MARTIAL ART OF TAKING CHANCES
ON a blustery, murky afternoon where the iconic neon flights at Old Trafford were one of the few things to shine brightly, United needed a moment of inspiration against Tottenham.
Injured talisman Paul Pogba was nowhere to be seen, despite going through his usual prematch ritual at the barbers, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan had been hooked long before Anthony Martial got his chance with 20 minutes to go.
After a petulant display at Huddersfield last week, when he was lucky to avoid a second booking after a series of niggly fouls, Martial finally announced himself as a Jose Mourinho player - rescuing his team against a rival when all seemed bleak.
Whatever about their negative approach against Liverpool, at least that had Mourinho’s imprints all over it - the defensive organisation, the welldrilled shape, the doggedness.
But, here, against Spurs, United looked a little disjointed at times in the mist ahead of a decisive run against five of the current top seven in the coming weeks.
You could tell it was winter when Mourinho brought his favoured grey parka back after five months in the wardrobe following the Europa League final win. And the buzzcut is sure to follow.
Mauricio Pochettino had paid the Portuguese the ultimate compliment by benching record signing Davinson Sanchez, who Mourinho specifically targeted in the Europa League final back in May.
And that set the tone for a game where both sides just seemed to cancel each other out after Mourinho kept faith in the three-man backline that served him so well at Swansea.
Mourinho had paid tribute to United’s ‘incredible’ away support at the Liberty in his programme notes and warned ‘that is the kind of support we will need today’.
But there was ultimately not a lot to shout about as United continually went long.
At one point David de Gea, showcasing a bold new top knot, chose to wait for Romelu Lukaku to return to his position after defending a corner.
Lukaku has only ever scored 15 goals against the top six, but this was the stage for him to finally shake off that harsh flattruck bully tag.
Spurs fans quickly got on his back, chanting ‘ You’re just a s*** Harry Kane!’ amid the England striker’s high-profile absence, and Lukaku looked frustrated up there.
But, tellingly, his perseverance paid off - despite not even scoring - as he knocked on yet another de Gea goal kick with a brilliant header to set up Martial who finished with aplomb.
Tony Martial scores again - and it could prove to be his most decisive finish yet.
Anthony Martial leaves Spurs players on the floor as he scores United’s goal