Manchester United made an entertaining return to competitive action on Friday, as they were held to a 1-1 draw in their first outing at Tottenham Hotspur’s (empty) new ground. The match may have been played behind closed doors, but there was plenty of passion on display in an encounter that offered signs of promise for Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Jose Mourinho’s sit-back-and-soak-it-up style of football was better suited to the unique demands of returning from a three-month mid-season interval, and so it initially proved. Spurs spent most of the first half without the ball but still looked the most dangerous side, taking the lead just short of the half-hour.
United saw the lion’s share of possession, but struggled to convert it into meaningful chances. Their best fell to Marcus Rashford midway through the half, though his low snapshot from inside the area was blocked by a sprawling Hugo Lloris after a half-hearted clearance from Davinson Sánchez.
Five minutes later, Spurs opened the scoring. A poor defensive header from Luke Shaw was picked up by Steven Bergwijn, who drove rather too easily past Harry Maguire and fired a low shot through the palms of David de Gea. If Maguire might have done better, de Gea certainly should; he could only deflect it inside the near post.
The Spaniard made amends less than five minutes later, denying Spurs what would have been a catastrophic second. Bergwijn was again the dangerman, flying in behind Shaw down the hosts’ right and floating a cross towards Son Heung-min at the back post. The Korean’s header was powerful, and only a diving header from de Gea prevented it from finding the net.
Halftime came and went with United having failed to offer much in attack. With no improvement by the hour, Solskjær looked to the bench, removing Daniel James and Fred and introducing Mason Greenwood and Paul Pogba, the latter’s first appearance since Boxing Day.
Whether by design or accident, United’s improvement was instantaneous. Pogba drove in from the left and found Bruno Fernandes, who showed world class talent in spinning into space and finding Anthony Martial in the area. Unfortunately the pass was a little too quick for the Frenchman, who hesitated before being pounced upon by Eric Dier.
If Martial might have done better with his first chance, there was little more he could’ve done on his second. Within two minutes he was again in the thick of things, taking receipt of a Luke Shaw pass and prodding a powerful shot towards Lloris’ top corner. It looked set to hit the back of the net, but the keeper rose to divert the ball to safety and preserve an advantage that looked more slender by the second.
United huffed and puffed, and were eventually rewarded. With ten minutes left on the clock, Dier sent Pogba tumbling in the penalty area, and Fernandes stepped up to dispatch the spot-kick with aplomb. It was a brief but impressive return from Pogba, whose full range of passing was on show as he almost sent Marcus Rashford through with a long, lofted half-volley shortly after.
There was more drama in the last minute of the 90, when Fernandes went to ground in the Spurs box and referee Jon Moss awarded United a second spot-kick of the match. Alas, the decision was eventually correctly overturned by VAR, which adjudged the midfielder to have tripped over Dier rather than been tripped by him—though not before Mourinho gave the officials a piece of his mind.