Tuesday 22 May 2018

United's warrior spirit prolongs Spurs trophy drought

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Manchester United's Ander Herrera celebrates scoring their second goal with Jesse Lingard. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Ander Herrera celebrates scoring their second goal with Jesse Lingard. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Sam Barnes

For a man who says that winning the FA Cup would not change the way in which Tottenham saw itself as a club, Mauricio Pochettino looked ever more despondent as this FA Cup semi-final started to slip away from his team, and the last prospect of a trophy this season duly expired.

There is still fourth place in the Premier League to play for as far as Spurs are concerned, although Champions League football is something they have come to take for granted under their Argentine coach.

Should they hold on this will be the third consecutive season in which they make the top four and yet expectations exceed that now, as the absence of a major honour becomes a deficit they simply cannot ignore. On the big day, Spurs fell short once again, playing a semi-final at what is their current home ground against a Manchester United side with an indifferent run of form of late who, nevertheless seem capable of lifting themselves for the major occasions.

In that respect they are the image of their manager, unyielding and tenacious, and if Spurs also reflect their man in charge then what does that say about Pochettino? He has, of course, spent nothing like the money that Jose Mourinho has been allowed to lavish on his squad, and often with mixed results. Yet Mourinho is one win away from his 21st major career trophy now with the FA Cup final on May 19.

However, at 46, Pochettino, still one of the game's most sought-after coaches, is yet to win a single one. Pochettino is a fine coach, and a man whose teams consistently punch above their weight, but he is still yet to close the deal when it comes to the cups. Watching in the stands, Alex Ferguson, a great admirer of Pochettino, will have recognised the frustration of the younger of the two managers at a Spurs team who took the lead through Dele Alli and then failed to build upon it.

They started so much stronger than United but one always suspected that Mourinho's players would force their way back into it - and so it proved. They equalised with an Alexis Sanchez goal made by the hitherto lacklustre Paul Pogba and then in the second half they went direct through Spurs again for the unlikely match-winner Ander Herrera to finish the move.

Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier and Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier and Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

This is United, a team that can change from one half to the next, from one game to another. They were never truly in control and Christian Eriksen was the man of the match when it came to technique and vision, but United had the warriors and the warriors prevailed.

They included Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, reunited in defence, as well as Romelu Lukaku who charged around after lost causes all day. Like all Mourinho sides, United are a difficult team to claw a lead off and once Spurs had fallen behind there was a grim inevitability for Pochettino's team. It was a brute of a first half in which Spurs did their very best to blow United away early and very nearly had two goals to show for their efforts while Mourinho's team did their best to resist.

Harry Kane looked in the groove with his back to goal and putting himself about. Jones and Smalling were the heart of the United defence and they found it hard with Spurs' midfield squeezing up and getting Eriksen on the ball in the pockets of space where he does the most damage.

On the touchline Mourinho was raging against the lack of urgency in his team and the pressure had told early, after just 10 minutes, when Davinson Sanchez went for the long pass down the right and Eriksen carried the ball clear of Pogba. The United man barely got out of second gear and Eriksen had time to spot Dele Alli's run at the back post where he slid in for the first goal.

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane and Manchester United's Chris Smalling. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane and Manchester United's Chris Smalling. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Spurs seemed to sense that Pogba was off the pace and Mousa Dembele chopped back in midfield to get away from his opponent and earlier Kieran Trippier had threaded the ball through the legs of the Frenchman. Perhaps it was with that earlier incident in mind that Pogba singled out Dembele when the Spurs man delayed his pass on the right side on 24 minutes.

It is not often that this silky Belgian footballer is caught in possession but this was one of those moments and he was put on his backside by Pogba's challenge.

The United man struck a nice ball onto the head of Sanchez in the box who wrong-footed goalkeeper Michel Vorm with his header.

The winner came just after the hour when Lukaku managed to knock on a long ball and almost got to the cutback that Sanchez played into the area.

Instead this was one of those occasions when United were glad of a loose touch from the Belgian and the ball fell nicely to Herrera who was screened well by Jesse Lingard to beat Vorm with the shot.

Manchester United's Jesse Lingard shakes hands with manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Manchester United's Jesse Lingard shakes hands with manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

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