Manchester United roll on. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer passed his biggest test so far as caretaker manager with flying colors, leading United to 1-0 Premier League victory over high-flying Tottenham Hotspur in London. Marcus Rashford scored the game’s only goal with an excellent first-half strike, while De Gea was at his world class best to keep the clean sheet.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United now has a distinct identity. The Norwegian now knows his first choice XI, and he knows he how he wants them to play. Any uncertainty over whether United would maintain their attacking approach in Solskjaer’s first real test of his young reign was quickly put to bed. The Reds attacked Spurs from the outset, and were clearly intent to play the game on their own terms.
The result was a highly entertaining first half, with both teams set on having a go. The phrase “great advertisement for the Premier League” is dreadfully overused, but this match deserved the label. Spurs and United attacked each other with energy and fluidity, while both defenses impressively held their shape. Spurs were the first to have the ball in the back of the net at the half hour mark, but Harry Kane’s poke over the line was called back by the offside flag.
Just before half-time, United struck.
One of the hallmarks of this new United has been a desire to win the ball back quickly, and it was that aggression that led to the opening goal. Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba pressured Tottenham into a giveaway in the middle of the pitch, before Pogba played a sensational cross field ball right into the path of the sprinting Marcus Rashford. Rashford collected the ball in stride, but the angle was a difficult one. That made no difference with the form that the forward is in; Rashford’s first touch got him just ahead of his defender, before he applied a deadly finish across goal and into the corner of the net.
The visitors started the second half with their foot still firmly on the gas. In the space of the first ten minutes after the restart, Hugo Lloris twice denied his compatriot Pogba. The second of those saves came after an extended period of United possession — the Reds were moving the ball with confidence and purpose — that ended in a lobbed attempt at goal.
Spurs were continuing to attack themselves, and David de Gea was called into action more than once as well. The game was just as open as it was in the first half, and both teams attacked with venom. On one end, Pogba was denied again by the fingertips of Lloris after some razor sharp attacking play from Lingard and Anthony Martial. At the other, Dele Alli got in behind Luke Shaw with a clever run, but could not get past the impressive reflexes of De Gea.
Spurs had their best period of the match around the 70 minute mark. United had started to drop deeper, and the home side were pressing hard for an equalizer. De Gea had to make a stunning save with his feet to keep out Toby Alderweireld from point blank range, before holding onto a Harry Kane free-kick minutes later. Not long after, a Dele Alli shot that looked destined for the corner of the net was tipped wide.
United’s improved attack has gotten all the headlines, but De Gea was providing a painful reminder to the Wembley crowd of his world class quality.
Solskjaer made his first change in the 73rd minute, sending on Romelu Lukaku for Martial to present the Spurs defense with a different sort of challenge. Ten minutes later, he showed his first hint of conservativeness by sending on Diogo Dalot for Lingard. Spurs were now well on top, but De Gea was having one of those days. His 10th save of the game was yet another lightning quick reaction with his feet, this time to keep out Harry Kane.
By the end, United were holding on by their fingertips, but De gea’s excellence combined with some disciplined defending preserved the narrow win.