Marcus Rashford’s 44th-minute strike and some heroics from keeper David de Gea put a major dent in Tottenham’s Premier League title hopes as Manchester United earned a 1-0 win at in an enthralling clash at Wembley.
The result means United are now within six points of fourth-placed Chelsea, while Spurs missed the chance to go second and are now nine points behind leaders Liverpool.
It is also the fifth successive win in the league since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over on an interim basis from Jose Mourinho, and Tottenham’s second successive ‘home’ defeat.
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AS IT HAPPENED: Tottenham v Manchester United
But the win, their sixth consecutive in all competitions, owed much to De Gea’s incredible performance, as the Spaniard made a string of match-winning saves to deny Tottenham at least a point, which they would have deserved.
Tottenham started well and carved out two good chances in the first 10 minutes – both fell to Harry Winks. He started and almost finished a great move, powering down the left and having exchanged passes with Son Heung-min, who put him through with a delightful reverse pass, the youngster fired across goal. It just needed a touch at the far post.
Winks then found himself in space on the edge of the box from a half-cleared corner, but he saw his half-volley sail high into the stands.
Coming into this clash, some felt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side would park the bus. Far from it. They were inventive, adventurous and their pace up front caused Tottenham problems, particularly in the first half. Jan Vertonghen, in particular, looked a little shaky on first start in a month.
United had their opportunities in the opening exchanges. Jesse Lingard perhaps should have done better when Ashley Young’s deep cross found him at the far post, but after having the time to take a touch, he blazed high and wide.
Rashford’s pace was a problem for Spurs and he got in behind the defence soon after, although his low shot was comfortably dealt with by Hugo Lloris, who had kept eight clean sheets in his 17 games this season, coming into this.
Lloris was a little bit fortunate when Kieren Tripper took a bad touch and United broke clear. Anthony Martial weaved his way through the Spurs rear-guard, beating Toby Alderweireld, only to fire straight at the goalkeeper, who saved with his legs at the near post.
In another threatening counter-attack, Martial cut onto his right foot and sent a curling effort into the stands from 25 yards out.
Eriksen always looked a threat and he saw a shot blocked after being set up by Son, then Kane drilled a shot from close range, only to see that effort blocked as well.
Tottenham thought they had made the breakthrough on the half-hour, when United allowed Tripper time and space to whip the ball into the United box. Dele Alli got on the end of it and deflected with his hip, but Kane was deemed off-side after ghosting in to tap home. It was a tight decision, but replays showed it to be the correct one.
Winks had more shots in the first half than he had in all his previous appearances this season combined, and his third effort from the edge of the box also failed to hit the target. However, Spurs’ fans will have been delighted to see this positive side to his play, as it is the one of the few areas of his game that can be improved.
While Tottenham had the better of the first half, Moussa Sissoko pulled up with a hamstring injury while sprinting down the line with five minutes of the half remaining and was replaced by Erik Lamela.
United were quite direct at times and they took the lead just a minute before half-time. Tripper, trying to play the ball blind, gave the ball away unnecessarily and Paul Pogba’s long ball sent Rashford racing away. The England striker did not need a second invitation. He strode clear before providing a brilliantly-precise finish from a tight angle, with a sumptuous low shot which Lloris could only palm in the far corner. It was a clinical strike and one that the youngster fully deserved.
United had to weather an onslaught after the break and De Gea had to be at his best. Lamela and Alli combined to set Kane free, but his shot was straight at the Spanish keeper, who saved with his feet. De Gea then rescued United when clawing away Alli’s header from a superb Trippier cross.
France World Cup winner Pogba has been relishing his freedom of late and he almost gave United a second in the 57th minute, but he was denied by a brilliant save from his compatriot. Pogba brought down his own deflected shot and attempted to prod the ball over the keeper, but Lloris stuck out a hand and flicked the ball over the bar.
Pogba had another great chance to put the game away soon after but his shot was again too close to Lloris.
Yet it was the hosts who created the better chances in the second-half. De Gea was called into action again as Eriksen’s cross found the head of Kane six yards out. Under pressure from Phil Jones, Kane’s header was tame and the keeper was equal to the effort.
De Gea was again called upon after a swift Tottenham break. Lamela and Kane combined to set Alli away, but despite being clean through, the Spurs striker shot straight at De Gea, who just did enough to get his feet to the ball and block.
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Eriksen then saw a whipped free-kick go narrowly wide, and De Gea held on to another Kane dead-ball strike. As Tottenham continued to press, De Gea was at his sharpest to deny Alderweireld, who fired a vicious shot from an Eriksen corner that he again used his feet to save.
Then he denied Alli again after the England man kept his composure in the box and did well to get a shot away. With five minutes left, Kane was again thwarted by the keeper’s right leg and substitute Fernando Llorente then shot straight at him – it was the eleventh shot saved by De Gea and it just served to underline the fact that he was by far and away the man of the match. His positioning was time and again outstanding.
Tottenham’s finishing was sub-standard, yet nothing can be taken away from the Spaniard – he was the sole reason for the victory once Rashford had got United’s noses in front.
Tottenham could do no more, and Mauricio Pochettino might now be left wondering if he can take Spurs any further. They are still in the Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup, yet this defeat was a cruel one. As if there was any doubt, their sixth Premier League defeat means the title race now looks a two-horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City.
The bookies tend to agree, with GentingBet pushing Spurs out to 33/1 (from 16/1), with Liverpool at 8/11 and City at 6/5.
And even more worrying for Spurs, Kane was left on the turf when the final whistle blew after a hard challenge from Jones. We shall see what the prognosis is, but it did not look good for the England captain, who hobbled off gingerly a few minutes after the game had ended.