Offshore drilling, England: Tottenham 3, at Manchester United 2

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Man of the Match: There are days when Gareth Bale looks like the best wide player in the world. He was almost at that level on Saturday, involved in all three Tottenham goals as Spurs got an early, defining victory for the André Villas-Boas era.

In the second minute, Bale came back and showed for a pass he immediately played back to Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian defender streaking on goal from 35 yards out before beating Anders Lindegaard for the opener. In the 32nd minute, it was Bale’s turn to carry the ball through the final third, cutting across the defense from the middle of United’s half before beating Lindegaard far post from the right of the box. In the second half, Bale’s shot on goal led to the rebound that Clint Dempsey converted for the game-winning goal.

Packaged for takeaway: 

  • It’s hard to exaggerate what this win will do for André Villas-Boas’s profile in England. The former Chelsea manager has been a press whipping boy since flaming out last year at Stamford Bridge. Now the 34-year-old Portuguese has a signature win, one that started with a goal that could have been drawn up on the team’s whiteboard.
  • And for the first time since 1989, Tottenham has won at Manchester United, though to do so, Spurs had to survive a second half siege that rarely saw them in possession in United’s half of the pitch.
  • It was like a reenactment of the Helm’s Deep scenes from The Two Towers. Perhaps my mind is blitzed from the early morning West Coast wake up, but I can’t remember ever seeing that level of sustained pressure for so long. It was 49 minutes of Spurs packed into their own end waiting for Gandalf to ride over the hill.
  • At full time, the Red Devils had 74 percent of the possession, a ratio amassed after the teams had split possession for most of the first half. Aside from the Dempsey goal, Spurs did nothing on United’s half of the center line.
  • That United dominance (and the change from the first half) was brought about by two things. First, the team obviously played better. Second, Wayne Rooney came off the bench, replacing Ryan Giggs and pushing Shinji Kagawa out wide.
  • Rooney made a near-immediate impact, putting a cross in for Nani that led to the Red Devils’ first goal. He was miles better than he’s otherwise been this season. It’s been so long since we saw this type of play from Wayne Rooney, we were beginning to wonder whether he still had it in him.
  • Two minutes later, Kagawa was beating Brad Friedel with a perfectly placed shot from the left. With Dempsey’s goal coming in between, United goals had the home side within one, the teams having combined for three goals in less than three minutes of clock time.
  • An equalizer looked inevitable. Rooney hit the post on a direct kick and had another shot from the right go just wide. Robin van Persie had multiple chances, while Nani and Kagawa came close to getting a second.
  • After going into halftime having registered only one shot, United finished the match with 17, seven on target.
  • And while United were probably the better team for slightly more than 50 percent of this game, their terrible defending, particularly in the first half, cost them. Spurs executed from the opening kickoff, were far more energetic for the first half hour, and somehow managed to fend off a final, equalizing goal from United.
  • If Chelsea’s win at Arsenal made them a title contender, what does this result make Spurs? It makes them capable. The start of the Villas-Boas era at White Hate Lane had been filled with mixed signals. Today was the first unmitigated sign Spurs could replicate last year’s fourth place finish.
  • As for United, it was a bad half hour, going down 2-0 before coming into the game. They got burned badly, and their defense (having allowed nine goals in six games) looks very vulnerable. They could have used Nemanja Vidic on each of the goals.