Mar­tial vin­di­cates Mour­inho with ruth­less bril­liance

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League -

You get the im­pres­sion that these are the vic­to­ries Jose Mour­inho loves the most, the ones which stick deep in the craw of what­ever young man­ager of the mo­ment he sends pack­ing, des­tined to spend the jour­ney home star­ing out of the win­dow won­der­ing why, and how.

Manch­ester United won the game with a goal of park-foot­ball sim­plic­ity, ex­e­cuted with ruth­less bril­liance by An­thony Mar­tial who con­verted Romelu Lukaku’s fine flick from a long ball down field from David de Gea.

A Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur de­fence that had dom­i­nated United’s at­tack for 81 min­utes went through a mo­men­tary loss of shape, and in those few sec­onds, Mour­inho’s game-plan came to­gether per­fectly.

With his team de­nied the in­jured Harry Kane and un­able to cre­ate the kind of chances they had done the pre­vi­ous week­end at Wem­b­ley, Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino knew that this had been one of those af­ter­noons when all the cards had fallen for Mour­inho.

The Spurs man­ager re­flected that this was al­ways likely to be a game de­cided by “ge­nius or a mis­take and”, he added with re­gret, “it was us who made the mis­take”.

Po­chet­tino’s Spurs revo­lu­tion has been about mak­ing his club strong enough that they can come to Old Traf­ford ex­pect­ing vic­tory, and yet against a Mour­inho side, there is al­ways the dan­ger that an op­po­nent’s weak­nesses will be ex­ploited.

Spurs were tidy and pre­cise in mid­field but never men­ac­ing and when the game opened up marginally in the sec­ond half, it was United who had the bet­ter chances. The win­ning goal will have been that much sweeter for Mour­inho in that there were grum­bles of doubt when he sub­sti­tuted Marcus Rash­ford on 70 min­utes, a jus­ti­fied protest at the time given the sharp­ness of the teenager, who looked the most likely goalscorer for the home team.

There was no com­plaint at Mar­tial com­ing on – he is a long-time favourite at Old Traf­ford – but per­haps a view that it should have been Lukaku mak­ing way.

The vin­di­ca­tion for Mour­inho came 11 min­utes later when Lukaku, hith­erto dom­i­nated by the ex­cel­lent Toby Alder­weireld, was granted the time and space to flick the ball mas­ter­fully into the path of Mar­tial, who ran through and scored.

At the fi­nal whis­tle, Mour­inho turned to the Sky touch­line cam­era even be­fore he had shaken Po­chet­tino’s hand and put a fin­ger to his lips to in­di­cate his dis­plea­sure at the boo­ing at the ear­lier Rash­ford de­ci­sion.

He is not here to win pop­u­lar­ity con­tests and his in­tol­er­ance of dis­sent­ing voices bor­ders on the dic­ta­to­rial, with an equally pow­er­ful in­stinct to turn on those same peo­ple. “Some peo­ple speak too much. Calm down, re­lax a lit­tle bit,” he said af­ter­wards. “Don’t speak too much. Re­lax.”

His need to be seen to be right is sec­ond only to the need to win, and it once again al­lowed Mour­inho to po­si­tion him­self as a man work­ing in some­times in­tol­er­a­ble con­di­tions.

“I re­ally don’t un­der­stand some re­ac­tions why [from the fans],” he said. “Are they Red Devils?”

At that point in the game, the United fans in ques­tion were watch­ing a team who had not set out to dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion – in fact they only had 45 per cent of it. In­stead, they pit­ted a five­man de­fence against Spurs’ at­tack of He­ung-min Son and Dele Alli and made sure that they kept the op­po­si­tion out.

Rash­ford, of­ten iso­lated, nev­er­the­less looked United’s most ex­plo­sive at­tack­ing force.

The vic­tory took United two points be­hind Manch­ester City be­fore their neigh­bours played their game and it means that Mour­inho’s side go to Chelsea next Sun­day hav­ing beaten one of the top six. Be­fore this game, Mour­inho had won just two of his past 11 against top-six op­po­si­tion, and while this vic­tory was not de­liv­ered with the swag­ger of old, it gives his side a much bet­ter plat­form go­ing into the Cham­pi­ons League game against Ben­fica on Tues­day.

The first half fea­tured a head-to­head be­tween Ashley Young and Alli that went on longer than ex­pected and be­gan to look like it might be part of a con­certed ef­fort by United to get un­der the skin of the Spurs man. Alli was kicked later by An­to­nio Va­len­cia when the United full-back could have got out of the way and for a while, it seemed like it might have af­fected Alli.

It was not as if United of­fered much more than stop­ping Spurs when they could and look­ing for the early ball over the away team’s high back line that might give Lukaku a run at goal.

If any­thing, it was Rash­ford’s pace and touch that looked much more likely to yield an open­ing, but United rarely got him away. The teenager chasing down a Spurs move with that elec­tric pace of his was one of those rare mo­ments in the first half when the home crowd’s ex­cite­ment was sparked.

Spurs tried to work their way out of the United road­block as quickly and ef­fec­tively as they could, but it was heavy go­ing. Mour­inho had strewn ob­sta­cles in their path and to their credit, the three cen­tre-halves, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly, were ex­cel­lent, al­though Alli had a good header from a cor­ner be­fore the break that struck Eric Dier in front of goal.

While Spurs were in­dus­tri­ous on the ball, they failed to cre­ate the chances in the sec­ond half to win the game. It was United who got in be­hind them at the start after the break through Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, whose ear­lier shot had been spilled by Hugo Lloris. On both oc­ca­sions, Spurs’ de­fence had man­aged to get the loose ball away from goal and they sur­vived.

Their best chance fell to Alli, a ball lofted over the United de­fence by Chris­tian Erik­sen, who picked out the run of his team-mate per­fectly. Alli’s touch could not steer the ball in­side the post, a mo­ment that Po­chet­tino would later pick out as crit­i­cal to the out­come.

“We could have been talk­ing in a dif­fer­ent way if Dele Alli scored as it was a clear chance, but un­lucky for us and lucky for them,” he said, “it meant we lost the game.”

Mour­inho’s com­plaints were di­rected else­where in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, but, on re­flec­tion, he will re­gard this vic­tory over the league’s bright­est young coach as cru­cial – as much for how he is per­ceived by play­ers and fans as how he sees him­self.

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