Football: Spurs win gives United more to be happy about than just David de Gea

Manchester United's David de Gea celebrates at the end of the match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London on Jan 13, 2019.
Manchester United's David de Gea celebrates at the end of the match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London on Jan 13, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - It would be easy to simply file this one under "Games Manchester United Won Thanks To David de Gea".

And yet, while that particular cabinet must be bulging after the Spain goalkeeper's latest outstanding performance, the Red Devils' 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (Jan 13) was by no means an injustice.

The travelling United faithful celebrated wildly in the stands at their corner of the stadium for some time after the majority of the 80,000 had exited and had every reason to be thrilled.

For it was the way they saw off Mauricio Pochettino's formidable Spurs side that mattered to them. They were gritty, opportunistic, confident.

Even when Spurs had stirred from their slumber - they did not register a single shot on target in the first half - and started testing de Gea, one effort after another, United's players did not panic.

Jesse Lingard shone brighter than his England teammate Dele Alli, Paul Pogba was a cocky, assured presence at the tip of United's midfield trident, and the duo of Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic behind him, so often the target of fans ire during the Dark Mourinho Days, were excellent.

Centre-back Victor Lindelof, meanwhile, stuck to Spurs' chief goal-scorer Harry Kane like a leech, snapping away at his heels and giving him hardly any room in the penalty box.

 
 

Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and de Gea drew jeers and whistles from the home supporters for their time-wasting tactics in protecting their lead, and looked fully in control - something that rarely happened before Mourinho's sacking just before Christmas.

The swagger is back.

It should be noted, though, that the two teams had vastly different build-ups to Sunday's game.

United spent a week basking in the warmth with a training camp in Dubai, while Spurs negotiated a hard-earned 1-0 win over Chelsea in the League Cup semi-final.

This explained in part Spurs' slow start, and United's quickness of thought, which was highlighted by Pogba's superb pass to release Marcus Rashford, who raced past Jan Vertonghen to arrow a shot beyond Hugo Lloris just before half-time.

Much has been made of Spurs' title tilt - which now looks unlikely after two consecutive Premier League losses at home - but United exposed their shallow squad's inadequacies.

When Moussa Sissoko was forced off in the first half, they had no established central midfielder on the bench to come on for him. Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama are on the mend from injuries, while Mousa Dembele has started only seven games and is reportedly on the verge of a lucrative move to China.

Worse still, talisman Kane limped off the pitch after appearing to twist his ankle late on in the game. The team's second highest goal-getter? Asian Cup-bound Son.

Last week, Pochettino, who has been tipped as the leading contender for the permanent manager's job at United, spoke about Spurs having to "operate differently" if they are to take the next step and rub shoulders with the elite of European football. His words were taken as a call for more investment from Spurs, even if he downplayed his remarks later.

If the London club do not spend in the January transfer window, though, the lure of resources at Old Trafford in the summer, could be too much to turn down for Pochettino.

*Sazali's trip is hosted by Spurs' global principal partner, AIA.