Friday, October 19, 2018

Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham: United book their place in the FA Cup final

Dan Steeden in Editorial, FA Cup 21 Apr 2018

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Manchester United faced Tottenham at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final clash between the two sides. It is guaranteed to be an all-Premier League final at this stage but one big name was certain to go out after this game. The Red Devils beat Bournemouth in preparation for this game, while Spurs could only manage a draw with Brighton. Regardless of the result this promised to be an intriguing affair.

Dele Alli hands Tottenham an early lead 

Tottenham were ahead after just 10 seconds when Manchester United were last at Wembley for a Premier League clash at the end of January, and they strove to replicate that feat in this game. A neat turn from Harry Kane allowed him to make a driving run through the heart of the United midfield, unleashing a shot that was well blocked. The remarkably high tempo of Spurs’ play continued during the opening 10 minutes and they smothered Jose Mourinho’s men, though to their credit the Red Devils did manage to grow into the game having weathered the early storm.

To the surprise of many it was a relatively open game during the opening exchanges and both sides looked a threat on the front foot. The first real chance of the game fell to Romelu Lukaku, who couldn’t quite keep his back post header down enough to guide it on target.

Lukaku’s squandered opportunity came back to haunt Manchester United almost immediately as Spurs went straight up the other end and oepend the scoring. A simple long ball from Davinson Sanchez found Christian Eriksen free down the right flank, left unmarked by Paul Pogba. The Dane looked up and curled a sumptuous ball across the face of goall, finding the feet of Dele Alli, who slammed home an emphatic finish to hand Tottenham a crucial lead.

Sanchez draws Manchester United level

Mauricio Pochettino’s men almost doubled their lead moments later as Heung-min Son’s early cross was inches away from being met by Kane at the back post, but United escaped unscathed this time around. Tottenham continued their dominance following the goal and Christian Eriksen in particular looked electric when in possession, threatening to carve open the United back line at any moment.

Typically it was Manchester United who found the net next, bagging an equaliser against the run of play. Some excellent strength from Pogba allowed him to pickpocket Dembele on the left flank, and his subsequent floated cross was perfectly weighted to find Alexis Sanchez in between two defenders. The Chilean met the ball with an impressive leap and guided his header low past Michel Vorm and into the bottom corner. The goal continued Sanchez’s remarkable Wembley goal scoring streak and, significantly, brought United level.

Following the equaliser the game became a slightly cagier affair and clear-cut chances became few and far between. It was Tottenham who seemed to be on top during the minutes before half time, but Pochettino’s men couldn’t force an opening, despite the dynamism of Son and the precision passing of Eriksen. It was Eric Dier who actually went closest with a deflected shot that cannoned back off the post, but in the end the sides went in level, much to the relief of Manchester United.

Herrera becomes an unlikely hero 

The second half started with a much slower tempo than that of the first half, with neither seem wanting to make a mistake or throw too many men forward. Spurs still saw a lot of the ball but their possession was more measured and patient, with Eriksen and Alli being forced deeper by Ander Herrera and Pogba. That was an improvement in terms of United’s defensive play, given how the Tottenham duo had run rampant in the first period, and Pochettino’s men faced a much more compact Red Devils back line.

It was clear from United’s performance after the break that Jose Mourinho’s half-time team talk had been focussed on keeping everything tight and limiting the space and time that the Tottenham midfielders had on the ball. Their defensive solidity allowed the Red Devils to capitalise on the front foot, and it was Ander Herrera who proved to be the unlikely hero. Some good work from Sanchez down the left wing culminated in a square pass that was intended for Lukaku, but the Belgian’s first touch was poor and the ball ran on fortunately for Herrera. The midfielder made no mistake with his finish, driving a shot low and hard past Vorm, who couldn’t get down quickly enough to get a hand to it.

Manchester United close out the win 

With United having taken an unlikely lead it fell to Tottenham to find a way back into the game in the last half an hour. Pochettino opted for a bold strategy, introducing Lucas Moura for Ben Davies in an attempt to force an equaliser. To their credit Spurs had been dominant for much of the game and there was little change after the goal, though the tempo had slowed slightly as heads had started to drop. Manchester United began to look a threat on the break however, especially as Tottenham committed more and more men forwards, and Lukaku had a decent effort stopped well by Vorm as if as a warning shot to the Spurs defence.

Unsurprisingly the last 10 minutes became a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort from Manchester United as Tottenham threw everything at them in an effort to find their way back into the game. Spurs could only manage half chances however and ultimately they could not penetrate the impressively solid back line of United. Jose Mourinho’s men had executed their game plan to perfection, and progressed to the FA Cup final as deserved winners of this clash. 

Final Thoughts 

Having gone down early on it looked as Manchester United were about to relive their defeat at Wembley in January, but they fought back to register an historic comeback victory, securing their place in the final. It was a typical Jose Mourinho performance as the Red Devils ground out the result thanks mostly to their dogged defending and effective game management.

For Tottenham this was a heart-breaking result, especially as they went a goal up. In truth they dominated the game for long spells and really should have produced more chances than they did, especially with how well Christian Eriksen played. This will now be another season without a trophy for Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino, and questions will be asked as to why they struggle in big games.

Match Report 

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia (Darmian, 80’), Smalling, Jones, Young, Herrera, Matic, Pogba, Lingard (Rashford, 83’), Lukaku, Sanchez (Fellaini, 90+6’)

Tottenham: Vorm, Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies (Lucas, 68’), Dier, Dembele (Wanyama, 78’), Eriksen, Alli, Son (Lamela, 86’), Kane 

Goals: Alli (0-1, 11’), Sanchez (1-1, 24’), Herrera (2-1, 62’)

Referee: Anthony Taylor 

Yellow Cards: Valencia (27’), Son (28’), Alli (50’), Young (72’), Dier (81’), Rashford (85’), Herrera (90’) 

Red Cards: None 

Player Ratings

Manchester United: De Gea 6, Valencia 6 (Darmian n/a), Smalling 7, Jones 7, Young 7, Herrera 8, Matic 7, Pogba 7.5, Lingard 7.5 (Rashford n/a), Lukaku 7.5, Sanchez 8 (Fellaini n/a)

Tottenham: Vorm 6, Trippier 6, Sanchez 6, Vertonghen 7, Davies 6 (Lucas n/a), Dier 6, Dembele 6 (Wanyama n/a), Eriksen 8, Alli 7.5, Son 6 (Lamela n/a), Kane 6

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Steeden


Dan is a recent graduate of the University of Birmingham and an often frustrated Wigan Athletic fan. When not despairing at events unfolding at the DW Stadium he can be found fangirling over Antoine Griezmann or staying up into the early hours of the morning to cheer on the Seattle Seahawks.

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