Three things learned: Man United v. Tottenham
MANCHESTER -- Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are in a really, really bad place right now.
[ RECAP: Spurs hammer United ]
United lost their second-straight game in the Premier League, with second half goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura handing Tottenham their first win at Old Trafford since 2014 as the 3-0 victory underlined their title credentials.
Mourinho and United were left in a crumpled mess after several lineup changes failed to do the trick and the pressure on the Portugeuse coach was cranked up a few notches. The loss was the largest home defeat of his managerial career.
Here’s what we learned from an intense, error-strewn battle at Old Trafford.
POCHETTINO WORKS OUT MOURINHO’S SPECIAL
Whatever Jose Mourinho was drinking when he came up with his team selection for the game against Tottenham, I’ll have a glass of that...
Under pressure since United’s 3-2 defeat at Brighton last Sunday, Mourinho made six changes to his starting lineup. Nemanja Matic was shown as a center back in a graphic by MUTV before the game but played in midfield. Ander Herrera played at right center back during the game. Holding midfielder Fred played as a surging No.10. Midfielder Jesse Lingard played as a central striker.
And it worked quite well in the first half barring a few individual errors from Paul Pogba, Lingard and Matic who gave the ball away cheaply. They had Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia offering genuine width, with Fred, Pogba and Lukaku going close with first half efforts as the latter should’ve scored after picking off a poor Danny Rose backpass, rounding Hugo Lloris but slotting wide.
It took Tottenham until the end of the first half to figure out how to get an attack going as they could have had a penalty kick when Lucas Moura was brought down, while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were both denied. And then the second half happened. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen tucked themselves in the gaps between Shaw and Valencia and the center backs and caused havoc. Kane scored from a corner and missed a free header. Moura slotted home Eriksen’s cross. Alli forced David de Gea into a fine save. Spurs were rampant once they figured out how to expose United’s creaking mess of a defense.
Mourinho was the coach who use to change his tactics mid-game to win back momentum and change it in his favor. Pochettino was the man who did that on Monday and proved just how much further Tottenham are ahead of United in the battle to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool for the title.
PRESSURE BUILDS AS UNITED LACK CONFIDENCE, DIRECTION
Jose Mourinho has been a moody mess for the last few months and all of his negativity seemed to culminate in the jumbled performance his team put in as they were rolled over by an organized, resolute Tottenham.
Cries of, “you’re getting sacked in the morning!” rang out from the Tottenham fans, as one United fan was shown praying and close to tears on the TV screens. It’s not quite getting that bad, but there are serious issues for Mourinho to try and resolve, if he’s given the chance.
A lack of confidence was clear from United’s players ands so too was a clear direction as to how to play. United’s players were trying “Hollywood balls” and giving it away. Not tracking runners in the second half. Just not focusing on doing the simple things well. This had all the hallmarks of a team freelancing.
That’s when a manager knows he is in trouble.
All the talk of Mourinho’s “third-season syndrome” will be rife in the coming days as he battles to turn it around. This situation is eerily similar to the mess the 2015-16 season became at Chelsea as he was sacked in December with the Blues languishing in the bottom half of the table. It may not get that bad at United this season, but it’s not going to get a lot better if the performances we’ve seen so far continue.
The fact of the matter is, United are well behind Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and maybe even Chelsea in the title race.
Since taking over United in the summer of 2016, Mourinho has won 153 points, 19 fewer than Spurs and 31 fewer than Man City. He is not only struggling to turn United into genuine title contenders, he is also struggling to turn them into top four regulars.
SPURS RECOVER VALIANTLY TO SHOWCASE TITLE CREDENTIALS
The World Cup hangover is severe for plenty of teams in the Premier League, but Tottenham will perhaps suffer from it the most. Out of their starting lineup on Monday, only Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura didn’t reach the final two days of the World Cup. Five Englishman, three Belgians, and a Frenchman mean that Pochettino has been handed a rough deal when it comes to trying to rejuvenate his stars.
In the first half they were off the pace, apart from Moura who was a pest throughout. Kane received a yellow card for a late tackle and Alli wasted a glorious chance. But after Spurs figured out United’s bizarre formation, they took the game by the scruff of the neck. Their midfield finally came to life as Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Eriksen won the ball back, used it wisely and that allowed Alli and Moura to time their runs to perfection from wide areas.
Tottenham didn’t play well in the first 45 minutes but they dug deep to turn the game around as their horrendous run at United failed to unnerve them. Pochettino’s squad are no longer “young hopefuls” and they now seem ready to truly challenge for trophies. Last season was supposed to be their season, but this season it just has to be. Even though they didn’t spend any money this summer and there are issues with their new stadium being delayed, Spurs have won their opening three games and look genuine title contenders alongside Liverpool and Man City.
Pochettino is learning, as well as his team, as Tottenham’s dismal away record against the top six has improved. Tottenham have now won three of their 21 PL games away to the “big six” sides, and this was the biggest of them all.