Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Saturday as Jose Mourinho’s men silenced plenty of their critics.
[ RECAP: United beat Spurs 1-0 ]
Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs missed Harry Kane horribly but still had chances to win the game in the rain in Manchester.
Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense encounter at Old Trafford.
LUKAKU PUTS BIG GAME RECORD BEHIND HIM
Romelu Lukaku has now scored just 15 goals in 59 appearances against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League and he was well-shackled by Spurs defense on Saturday, but he did make a big difference. In the end.
There were moans and groans around Old Trafford on a few occasions where Lukaku failed to control the ball or made the wrong run or didn’t envisage a ball from his teammates. There were also a few boos when Marcus Rashford was taken off in the second half as he looked much more likely to hurt Tottenham and get on the scoresheet than his strike partner as Mourinho went with two up top.
It took until the 73rd minute for Lukaku to get a real sight of goal as he beared down on Jan Verongthen and drilled a shot across goal which Hugo Lloris palmed away. He then went even closer late on as he sent Jesse Lingard‘s cross against the foot of the post with a towering header.
Finally, Lukaku had woken up. His flicked header to Martial for the game-winner proved he stuck with it despite not getting any luck in front of goal and for the second-game running in the PL he had an assist.
We make a lot about Lukaku’s lack of goals in the big games but remember, he played for Everton and West Brom in the PL for most of his appearances against the big boys. He will get more chances to score now he’s at United but he’s showing that he can deliver in key moments even if he’s not hitting the back of the net.
KANE’S ABSENCE BLUNTS SPURS
Harry Kane is the hottest striker on the planet right now, so of course Tottenham missed him.
Kane’s hamstring strain kept him out of the game at Old Trafford and the Premier League’s leading scorer doesn’t only offer goals but also a figurehead to Spurs’ attack.
After a sluggish start Spurs recovered well in the first half with Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli making runs in-behind but so often the ball was not sticking up top and that forced Mauricio Pochettino to bring on Fernando Llorente in the second half.
Kane may be fit enough to play against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and when he returns Tottenham’s attack will look totally different. Spurs coped well without their talisman for vast swathes of their defeat at United with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen both having one big chance.
If Kane would’ve been fit enough to play, you have to wonder how different this game would’ve been as his presence on the pitch would surely have given Tottenham more belief that they could win the game.
3-5-2 WORKED FOR UNITED
During preseason I caught up with Man United’s Dutch defender Daley Blind and he told me that Mourinho had been working on the 3-5-2 formation a lot at their training camp in Los Angeles.
All of that work was for a moment like this.
With no Kane in the lineup for Spurs, Mourinho wanted to get on top of Heung-min Son and Dele Alli whenever he could and stop Spurs from playing out of the back with Lukaku and Rashford up top. It worked very well early on, but then Spurs figured it out and had a little more composure on the ball and United were outnumbered in midfield.
In the second half Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera were pressing high and snapping into tackles and stopped Tottenham from dictating the tempo.
Mourinho’s men may not play with this formation each and every week but with solid veterans Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young at full back, United looked like a solid outfit and Lingard and Martial made a huge difference off the bench.