It was a match where most Manchester United fans would have been satisfied with a draw. With three points off of fifth place Arsenal, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men had an extraordinary task in front of them. Even more important for United’s caretaker manager, he was facing his biggest competition Mauricio Pochettino for the role of permanent manager of this storied club.
In spite of all this, the Red Devils went on to earn three essential points thanks to an outstanding goal by Marcus Rashford just minutes before halftime. By the time Mike Dean’s final whistle blew, there was plenty more to be desired from this new and improved Manchester United squad. Even better? Solskjaer becomes the first manager in United history to win his first six games in charge.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, their first win against a Big Six team in the 2018/2019 domestic campaign.
Rashford is United’s new chosen man up front
Unfazed by the big occasions, at 21 years of age, Marcus Rashford has found consistency never seen under José Mourinho. He’s made that starting spot his own, and his caretaker boss seems to agree. United’s number 10 made some expert passes early in the opening 45 minutes, but nothing seemed to connect to a real goal-scoring chance.
The Englishman’s patience would pay off just before the break, however. Mere yards away from the center line, midfielder Paul Pogba delivered Rashford a delicious crossfield pass only the Frenchman could attempt. Rashford controlled the ball for a few dribbles before firing low past the reach of keeper Hugo Lloris and into the back of the net.
Since emerging as the obvious main striker, Rashford has rebuked any doubt that Ole’s decision to promote him to that role was a mistake. There’s a genuine sophistication in his play, and it just improves with every match. The relationship the midfield and the offense have developed since Mourinho’s departure has been fun to watch, and naturally angers the fanbase more as to why the alleged “Special One” was suppressing their talent for the first half of the year.
United can perform just as well against Big Six teams
Since Solskjaer’s hiring and subsequent five game winning streak, much of the grumble that still followed United’s success was their lack of real competition since he took over. Winning against Cardiff City and Newcastle was expected, and the impressive Tottenham Hotspur would be the deciding match to indicate if the Red Devils were top four potential.
The afternoon’s performance was vintage United. Even when they appeared to lose steam in the second half, there was a consistency in the skill set, and when it mattered most a sense of urgency. Two players who especially stood out (besides Rashford, Pogba and David De Gea of course) were Ander Herrera and Victor Lindelöf. Herrera’s diligence in midfield made it possible for Pogba to play a more attacking midfield role. The Spaniard has improved under Solskjaer, who recognizes the efficiency he brings to the pitch. In the 89th minute, Herrera received the ball and elected not to pass to an open Luke Shaw. Instead, he charged into a crowded midfield, slid the ball past two Spurs players applying pressure, and finally played a no-look pass to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian ultimately fell over the ball, but that’s neither here nor there. It was a top-class performance from Herrera that points to his strong work ethic.
Defense still an issue, but United’s aggression pays off
In big matches, there’s a natural rush to strike first. Not only does it set the tone for the match, but the opposition quickly falls into desperation mode to level the score. The first half hour of the afternoon was nearing that way for the Spurs. Their counter attacks were sudden, and that consequently exposed the United back four. Phil Jones struggled in the middle, and Ashley Young was consistently out of position. These blunders contributed to Harry Kane’s strike in the 31st minute, which was rightfully called offside. From there, momentum picked up and United found their groove on the offense.
In the 44th minute, United readied themselves for another goal scoring opportunity on the counter attack. A short pass attempt from Kieran Trippier to Érik Lamela was intercepted by Jesse Lingard, and that sent a surge of red shirts into Spurs territory. Lingard played the ball to Pogba, and thankfully Rashford capitalized off the Frenchman’s magnificent pass. Even with just minutes before the break, there was still intention to close half with an advantage. Just up 1-0, perhaps there was some expectation that United would park the bus and play defense for the second half. After all, that was Ole’s predecessor’s mentality. Instead, United continued to apply pressure.
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to beat the man who’s favorite for the job permanently does his case of earning it for himself no harm whatsoever. It was another pleasing performance from the rejuvenated Red regime. Things couldn’t be going any better right now, and it’s all thanks to the man who’s got it feeling like Manchester United Football Club again.