Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw on a snowy afternoon in London thanks to another goal from signing of the season Robin van Persie, and a stoppage time equalizer from Tottenham’s Clint Dempsey.
Sir Alex made one change to the team that dispatched Liverpool without much effort last week, bringing Phil Jones into midfield for Ashley Young, pairing him in a diamond formation with Cleverley on the left, Carrick and Welbeck on the right. De Gea kept his run of league games going behind Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic and Rafael, whilst Kagawa played off Robin van Persie up front.
The sodden conditions made for an old fashioned game of football, full of difficult bounces and clashing challenges. It was Spurs who created the first real chance of the game as Lennon brought down a measured cross-field ball from Bale and drove inside towards goal. His long-range effort was saved by De Gea who got down well to his left, but pushed the ball into the path of Defoe who could only scuff his follow-up into the Spaniard’s hands. The save was impressive, but De Gea must get out of a habit he has of pushing the ball out to waiting attacker. He will learn as he gains more experience, but a split second judgement should be made as to whether he can gather the ball, or deflect it for a corner rather than back into the danger area.
United took the lead in the 25th minute with the fastest move of the game to that point. Kagawa fed Carrick who pushed the ball out wide to Welbeck who had just switched wings with Cleverley. Danny cut back across the box and slide the ball to Cleverley who whipped in a Beckham-esque cross from the right onto the head of Robin van Persie who had pealed off Kyle Walker at Tottenham’s back post to head past Lloris.
The Reds were good value for their lead with Carrick and Jones particularly effective in midfield. Jones had clearly been deployed deep and wide to restrict the running room given to Bale after his driving run and goal in the home leg of this fixture earlier in the year, and performed his duties almost flawlessly adding some weight to the argument that his best position may yet turn out to be defensive midfield. Carrick excelled himself once again in his role as ‘mop-up man/possession-recycler’.
De Gea made two further world class saves before half-time, the first resulting from a shot from an improbably angle by Defoe, and then a superb reaction stop as Bale drove a shot from the edge of the box through a crowd of bodies, leading to a deflection off Ferdinand just metres in front of De Gea.
Spurs pushed higher and higher up the field in the second half, looking for the equaliser. After 60 minutes, with his team under near constant assault, Sir Alex replaced Kagawa with Rooney who was almost instantly fouled by Steven Caulker inside Tottenham’s box. It was a clear penalty, and a bad mistake from linesman Simon Beck who some will remember as the idiot that failed to flag Didier Drogba offside when he was a good 3 yards off several years ago. So unlike the FA to reward incompetence with continued employment.. oh..
Sir Alex made a further change in the 74th minute bringing off Cleverley for Valencia who once again looked an absolute shell of the player he can be, and was noticeably off the pace with both his runs and passing for the 20 minutes he was on the field.
Spurs pushed on and on, whilst United shrank back into themselves, perhaps hoping to build on their sturdy defensive performance when Liverpool were pushing late on last weekend. However it was not meant to be. With just 7 seconds left of the three additional minutes, Benoit Assou-Ekotto hit a hopeful ball to the back post which De Gea came to punch away, but could only glance to Lennon who squared to Dempsey for the easy finish in the corner of the net.
Should De Gea have done better? Perhaps. He had had great command of his area for the rest of the game, under terrible conditions, so the idea of the punch was a good one, it just needed to go anywhere other than to Aaron Lennon. He’s not alone in the blame-stakes though, Lennon was allowed to be in a position to receive the ball, and Dempsey was un-marked on the penalty spot – both of which, could have prevented 3 points slipping to 1.
On the balance of play though, Spurs probably deserved at least a point, and had i been offered a guarenteed point this morning before the game was played i would have happily accepted it knowing it would result in a five point gap between United and City with a relatively easy run of games coming for the red half of Manchester, and some tricky away fixtures for the noisy neighbours.