Manchester United 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Hat-trick hero Cristiano Ronaldo fired Manchester United to a vital 3-2 victory in a breathless Premier League clash with top-four rivals Tottenham.
Saturday evening kicked off a make-or-break Old Trafford double-header, with Atletico Madrid arriving in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday after what Ralf Rangnick admitted was a must-win league match for his side.
United did not disappoint as star turn Ronaldo returned from injury with a bang, striking home superbly from 25 yards and adding another after Harry Kane had levelled from the spot.
The hosts were staring down the barrel of an unwanted draw following Harry Maguire’s own goal, only for the 37-year-old to rise highest to head home a corner and send Old Trafford wild.
Ronaldo wound the back the years on Saturday in front of another sporting giant who showed incredible longevity, with watching NFL great Tom Brady applauding in amazement after his long-range opener.
One of the former quarterback’s biggest fans levelled for Tottenham as Kane lashed home a penalty, but United went into half-time ahead after Ronaldo notched his second.
An own goal from skipper Maguire stunned Old Trafford but Ronaldo would not be stopped on his return from the hip flexor issue that ruled him out of the humbling loss at Manchester City as he completed his hat-trick.
There was a guttural roar at the end of a match that was played in an intense, helter-skelter fashion from the outset.
United dealt with Covid testing confusion in the build-up but looked bright from the outset, albeit shaky when Spurs attacked down the flanks.
Ronaldo saw penalty appeals rejected when an early shot struck Eric Dier’s hand, but soon he would be celebration a spectacular opener.
Fred smartly flicked a Raphael Varane pass on in what had been a patient attack until the veteran collected the ball and arrowed a stunning 25-yard strike beyond Hugo Lloris in the 12th minute.
Old Trafford was rocking and Paul Pogba sent a curling effort skipping just wide of Spurs' goal as they pushed for a quickfire second.
Play was not one-sided, though. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sent a shot down David De Gea's throat and the offside flag saved United when Son Heung-min put Ben Davies through to score at the end of a fine, flowing move.
Play was to-ing and fro-ing as Ronaldo glanced a header wide before Diogo Dalot cleared Dier's headed attempt from a corner off the line.
Spurs' pressure bore fruit as half-time approached, with impressive January acquisition Dejan Kulusevski cutting past Jadon Sancho and firing over a cross that Alex Telles handled.
Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot and Kane struck the penalty beyond De Gea's reach in the 35th minute. But Spurs would only be level for three minutes.
Nemanja Matic put Sancho behind Spurs' backline and he cut across for Ronaldo to direct past Lloris as the visitors appealed for offside. The VAR checked and Sergio Reguilon had played Sancho onside in the build-up.
Spurs pushed for another equaliser before half-time, with a similar pattern of play continuing in the second half.
Reguilon cut out a Sancho cross on a swift United break and Son directed wide at the other end from a smart Kulusevski pass.
Ronaldo forced Lloris into action from an acute angle, but Spurs would peg them back for a second time.
Antonio Conte's men had looked dangerous down the flanks all evening and Reguilon's cross was directed past his own goalkeeper by United skipper Maguire with Cristian Romero lurking behind him in an offside position.
The Argentina international appeared to goad Maguire after the leveller but was not happy for long.
Ronaldo, who had seen another snapshot saved, jinked away from Romero and leapt above Matt Doherty to meet a Telles corner with a thundering header in front of the Stretford End.
That 81st-minute goal proved decisive and defender Victor Lindelof immediately replaced the man-of-the-match as United held out for three vital points.