Ah, optimism. A couple of weeks of Sanchez hype had everybody feeling good about life. Looking forward to the return of the Champions League, and maybe — just maybe — eyeing that Premier League points gap and thinking: maybe? No! But ... maybe? And then came this performance: a bucket of cold water to the face, and a bucket of cold sick to the shoes.
At least we didn’t have to wait long for this game to go the way of the pear. United have certainly had worse halves of football, but it’s hard to think of any so flamboyantly chaotic. Straight from the kick-off, Spurs humped a long ball towards the penalty area. Harry Kane won a header; Dele Alli, running past him, squeezed the ball back across the box; and Christian Eriksen, all alone in the penalty area, tapped the ball home.
10.48 seconds. The third fastest goal in the history of the Premier League. A risible shambles. That it was a premeditated move from the home side only made it the more embarrassing. Apparently nobody in red thought to wonder why Spurs had stuck four men on the right-hand side of the halfway line for the kick-off.
This doziness continued throughout the first period, as Spurs swarmed United in midfield, then flooded forward in numbers. Phil Jones’ deft finish past his own goalkeeper will take the headlines, but in truth, this was another organisational collapse. Kieran Trippier, who kicked the ball into Jones hapless feet, was almost sarcastically unmarked.
Of course, all this Spurs busy-ness that meant there was little space in behind their defence, but United’s best passer, Paul Pogba, was being harassed out of the game, and nobody else was getting anything quite right. Hey, maybe Mourinho could claim this was an attempt to retrospectively justify his fire blanket approach away at Anfield. You see what happens when we try and have a go?
Mourinho, who was presumably a little annoyed by everything, rejigged things at half-time. Premier League rules prevented him taking his entire defence outside and birching them until the said sorry, so instead he moved Sanchez into the middle, Martial out to his preferred left, and Lingard over to the right. Still, it didn’t make much difference: Spurs, pressing in numbers, continued to crack United open in midfield almost at will, and should probably have scored a couple more.
The introduction of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata felt logical, and though it was a surprise that Pogba was withdrawn, along with Jesse Lingard, his performance hadn’t warranted much patience. Nor, apparently, did Fellaini’s: just seven minutes after being brought on, he was hooked by a visibly furious Mourinho. Perhaps whatever he’d been told to do, he wasn’t doing it. Or perhaps he was injured.
Anyway, that was about it. Everybody was awful in their own way: the defence a state, the midfield an abyss, and the attack, in the moments they got to be an attack, a misfiring muddle. Losing a game isn’t always a disaster. But United — out-pressed, out-passed, out-thought, and out-worked — weren’t just made to look second best. They were made to look archaic. The scoreline wasn’t that emphatic, but this was a shredding.