En­ter glove­man to give Ole-ball a big help­ing hand and foot

A glo­ri­ously reck­less tac­ti­cal plan worked thanks to an ice-cold goal­keeper

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - Bar­ney Ronay

No doubt some­one some­where will bring up Napoleon’s line about a good gen­eral be­ing a lucky one in the wake of this fun, hel­ter-skel­ter, ul­ti­mately rather fran­tic 1-0 de­feat of Tot­ten­ham.

Ole Gun­nar Sol­skjær’s lim­ber-look­ing Manch­ester United did have their share of for­tune too in the course of a game that saw United at­tack with elan for an hour, and col­lapse into a state of dogged near-ex­haus­tion by the end.

But this wasn’t re­ally luck. Or at least not en­tirely. It was also a mo­ment of quiet tri­umph for Sol­skjær who came to Wem­b­ley not just with a plan, but with a plan that worked while his team still had the lungs to put it into ac­tion, al­low­ing Paul Pogba to pull him­self up to his full height and make the game look small and easy and fun, some­thing made just for him; and of­fer­ing Jesse Lin­gard an un­ex­pected for­ward-for­ager role that won the tac­ti­cal bat­tle in the pe­riod that won the game.

The plan worked for about an hour. Steadily it ran out of steam. By the end it had gone out of the win­dow. And then: en­ter glove­man.

Hap­pily for both Sol­skjær and The Plan, David de Gea also hap­pens to be a line-hog­ging, ge­nius-level lime green oc­to­pus of a goal­keeper. He was hi­lar­i­ously good here, and good in that sui generis way, a style he has con­cocted out of his own bril­liantly lim­ber phys­i­cal gifts.

Elvis move

De Gea saved United at least four times with his feet, adopt­ing that strange leg-wob­bling Elvis move whereby he seems to lose all ten­sion in his body, to col­lapse like a pa­pier mache doll, feet flop­ping into just the right spot to block some goal-bound bul­let.

Hands? Who needs hands? De Gea can prob­a­bly tile a floor with those toes. Spurs had 20 shots at Wem­b­ley, but some­how none of them ever re­ally looked like go­ing in.

De Gea may or may not be the best goal­keeper in the world. But on days like there he is surely the most com­pelling, most orig­i­nal and most thrillingly ice cold.

Lucky old Ole then. Or per­haps not en­tirely. Three weeks on from the de­par­ture of the king of pain United had come here with a kind of light­ness about them. This is a patch­work team still, but it is also de­mob happy, and play­ing for the first time in five years with a sense of free­dom.

But this was also a first real glimpse of that baby-faced tac­ti­cal brain at work. United had spent the last few days eas­ing their mid-sea­son mus­cles un­der the Gulf sun, and work­ing for the first time on some more in­tri­cate de­tails.

And so here we had it: pure, un­cut Ole-ball, with an at­tack based around speed and mo­bil­ity, and with a cute tac­ti­cal jink at its heart.

United kicked off in a 4-3-3, with Lin­gard sta­tioned cen­trally in be­tween Rash­ford and An­thony Mar­tial. Be­fore long Lin­gard in the mid­dle be­gan to make sense as he fer­reted about clos­ing down Spurs’ cen­tral mid­field. This was Lin­gard-as-Firmino, press­ing and mov­ing and steal­ing the ball while a pair of in­side for­wards bombed on past him.

Stole the ball

It worked too, Lin­gard suc­cess­fully dis­rupt­ing the rhythms of this well-drilled Spurs ma­chine. The open­ing goal, when it came, was one Sol­skjær might have dreamt of.

Lin­gard dropped deep, as was the plan, and stole the ball, as was the plan. Pogba took the ball, looked up early, as was the plan, and floated the most de­li­cious pass over the top, with enough drift and curl to daw­dle right into Rash­ford’s path.

At mo­ments like these Rash­ford isn’t just quick, he’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing, leav­ing Jan Ver­tonghen look­ing like a man walk­ing the wrong way down an air­port trav­e­la­tor be­fore send­ing the ball skim­ming low and hard into the far cor­ner.

United were lucky there again. Mo­ments be­fore the goal Moussa Sis­soko had

This is a patch­work team still, but it is also de­mob happy

limped off, leav­ing a lack of ten­sion in ex­actly the same place where Pogba was able to pause and pick out that pass. Spurs have no real re­place­ment with Eric Dier out too. The squad is brit­tle be­hind the first 11.

But this is also de­sign, re­sources, play­ing power in re­serve. With United the job is how to ar­range most ef­fec­tively the tal­ent at Sol­skjær’s dis­posal. It isn’t luck that Pogba should be play­ing like this. He is, lest we for­get, the world’s most ex­pen­sive mid­fielder, up against a team that can­not af­ford a mid­field fill-in to cover a cou­ple of in­juries.

And un­doubt­edly Sol­skjær has ben­e­fited in the last few weeks from United’s sheer la­tent scale, from the fact this is a ship too big ever to sink com­pletely, a body so large it is never re­ally stopped, just placed on pause, wait­ing for the next up­ward tide.

The play­ers did tire in the sec­ond half at Wem­b­ley. It is a gam­ble to press so hard early on, like a boxer putting in big early rounds in the hope of land­ing a de­ci­sive blow.

Sol­skjær’s reck­less­ness in go­ing at Spurs like this was a thrilling thing in it­self; and be­fit­ting too of a club so pow­er­ful it has al­ways seemed to make its own luck, and in ex­actly this kind of way.

– Guardian

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