Reaction as Manchester United secure an important win.
Despite the pre-match insistence to the contrary, tonight was a huge game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer no matter which way you looked at it. He needed a win – a performance would have been a bonus. He got both, which was a massive boost.
He came into the game taking risks.
Out went Brandon Williams, in came Ashley Young. Out went Andrea Pereira, in came Scott McTominay. Out went Juan Mata, in came Jesse Lingard.
The changes were sensible in explanation, although the wisdom of playing Young could have been challenged. It heightened the sense of expectation on Solskjaer’s decision making to come good.
For the most part, in the first half, it did. United started in fantastic fashion, scoring early on through Marcus Rashford. His goal carried the sort of luck he was later missing when he took aim from the edge of the area, only to hit the crossbar. The hosts were cohesive, quick, aggressive and entertaining.
Spurs took some time to keep hold of the ball and it had the desired effect; the tempo was killed after a Mason Greenwood effort was saved, and then Dele All struck before half-time to punish United in a way they scarcely deserved. Alli, who had performed a similar trick earlier, caught Fred and Young out as they both fell for the same move. It was poor defending. This team had the exact same goal conceded at Bournemouth and it is an embarrassing one to concede.
The test then was for United to galvanise themselves and ‘go again’ in the second period. Could they bounce back after being deflated, or would Spurs benefit from their clinical edge, as is a Jose Mourinho trademark?
The answer came within a minute of the restart. United pushed forward immediately and won a penalty. Sissoko – who should have been sent off in the first half – brought down Rashford, who put away the penalty with some comfort.
It was a tough slog from there, and a sharp intake of breath as Luke Shaw and Pereira were brought on, but the game was seen out with relative comfort.
What to conclude, then? Rashford had one of those performances which will enhance his reputation no end, a huge step forward in his maturity.
McTominay was excellent on his return, proving what a difference a midfielder fit for purpose makes. But let’s not hesitate to praise Fred — poor in recent games, but bouncing back himself for arguably his best game for the club. A relatively low bar, one that is getting higher every week.
A big result for Ole and you have to be delighted for him. The criticism and pressure on him has undoubtedly gone past what is deserved, overshadowing the legitimate criticism enough to inspire a fine atmosphere as it did tonight from a support who will have his back.
Consistency of VAR
Sissoko went in on a dangerously high challenge on Fred midway through the first half. Red cards have been given for such fouls; not even a caution was given to the Spurs man.
Alli’s goal was checked for handball. Again, handballs have been awarded for these, and again, Spurs benefitted from the decision going in their favour. The ball struck his arm — however brief, however ineffective it was to the path.
For the second time in recent weeks, a goal that should have been disallowed under these new ridiculous rules has been given — so is football the victor? One would like to think it’s a case of common sense prevailing, but it isn’t, because the law hasn’t changed.
Ole stands to have much of his reign to date assessed and judged by his continuous selection of players who do not have a long term future at the club. Phil Jones, who recently returned from the wilderness at Sheffield United. Ashley Young, Fred, Pereira. Some of these are enforced, and in that case, blame can’t be given to the manager. It can when it’s by choice. Young wasn’t great and got caught out twice. On these occasions when the result is positive, he gets away with it. But getting away with it is distinctly different to making a choice that should be repeated.
On to the derby, then, with Ole having a little bit of breathing room. For now.