Manchester United 2 Totenham Hotspur 1
The sight of Marcus Rashford in smooth and pacy flow – the components of his thrilling technique in sync from first to last – would once have delighted José Mourinho. Not here. Mourinho had wanted to mark his return to Manchester United with a fourth win on the spin with Tottenham; to make his biggest statement yet with his new club.
Instead, Rashford comprehensively upstaged him, scoring both of the goals in a United victory that ought to have been more emphatic, such was their first-half domination, to provide his current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with a sorely needed tonic.
Solskjær had overseen United’s worst start to a season since 1988 but, not for the first time at this venue, his team raised their levels against a rival with pedigree. It had been a similar story in the win over Chelsea and the draw against Liverpool.
Rashford scored early on and the winner, after Dele Alli’s moment of sorcery had temporarily hauled Spurs level, came from a penalty that he had won himself. It is now 12 goals at club level for him this season – with nine in his last 10 appearances – but it was his all-round game that propelled United to the result. They will approach Saturday’s derby at Manchester City with greater optimism. For Mourinho, this was a bump in the road.
Mourinho had wanted to stress how this was not about him. He is so humble, remember. Yet his presence in the dugout was the principle sideshow, at the very least. He was always going to be welcomed back with respect by the United diehards, who never turned on him even towards the bitter end of his Old Trafford tenure, although there were no chants for him at any point during the game.
The home crowd would instead run through their repertoire of Solskjær songs after their team started on the front foot and forged ahead. It was a goal that owed plenty to the power in Rashford's right boot and, also, a misjudgment at his near post by Paulo Gazzaniga.
Jesse Lingard robbed Davinson Sánchez and, when the ball broke to Rashford on the left-hand corner of the penalty area, he set his sights immediately. The shot was designed to bounce awkwardly in front of Gazzaniga, which it did, and the Spurs goalkeeper could only help it in off the inside of the upright.
Mourinho's starting XI had revealed an attacking intention – a recognition, perhaps, that he felt United might be vulnerable – with Lucas Moura restored to the front four and Moussa Sissoko preferred to Eric Dier in midfield. But it was United who took a grip on midfield and the game. With Lingard getting into dangerous areas and Rashford bristling with menace off the left, they could have been out of sight by the half-hour mark. They certainly had the chances. Spurs were stretched and they rode their luck.
Rashford was determined to showcase his shooting technique and, after fizzing a free-kick narrowly wide, he took aim from 25 yards, summoning pace and dip on the effort, and watched Gazzaniga tip it against the crossbar.
In between times, Mason Greenwood – who played in place of the injured Anthony Martial – took a lay-off from Lingard and banged low for goal. Gazzaniga saved with his legs; a fine stop, which felt like a moment of atonement. Rashford extended Gazzaniga with a curler, Lingard was wide with a similar shot and the thought occurred that United could live to regret their inability to kill Spurs off.
When Spurs bounced up off the canvas, it was the latest illustration of Alli's rebirth under Mourinho. The midfielder had Fred and Ashley Young for company inside the area as he eyed a dropping ball after David de Gea had saved from Serge Aurier. The United players appeared to have the situation under control. Yet with a sumptuous touch, Alli eased the ball over his head, wrong-footing his markers, before surging on to it and finishing past De Gea.
There would be a VAR check to investigate a possible brush of the ball against Alli’s arm. There was nothing untoward.
How were United only level at the start of the second half? They did not need to ask the question for very long as Sissoko made the foolish decision to nibble at Rashford inside the area. The penalty award looked a little soft on the replays but the contact was there. United had missed four of their previous six penalties this season. Rashford never looked like worsening that statistic. This was his night.
Son Heung-min saw a shot blocked by Fred while, at the other end, Daniel James twice worked Gazzaniga. The second half was cagier, underscored by less incident, with Spurs left to lament a terrible Sissoko pass on a promising counter. Solskjær sought to close out the result with defensive substitutions and, had Spurs equalised, it is a fair bet the criticism would have been fierce.
Mourinho’s side built up a head of steam in the last 15 minutes or so and the tension became palpable. Spurs had their flickers, most notably through Aurier and Alli at the very end. United, though, got what they deserved. It was Solskjær’s name that rang around the ground with feeling at full time. – Guardian