Tottenham are back and the result felt all too familiar.
In a game that felt at times the first game of the season and at other times a training match without any fans in the stands, Tottenham Hotspur played their game plan to perfection in the first half. However, a defensive mistake and Jose Mourinho not using his bench cost Spurs the full three points, in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Spurs First Half
The first half made clear the two teams had different plans for the match, United was going to try to press and pressure Spurs, while Tottenham Hotspur were content to sit back, absorb the pressure and play on the counter. This is approach is familiar to those who follow Jose Mourinho and was what he was trying to do before the break.
Back from the break, it seemed like the classroom instruction was working as Spurs surprising duo of Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier were working with a mostly no-nonsense approach in defense. Only minutes before the first water break, the first sign of a crack in the pair appeared as Sanchez failed to fully clear a looping Bruno Fernandes cross, which fell right to Marcus Rashford some dozen yards from goal.
Rashford knew exactly what to do with the ball stroking it first time with his left foot back across Hugo Lloris who was diving toward his near post. At the last possible second, Hugo Lloris used his go-go-gadget left leg and stretched back for a beautiful kick save. Just when it seemed United were picking up steam, it was time for a water break – new for the Covid return – and a little chat for the team.
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Whatever Mourinho said at the first break seemed to work and there was a bit more bounce in the Tottenham stride. Following another Lloris save – this on a tame Fernandes effort (one of many) – Lloris had a goal kick and blasted the ball up the pitch. United won the initial ball, but Serge Aurier was the first player to the second, cleating it forward back toward the United goal.
Fortunately for Spurs, that ball fell directly in the path of a running Stevie Bergwijn. A few touches later the ball was blasting through David de Gea and Tottenham Hotspur were up 1-0. Bergwijn’s goal was an excellent individual effort, as he was able to split defenders with a deft touch and some incredible speed. Then it was just the sheer power of his blast that went threw de Gea who had been a spectator for most of the match to that point.
That goal at 27 minutes, seemed to give even more life into the Spurs as the team came together on the front foot. At 31 minutes, Bergwijn was almost influential again. After finding some space on the right-wing Stevie got his head up and spotted Heung-Min Son at the far post. Bergwijn knocked a pretty cross to the far post and Son – like Rashford for United in the first half – did exactly what he is supposed to do, heading the ball back the way it came toward the far corner. This time, like Lloris earlier, de Gea was up to the challenge and tipped the header just over the bar.
Beyond a laugher of a shot from Aurier and a long-distance looper from Fernandes, the first half ended without any real further action. The half was dominated by Spurs organization, a few nice saves, and a nice individual effort. Outside of the players, Jon Moss was making his mark too with 17 first-half fouls called, creating some real foreshadowing of his role to come in the match.
Spurs Second Half
After going according to plan in the first half, Tottenham Hotspur were looking for more of the same in the second half. Spurs were still on the front foot and were just missing with the opportunities. After missing Son once up the middle in the first half, surely Erik Lamela – who started as a second striker next to Harry Kane – would connect on one of these final balls.
Unfortunately for Spurs, at both 47 minutes and again at 51 minutes Lamela found the position and the ball but failed on the final pass. First missing Son, then missing both Son and Kane, killing a couple promising moves. In fairness to Lamela, he was not the only one not on the mark with their passes and he did a terrific job harassing United defensively and finding good spots on the pitch for the ball. However, if just one of those final balls is on, the game may end differently, instead, Spurs attack kind of fizzled after that 51st-minute failure as legs clearly started getting tired.
As the game began to lull with players running out of steam on both sides, United struck first, with two subs, one of which was Paul Pogba. This change had nearly immediate dividends for the Red Devils as Martial was suddenly in on goal and a last-minute tackle from Eric Dier saved Spurs bacon. Seeing the game slipping away, Mourinho brought on Giovanni Lo Celso and Gedson Fernandes for Stevie Bergwijn and Erik Lamela, respectively.
The substitution seemed to work for a bit as Spurs started to get their footing. Then United responded again with another double change, bringing on Matic and Ighalo, for more fresh legs. As United started to ascend again Paul Pogba found himself near the end line just outside of the penalty box facing up Eric Dier.
Even with both players completely fresh, Dier is not likely to win this match-up, with his tired legs and Pogba’s freshness, his step past Dier looked far too easy. Whether intended or not as Dier turned and stepped to get back into position his leg hit Pogba’s. The Frenchman knew exactly what to do next, and down he went. It was not exactly Ali/Frazier, but Pogba got the desired result as Jonathon Moss blew the whistle and pointed to the spot.
Bruno Fernandes got five shots off during the match, none of them as important as the penalty Pogba had won. Fernandes got Lloris to go the wrong way and drilled it in the bottom left corner, 1-1 United had tied the game.
With less than ten minutes left in the game, rather than sit back, both teams went searching for a winner. Ultimately neither team had enough in the tank to make that happen. Spurs won a couple decent free kick opportunities, but Son and Kane both failed to beat the wall.
Moments after United made their fifth and final substitute – Spurs only made 2 – disaster struck again. Fernandes beat Dier to the ball, but his touch was easily cleared, then the whistle. Moss again was pointing at the spot. After the touch as he slipped past Dier’s body Fernandes went to ground like a wet towel and Moss had bought the act.
Fortunately for Spurs, VAR got the call right, although the lack of a yellow for simulation seems quite perplexing. Following some loose play and a big, big pass cut-out by Moussa Sissoko time expired, and both teams were left with 1 point.
It was great to see some football, but hurt to drop the points, particularly with more bodies on the bench. I have to believe Ryan Sessegnon or Tanguy Ndombele could have added a couple solid minutes toward the end for a clearly tired Winks. Or maybe Toby Alderweireld comes on for a dragging Dier who was responsible for two penalties? Instead, we are left to wonder, and the all-too-familiar feeling of a big opportunity lost.