Tuesday 24 April 2018

Spurs stay on Foxes' tail as United fail to turn up

Tottenham 3-0 Man Utd

David De Gea can only watch as Toby Alderweireld’s header finds the net at White Hart Lane. Photo: Getty
David De Gea can only watch as Toby Alderweireld’s header finds the net at White Hart Lane. Photo: Getty
Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates as he scores their third goal. Photo: Getty
Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur shakes hands with Mauricio Pochettino as he is substituted. Photo: Getty
David De Gea of Manchester United dives in vain as Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur socres their third goal. Photo: Getty
Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur (L) and Memphis Depay of Manchester United clash as players intervene. Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

Like London buses, the goals came all at once. Like so often happens to buses in London, the Manchester United coach was stuck in traffic, delaying kick-off by 30 minutes.

It was not the only coach that let United down. Their manager, Louis van Gaal, got this one all wrong - tactically and with his substitutions - but was, predictably, in full-on denial mode afterwards.

His team turned up late and then were turned over and face an increasingly desperate struggle to finish in the top four. Manchester City are four points ahead of them - effectively five when their far superior goal difference is factored in - and the two have six games to play; 18 points to play for.

This was, under the circumstances with the delay, with the sight of Leicester City pulling 10-points clear before a ball was kicked in this one, a brilliant victory for a courageous Tottenham Hotspur.

That Leicester advantage is reduced back to seven points with five games to play; 15 points to play for. It is a big ask for Spurs and would take a big, highly unlikely collapse from Leicester even by the unpredictable standards of this gloriously chaotic campaign.

But when the pressure was on Spurs stepped up and as every neutral celebrates Leicester's wonderful achievements - this result confirms Claudio Ranieri's side will definitely be in the Champions League next season - they should also celebrate that at least someone is making a fight of it.

United, meanwhile, were unambitious, were then wretched and were soundly, roundly beaten with Spurs scoring three goals inside six second-half minutes. Erik Lamela was at the centre of them all with the 24-year-old, transformed under Mauricio Pochettino, later departing to a deserved standing ovation.

If it was a good day for one Argentine international it was a bad one for another with Van Gaal, rightly, pointing out Marcos Rojo's culpability in Spurs' second goal as he effectively allowed Toby Alderweireld a free header which the defender accepted to steer Lamela's free-kick beyond David de Gea.

Although it is no excuse for that incident Rojo - again a crushing disappointment - was one of several players deployed out of position by Van Gaal, who summed his quixotic approach up by bringing on Ashley Young at half-time to replace Marcus Rashford and asking him to play as a centre-forward.

Young, without a goal all season, has played in many positions. But centre-forward? That was truly baffling, especially for Anthony Martial who looked, and played, as if he was distinctly unimpressed as he was kept out wide on the left wing.

Young at centre-forward and then Jesse Lingard, a winger, at No 10 and Juan Mata, a No 10, on the wing. There was Rojo, a centre-half at left-back and Daley Blind a left-back at centre-half. Confused? United were.

Their best player? Head and shoulders above the rest it was the combative 18-year-old Dutch defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Maybe it was no coincidence that United conceded all three goals once he limped off injured.

Fosu-Mensah is good, but that is some indictment of the rest.

This was the 13th time this season that United failed to score; it was the eighth time in the Premier League they failed to have more than one shot on target and it was their ninth loss of the league season.

Their shot on target came in the second half as Martial set off on one of those exciting, weaving runs of his to create space inside the Spurs area for a shot which he steered too close to Hugo Lloris, who beat it away. Van Gaal was correct to later say Martial should have done better but he overblew the importance of that one incident.

Beyond that United offered little. It was all Spurs who when they could quicken the pace, when they did move the ball faster and more aggressively, always looked like they would blow their opponents away. And so it proved.

Lamela should have scored in the first half when he stooped to reach Christian Eriksen's chipped cross from close-range but contrived to put the ball wide from close range.

The breakthrough finally arrived as Harry Kane quickly freed Eriksen down the left and the midfielder cleverly sent in a curling first-time cross which was met by Dele Alli - on his final day as a teenager - and he side-footed through De Gea.

United were dazed and then confused - as Alderweireld added the second - and were then knocked out with Lamela finishing a finely worked team effort as Danny Rose crossed low.

There were more chances - De Gea tipped over Kane's header - before Spurs claimed their first home league victory over United since 2001. That came on the last day of that season when United were already champions.

Spurs may fall short of that this campaign.

But not as far short as United who are a long way behind them right now and under Van Gaal, clearly heading in the wrong direction.


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