LONDON — Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley top keep Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect record intact and all but end Spurs’ faint hopes of winning the Premier League title this season.
[ MORE: Solskjaer, Pochettino react ]
Marcus Rashford struck in the first half to win it, as United are just six points off the top four and have won six on the trot in all competitions since Jose Mourinho left.
[ MORE: Kane injured? ]
This was by far the biggest test for Solskjaer and he had David De Gea to thank for the win. The Spaniard denied Harry Kane and Dele Alli on multiple occasions after a Spurs onslaught in the second half.
Here’s what we learned from a pulsating clash.
RASHFORD, POGBA KEY TO UNITED’S REVIVAL
United’s first goal summed up exactly what has changed at the club since Solskjaer arrived and Jose Mourinho departed. Paul Pogba played a long, inch-perfect pass and Marcus Rashford (solely used as a center forward by Mourinho) raced onto it and finished superbly across goal. The simplicity of United’s play is clear for all to see as Solskjaer has stripped them back to basics and allowed Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lingard the freedom to attack whenever they see fit. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic shielded the back four superbly and they had a solid back four. It really isn’t that difficult. Rashford has been superb under Solskjaer, scoring four goals in his five PL games in charge and he’s now been involved in 10 goals in his last nine PL games (five goals, five assists). This was the first time in his career he’s scored in three-straight league games and the local lad has clearly benefitted from spending some time with a predatory finisher like Solskjaer on the training ground. It is looking more absurd by the week that Mourinho didn’t play Rashford centrally and failed to give Pogba the freedom to be a no. 10.
SOLSKJAER BEATS POCHETTINO IN PUBLIC JOB INTERVIEW
After this enthralling end-to-end encounter Ed Woodward’s finger will be hovering over and between two names on the contact list on his phone: “Mauricio. Ole. Mauricio. Ole. Hmmm..”
Both Solskjaer and Pochettino will have come out of this gripping, committed with credit to prove that they can set up teams to attack, entertain and have the quality to at least be in the top four. The sample size of five wins his first five Premier League games is too small to say Solskajer should be United’s preferred choice as their long-term manager, but there’s no doubt this was a huge feather in his cap if he’s going to get the job on a full-time basis when his caretaker role ends in May. There were obvious defensive flaws for United which David de Gea’s brilliance covered up (more on that below), but the way Solskjaer has instantaneously returned swagger to United’s attack, midfield and pretty much their entire team is remarkable. He is a born winner, someone who knows the club inside out and would probably manage United for a fraction of the salary Pochettino would demand. He matched Sir Matt Busby’s United record of winning his first five league games in charge and Solskjaer can do no wrong. In a very public job interview he got the better of Pochettino, as the latter was let down by his slack strikers.
TOTTENHAM SUCCUMB TO DE GEA’S BRILLIANCE
There is no shame on holding your hands up and saying it is not your day. Tottenham had to do that Sunday. David de Gea produced four superb saves in the second half alone as the Spaniard stood tall to deny Harry Kane and Dele Alli twice when it seemed improbably they would be denied. De Gea’s sublime form has been the one constant through United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era and he put on a clinic in the second half with save after save with his feet to leave Kane looking to the heavens in disbelief. Those who remember the Ferguson era so fondly are perhaps easy to forget the big saves Peter Schmeichel made time and time again.
De Gea will need to carry on this form until the end of the season if United are to sneak their way into the top four.
After a wobble over the summer with Spain, there is no doubt he is back to his best. From his foot saves to standing tall to putting Spurs’ strikers off at key moments, De Gea was the real reason United won at Wembley.