Mar­tial leaves it late to sink Spurs

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - PAUL WIL­SON

Manch­ester Utd Tot­ten­ham

EVEN with­out Harry Kane, Tot­ten­ham held the up­per hand for much of this closely con­tested game, though Manch­ester United are no mugs un­der Jose Mour­inho and they stuck grimly to their task to pick up an im­por­tant win with a late An­thony Mar­tial goal. That is not to sug­gest the game it­self was grim, though score­less for 81 min­utes, it was noth­ing like as bar­ren as United’s draw at An­field a fort­night ago, but two good sides were can­celling each other out un­til Spurs were un­done by a long ball from the back.

“Both sides were try­ing to win, and that’s what I like to see,” Mour­inho said. “Maybe we got a bit lucky in the end, they had a good chance just be­fore we scored, but in the whole match, I think we pro­duced more chances to win than they did.

“We showed great focus, con­cen­tra­tion and de­sire, and we were play­ing a qual­ity team. When it went into the last few min­utes, we knew a sin­gle de­fen­sive mis­take might cost us the game, and in the end that was what hap­pened to Spurs.”

The Por­tuguese held a fin­ger to his lips at the fi­nal whis­tle and mut­tered di­rectly into the cam­era after their most im­por­tant win of the sea­son so far. “Some peo­ple speak too much,” Mour­inho said of the ges­ture. “You know, calm down, re­lax. Re­lax a lit­tle bit. Don’t speak too much — speak, speak, speak. You know, re­lax.”

Asked if it was aimed at the crit­ics he la­belled “Ein­steins” or jour­nal­ists, he said: “Yeah, re­lax a lit­tle bit. Don’t be so ner­vous, don’t be so ex­cited. Calm down a lit­tle bit. The op­po­si­tion bench did their job, su­per cor­rect. It has yet to ar­rive, the match where my­self, Mauri­cio [Po­chet­tino], my staff and his staff, have a prob­lem. We played against each other so many times since Spain, and we have a re­ally good re­la­tion­ship. We lose, we win, I don’t know if we draw and we are al­ways cor­rect with each other. And once more I’m even hap­pier be­cause we beat a very good team. I like the team very, very much.”

Both sides em­ployed sim­i­lar for­ma­tions with three cen­tral de­fend­ers, though Tot­ten­ham’s three were that lit­tle bit bet­ter at play­ing out from the back. The vis­i­tors made bet­ter use of the ball all over the pitch through­out the first half, in fact, with Chris­tian Erik­sen, Dele Alli and Harry Winks all pos­sess­ing a sub­tlety and in­ven­tion in pass­ing that the home side mostly lacked.

Spurs ob­vi­ously missed Kane get­ting on the end of their best moves, though at least they were pro­duc­ing some moves and find­ing each other con­fi­dently. United were pre­dictably stodgier; with Ne­manja Matic and An­der Her­rera oc­cu­py­ing two of the mid­field po­si­tions, Mour­inho seemed to be re­ly­ing on Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan to sup­ply the cre­ativ­ity, with the re­sult that Marcus Rash­ford and Romelu Lukaku were rarely brought into the game.

For all that, there was lit­tle dan­ger of the dead­lock be­ing bro­ken be­fore the in­ter­val, Eric Dier made a good tackle in the area to stop Rash­ford in his tracks early on, and when the ball broke to Lukaku, he missed the tar­get spec­tac­u­larly, whether his in­ten­tion was a shot or a cross. Rash­ford reg­is­tered United’s only at­tempt on tar­get in the first half, with a free-kick from a long way out, and though Hugo Lloris dived to his right to save the ball looked to be go­ing wide of the post any­way.

At the other end, Spurs’ tidy ap­proach worked tended to fiz­zle out by the time it reached Son He­ung-min, no­tion­ally de­ployed as a striker, though Dier fi­nally man­aged to bring a save from David de Gea on the stroke of half-time with a weakly hit shot. De Gea’s goal had been in greater dan­ger a few min­utes ear­lier when he col­lided with Phil Jones in claim­ing a cross and spilled the ball, only for Moussa Sis­soko to snatch at his brief chance and send his shot high into the Stret­ford End.

The first de­cent chance of the game ar­rived just be­fore the hour when Ben Davies mis­di­rected a clear­ing header and Mkhi­taryan even­tu­ally brought a save from Lloris with a sting­ing shot. The goal­keeper could not hold the ball and Rash­ford was ideally placed to fol­low up, but Davies redeemed him­self by get­ting back to block. United ap­plied more pres­sure in the sec­ond half and suc­ceeded in keep­ing Spurs pinned back for a while, though the end re­sult was only a fiercely hit drive from An­to­nio Va­len­cia from the edge of the area that was al­ways clear­ing the cross­bar.

Spurs sent on Mousa Dem­bele to try and re­store some mid­field con­trol, United re­sponded with Jesse Lin­gard for Mkhi­taryan and Mar­tial for Rash­ford. The last was slightly sur­pris­ing, since Rash­ford was prob­a­bly the player caus­ing the Spurs de­fence most prob­lems, though Mar­tial was al­most in­stantly in­volved in help­ing set up a chance for Lukaku and the favour would be re­turned be­fore the end. When Va­len­cia went into the book for div­ing in search of a penalty, it be­gan to look as if a goal would never ar­rive, yet both sides played their part in an event­ful last 10 min­utes. Alli ghosted on to a de­light­ful di­ag­o­nal ball from Erik­sen, but could not quite get his feet in the right po­si­tion to beat De Gea from close range, then at the other end, Lukaku struck the foot of a post with a header from Lin­gard’s cross.

You would still have put money on a score­less draw, but in the nick of time, United came up with a text­book route-one win­ner to con­found their op­po­nents. De Gea launched the ball up­field, Lukaku beat Jan Ver­tonghen to the first header, which left Mar­tial run­ning clear into the area to beat Lloris with a com­posed fin­ish.

Who needs mid­fields any­way? As Mour­inho has demon­strated on any num­ber of oc­ca­sions, there is more than one way of win­ning a match.

We showed great focus and de­sire, and we were play­ing a qual­ity team

An­thony Mar­tial scores the win­ning goal against Tot­ten­ham to give Manch­ester United a valu­able vic­tory at Old Traf­ford

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