Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
1st January 2014
United’s run of seasonal cheer came to an abrupt end when Tottenham became the fourth team to inflict a league home defeat on the Reds, who enjoyed the bulk of possession but were ultimately unable to recover from a two-goal deficit that gave Spurs their second win at Old Trafford in as many years.
Spurs always looked dangerous on the break and they opened the scoring when Erikson’s cross found Adebayor, whose header landed just inside De Gea’s far post. It was a goal against the run of play, but Tottenham had set themselves up to play on the break and their game plan was working well, with Lennon’s pace, not for the first time, terrorising Evra and Soldado clearly beginning to thrive in a strike partnership, holding the ball up and laying it off with style: one sublime pass early in the half had set Lennon clear, only to be thwarted by De Gea’s legs, a move that gave adequate notice of the threat the away team possessed.
At the other end, Rooney was tenacious and busily creative but found himself frequently frustrated on the edge of the penalty area. Valencia and Januzaj were lively out wide but too often found the supply route blocked by a well-organised Spurs defence. While Januzaj unquestionably has many strengths, providing cover for his full-back isn’t yet one of them and this gave Tottenham dominance on that side of the pitch. On the other, Smalling had United’s best chance of the half when he finished a penetrating run with a shot straight at Lloris.
Moyes reacted by making a double substitution after an hour. In an attacking move, Smalling made way to allow Valencia to drop back and accommodate the entry of Kagawa. Immediately, the Reds were exposed as a Spurs break the right led to Lennon speeding into the United box, this time setting up Eriksen, who doubled his side’s lead.
United responded within ninety seconds, Welbeck finding himself free in the area from a Januzaj pass to score with a fine finish. When Adebayor was forced off the pitch through injury and Spurs added an extra body in midfield, they lost much of their attacking threat in order to fortify themselves against the United onslaught. With Rooney dropping back to a central midfield position and spraying passes around at will, and Chicharito joining the fray, United’s multiple attacking options ensured the last twenty minutes were largely one-way traffic. Lloris somehow got away with a raised foot lunge on Young that would surely have resulted in a foul and a card anywhere else on the pitch as United peppered the goalmouth in the final minutes, a shot from Rooney being turned aside by the keeper before a series of corners were cleared by the Spurs defence.
Having come back from two goals down at Hull, United had enough chances to do the same thing again here. It’s never the kind of thing you can guarantee, however, and this time the combination of less time and some defiant Spurs defending, particularly from the excellent Chiriches, meant it was always going to be a difficult feat to pull off. Not for the first time this season, the defeat had an element of a sucker punch about it and, combined with results elsewhere, it leaves a New Year’s Day gap between United and those occupying the Champions League places almost as big as Tim Sherwood’s grin at the final whistle.