Spurs worth the wait as second half goalrush crushes Man United
Van Gaal’s side concede three in six minutes as Tottenham send message to Leicester
Dele Alli opened the scoring for Spurs at White Hart Lane. Photograph: Getty
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester United 0
Tottenham Hotspur refuse to give up on their Premier League title dream. What a strange game this was, and how bizarre Manchester United were on so many levels but Mauricio Pochettino’s team shook their heads clear to find the knock-out with three quick-fire blows towards the end.
There had been a measure of deflation in the Tottenham ranks beforehand when the leaders, Leicester, closed out their victory at Sunderland to take a bold step towards the least likely title triumph of all time. But Tottenham did what they had to do and they will keep fighting until the last.
A game that took an age to come to the boil did so when Dele Alli converged on to Christian Eriksen’s cross from the left to sweep past David De Gea and what happened next advertised the ruthless streak that Pochettino has instilled at White Hart Lane, together with United’s emptiness and odd melancholy.
Toby Alderweireld lost Marcos Rojo on an Erik Lamela free-kick to head the second and Lamela, himself, landed the final punch, when he pounced in front of Daley Blind to ram home Danny Rose’s low cross. It added up to three goals in six minutes and it could easily have been a more chastening experience for United but De Gea tipped over Harry Kane’s header, Kyle Walker hit the post and Mousa Dembélé went close in a one-on-one.
What of United? They had arrived late after their team bus was caught in traffic – the kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes – and, after a reasonable start, they drifted into nothingness. Apart from one Anthony Martial chance on 61 minutes, they offered little as an attacking force.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah had played well at right-back but when he was forced off through injury to be replaced by Matteo Darmian, United were suddenly vulnerable. Darmian conceded the free-kick for Alderweireld’s goal while Tottenham’s other two goals came up Darmian’s flank. At full time, the United assistant manager, Ryan Giggs, ordered the players to applaud the travelling fans. The half-hearted nature of their efforts spoke volumes.
The travails of the United team bus had led to plenty of gags – many of them based on the notion that Louis Van Gaal’s team had not turned up all season – and it all felt pretty strange. But the pre-match mood-killer from Tottenham’s point of view was the Leicester result. The United support taunted their Tottenham counterparts in the early running with a chant about how they had nearly won the league and there was not much in the way of response.
Pochettino, however, had said beforehand that Tottenham needed to win all of their remaining games, so it was simply a question of them keeping their minds on what they could influence.
Tottenham had to impose themselves but they were flat at the outset, despite the best efforts of both the home crowd and Pochettino to rouse them. The manager bellowed a wake-up call to his players in the 18th minute but, shortly afterwards, he was exasperated when he passed the ball to Walker, after it had gone out in front of the dugouts, so that the right-back could take a quick throw-in, only for him to fail to control it.
United started quite nicely in terms of their tempo and the intensity of their pressing. They gave Tottenham little room for manoeuvre, with Jesse Lingard at the heart of the hustle. Martial showed flickered of menace. And yet there was precious little incision and one moment seemed to sum things up. Morgan Schneiderlin took out two Tottenham players with a 24th minute backheel close to the byline but Rojo ballooned the subsequent cross too deep.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Manchester United: Premier League - as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: The game was delayed by 30 minutes after United’s bus was stuck in traffic but the wait was worth it for Spurs, who scored three times in five second half minutes to keep their title hopes alive
The only glimmers of threat in the first half were crammed into a 90-second spell just before the half-hour. They all came from Tottenham. De Gea flapped at a cross and, just when Kane scented an opportunity, he was snuffed out by the impressive Fosu-Mensah.
Tottenham recycled the move and Eriksen’s cross was made to measure for Lamela. Completely unmarked at the far post, and only six yards from goal, Lamela headed wide. It was a horrible miss. Walker then made a driving run and he jinked inside Rojo but Fosu-Mensah leapt into a tackle that stopped him.
Van Gaal made a change at half-time, when he withdrew the centre-forward, Marcus Rashford, and sent on Ashley Young. To general surprise, it was not for Young to play on the left and Martial to switch through the middle; rather a straight swap. Young, the winger and sometime full-back, who last scored almost a year ago, would lead the line.
Van Gaal is nothing if not quirky. His line-up continued to feature Lingard, a winger, in the No10 role and Mata, a No10, on the right. When Fosu-Mensah was forced off for treatment in the 63rd minute, Young briefly moved to right-back. When the score was 3-0, Van Gaal brought on Memphis Depay for Mata, switched Young to the right and pushed Martial up front.
Tottenham worked De Gea on a number of occasions in the first part of the second half, without extending him fully and it was United, from their only chance of the game, who almost went ahead. Martial ripped past three defenders and the shooting chance opened up but his shot was too close to Hugo Lloris. How Tottenham turned the screw. Alli was booked for diving in the 90th minute but it did not matter. Tottenham retain the flicker of hope.