Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed José Mourinho — his predecessor at Old Trafford — his first defeat in his new job. Marcus Rashford was virtually unplayable all evening, and a goal from the English attacker in each half either side of a Dele Alli effort won United all three points to send the Reds up to sixth in the Premier League table.
Much of the buildup ahead of this match centered around Mourinho having a point to prove to his old employers. With his new Spurs team now revitalized and riding the momentum of consecutive wins, while Solskjaer’s United looked as vulnerable as at any point since Mourinho’s departure a year ago. Instead, in the opening minutes of this match, it was Mourinho’s former charges that were playing as if they meant to make a statement.
United’s recent disappointing form has been accentuated by extended periods in matches of listless attacking play. But in today’s first half at Old Trafford, the home side played with a focus and intensity going forward that has been seen far too little this season. And the home crowd didn’t have to wait very long to see that attacking impetus pay off.
In the sixth minute, Jesse Lingard’s industry in the attacking third won possession back for United, and the Promising Youngster fed Marcus Rashford who was cutting in from the left of the attack. Rashford lashed a vicious shot inside of the near post, and the pace and dip got the better of Paulo Gazzaniga.
Gazzaniga may not have looked too clever on the opening goal, but he made up for it in the several minutes that followed. He had to be be sharp to deny Rashford (twice) and Mason Greenwood in a short span. Rashford in particular was a man in the mood, and went inches wide with a strike from a direct free kick, and only the crossbar denied him another powerful long range goal from another attempt.
Spurs eventually settled into proceedings, but even in their best spell, they did not ruffle United’s back line. When the first half equalizer eventually came, it was a moment of individual excellence rather than any sustained pressure. David de Gea sharply denied Serge Aurier with his feet in the 39th minute, before the ball fell to Dele Alli in the box. Dele flicked the ball over his head to leave Fred chasing shadows, before finishing clinically in the far corner. United had chances to clear the ball before then, but could hardly complain about a moment of magic.
At half time, United were somewhat undeservedly level, and left to rue their missed chances.
Almost directly from kick off, Rashford was at it again. United’s number 10 skinned Aurier on the wing, and then beat Moussa Sissoko in the box. Sissoko stepped on Rashford’s foot to bring him down, and Rashford stepped up to take the penalty himself. Rashford sent the goalkeeper the wrong way with his eyes, and calmly slotted his penalty home to put United back in front.
Spurs almost struck back immediately, but a block from Fred — who in partnership with Scott McTominay was dominating the midfield — kept out a goal-bound effort from Heung-Min Son. Spurs would continue to attack, but United were once again the more dominant side.
The first change of the game took place in the 65th minute, as Mourinho turned to Christian Eriksen — a player who may or may not have an interest in joining United in January — came on to search for an equalizer. Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso followed, as Spurs slowly took more control of an increasingly cagey affair. Solskjaer’s introduction of Andreas Pereira in place of Mason Greenwood only seemed to encourage his team to sit deeper.
When Luke Shaw came on in place of the impressive Jesse Lingard four minutes from full-time, it was clear that United’s manager was now trying to hold on, rather than continue to push Spurs back into their half.
In the end — for once — United’s late conservatism did not cost them. In fact, Rashford had two half chances at completing his hat-trick when United broke forward in injury time. After all the pre-match doom and gloom, United sent their old frenemy back to London empty handed.