Moura double heaps pressure on Mourinho, as Spurs deliver night to remember
Despite the circus surrounding Manchester United and their manager in the past week, Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Old Trafford as the underdogs. Despite their woeful previous record in Central Manchester, the chinks in the United armour presented a chance for an upset. ENRG Sport’s Gregor Kerr reports.
A brace from Lucas Moura, and a Harry Kane opener, helped Tottenham Hotspur maintain their 100% start to the Premier League season, their best since 2009, and heap the pressure further on Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
United faltered last weekend but started the first half the much better team as Spurs sat off, but quickfire strikes early in the second half from Kane and Moura stunned the Red Devils, before the Brazilian wrapped it up with ten minutes remaining with an outstanding solo effort.
Much of the inquests will be in the United camp, whether it be the starting side with no recognised wingers, the inclusion of Jones and Smalling, or a powderpuff attack. Though the result was more so down to Spurs’ electricity in attack, and ferocity at the back. Their ‘hoodoo’ of stumbling away to the big clubs is quickly fading.
After their defeat at the hands of Brighton and Hove Albion last week, United’s six changes were to be expected, although they failed to inspire. The decision to drop Ander Herrera into a back three along with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling raised an eyebrow.
Tottenham’s captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was a surprise starter following his arrest for drink driving last week, while Danny Rose and Moussa Dembele came back into the fold, mixed with Toby Alderweireld’s revival, it gave the starting eleven an early Pochettino feel.
Their record at Old Trafford, in the Premier League at least, is abysmal. With 21 defeats from 25 meetings previous to this one, it makes the final result even more resounding.
When a short Danny Rose back pass allowed in Romelu Lukaku it appeared a familiar script was unfolding. Off balance, and at an angle, the Belgian missed a chance that should have been taken, and in previous meetings probably would have.
Indeed, it was the pattern of much of the first half. As the visitors failed to implement their usual possession game, it was United who appeared the sharper. For all the possession though they did lack a cutting edge for any clear chances, though Lukaku headed wide from a Shaw cross from inside the box.
Dele Alli should have done better to slide Kane in, or have an effort of his own, after Matic was dispossessed, but he was unable to produce either.
Moura, looking a new player with a full pre-season under his belt, drove away from Smalling and into the United box, bundled inside the area after a clumsy leg from Jones took his feet away. Referee Craig Pawson waved away the complaints, much to the attacker and his teammates astonishment.
Fred and Pogba both curled efforts wide of the post, but Pochettino’s side began to grow as the half closed and looked to be on the edge of creating something.
That ‘something’ arrived shortly after the restart in the form of a Harry Kane header. Trippier, looking more and more confident after his stellar World Cup, delivered from the corner and found his England teammate who snuck ahead of Phil Jones, and reversed it back into the far corner, looping over De Gea’s head.
The option to change from a back four to a back three was designed to offer United more security, but they appeared just as open, and Moura capitalised to add a second in as many minutes. Eriksen, in space, cut a low cross in the Brazilian’s direction. With two advancing defenders he could have anticipated a clattering but met the ball first to steer a firm effort low into the corner.
The home crowd, and side, were stunned. The Old Trafford floodlights only heard one set of fans coming from the away section, and cries of “you’re not special anymore” towards the dugout had more than a hint of truth to them.
On the ropes for the second game in a row, United rang the changes on the hour mark with Sanchez, Lindelof and Fellaini entering the fray. The Swedish defender nearly contributed a goal, at both ends, after his introduction.
His diving header at the far post found only the side netting, before he allowed Alli in on goal with a Rose-esque back pass shortly after, though De Gea was able to cover the error.
Jones may have performed poorly but barring his eventually injury it was hard to see the uninspiring Lindelof playing a part, as he allowed Kane to slip away for a missed free header from a corner.
As Alderweireld and Vertonghen batted away crosses time and time again, Mourinho could have pondered “what if?’. The former’s move to United appeared likely for much of the transfer window, but just like other pursuits for a much-needed centre-back, never materialised. How different the result could have been had he switched sides in the summer.
Moura, alone and with space ahead on the counter, sensed the fear in Smalling as he drove forward with ten minutes remaining, bursting ahead of the defender and finishing assuredly beyond De Gea for his side’s third. With previous links to Anthony Martial and Wilfried Zaha, it proved a reminder that Spurs may have already made that marquee signing that was needed.
In front of an emptying Old Trafford crowd, United had been taken apart in their own back yard. Watching the style of football they had become renowned for, instead this time it was being used against them. An emotional Mourinho held a stray supporter’s scarf come the final whistle, and took his time to applaud the crowd longer than usual.
The United manager remained upbeat despite the scoreline inflected on his players: “Even with the unexpected 2-0 result, the way the team kept playing until the third goal arrived, my message to the players has to be a positive message and I’m really happy. I’m humbled by the way the supporters reacted to the boys.”
Pochettino, who finally has an Old Trafford win after six previous attempts, insisted that at 1-0 his side were not ready to shut up shop. He said: “Maybe it’s easy to score but after 1-0 you want to play safe and say, ‘OK, come on, let’s play safe and finish the game 1-0’.
“”But I think the character and the personality of the team was to trying to find the second and the third. I think that is why we fully deserved the result and the players all the credit.”
Perhaps unexpectedly, Spurs travel to Watford next Sunday in what is a top of the league clash, with neither side dropping a point so far. It feels like another landmark the Argentinean’s reign, alongside wins against Real Madrid and Chelsea, though few would have matched this.