Belfast Telegraph

Van Gaal tells Manchester United to forget title joy unless they can discover their clinical edge

Tottenham 0 - Man United 0

By Sam Wallace

Louis van Gaal said afterwards he had reminded his Manchester United players that if they could not win games such as these, or the one against Aston Villa earlier in the month, there would be no league title this season - a harsh verdict but one with which it was hard to argue.

United had created the chances to score against Tottenham Hotspur in the first half and, finding Hugo Lloris a difficult man to beat, simply faded after the break to the point that they were hanging on a little at the end.

Juan Mata had been their chief inspiration before the break but once he had laid down his conductor's baton in the second half, United struggled to find any attacking rhythm.

"When you cannot win this type of match, when you are the better team," Van Gaal said, "it is very difficult to be the champions at the end of the season."

It will not have been what his players would have wanted to hear in the changing room and some of them might point to the run of fixtures that await and feel they have a good chance of four wins from four in January.

You get the impression that Van Gaal would like to lambast English football for its Christmas tradition that dictates teams play twice within the space of 48 hours but he just about held himself back once again this time.

"It is scientifically proven that the body cannot recover in 48 hours. When the FA (sic) allow playing two matches you see what it is like. The second half was much different to the first."

He said his players were tired, and you could see it in the chances that Mata and then Robin van Persie missed in the second half before the light went out for United.

Van Gaal had to rejig his defence from three to four, bringing off Paddy McNair and Jonny Evans, both of whom, the Dutchman said, were tired. They had certainly started to wobble and given longer might have made more damaging errors.

For the first time since November 2012 there was an identical United line-up in two consecutive games, a consequence, Van Gaal said, of having so few options. Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling were among the late substitutes but neither, he said, were fit enough to start.

By the end United were struggling and there were two convincing penalty appeals for Spurs that could have been given.

The first was a trip by McNair on Harry Kane, who stayed on his feet. The second a case of Wayne Rooney wrapping his arms around Kane at a corner as the Englishman, full of energy as usual, tried to pull away.

At times in the first half, Spurs had that familiar pall of victimhood about them which you saw so often over the years when they played United.

This time, however, they pulled themselves together and took their inspiration from the marvellous Lloris.

You could sense the relief in Mauricio Pochettino, with Chelsea awaiting on Thursday. "The condition was the same for both teams," he said. "From the beginning of the season, Spurs have had fewer recovery days in every competition. United had the same to recover."

By the end it was Pochettino making the more attacking substitutions, bringing on Mousa Dembélé and Erik Lamela. In the first half Spurs had to rely on Lloris more than once, the first time when a glorious ping from Michael Carrick was brought to earth by Van Persie and the Spurs goalkeeper closed him down quickly enough.

It had not been Spurs' only escape as a deflected free-kick from Mata which hit the post followed. Phil Jones forced a header over the line on 23 minutes but had been flagged offside.

After the break, United never recreated the momentum. In fact they struggled to get anywhere near it. "It was not football anymore," Van Gaal proclaimed solemnly.

"It was a struggle. Tottenham won second balls and that's why they were more dominant than us in the second half."

Van Gaal counted three chances for United but the two that stood out were a Mata shot over and a poor attempt by Van Persie.

"You need a little fortune," Van Gaal said. "When you play your best first half of the season and create six to eight chances then you have to finish them."

Penalty appeals aside, only Kane's clever blindside pass to Ryan Mason gave Spurs a true sight of goal. He missed and by then United had settled for the draw.

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