewhere. We have plenty to be grateful for.