Belfast Telegraph

Rashford makes it an unhappy Mourinho comeback

Man United 2 Tottenham 1

At the double: Marcus Rashford slots home a penalty
At the double: Marcus Rashford slots home a penalty
Jose Mourinho gets caught up in the action on his return to Old Trafford

By Miguel Delaney

So, was this defiant victory a sign that the Manchester United players still love Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, still have it in for Jose Mourinho - or somewhere in between?

Specifically and literally, in midfield. It did feel like this 2-1 win ultimately came down to United's superior central set-up as much as the resurgent Marcus Rashford's brilliant form, as Solskjaer's side just repeatedly surged through a flat and stale Tottenham Hotspur.

Mourinho got it wrong there, as Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko clearly no longer work as a central pairing, but this display wasn't just a sorry reminder of that.

It was, appropriately enough, a reminder of so many of the Portuguese's United teams: an outdated and ill-fitting formation that was far too reliant on individual flashes, and far too short on constructive co-ordinated attacking play.

United didn't show too much of that themselves, but didn't need to in this specific game with Rashford on such form and the team showing such fire. That was a timely reminder of what they can be in terms of application, and what they should be so much more often.

In that, it was a reprieve for their manager, and just a fifth win of the season to go with Mourinho's first defeat as Tottenham Hotspur.

Most relevantly, it means the slim chances of Saturday's match at Manchester City being Solskjaer's last game now look non-existent. This won't now be the humiliating week many feared. This won't see Mauricio Pochettino demanded with the same vigour.

That will now have to wait.

Solskjaer will now surely get a January window, as his team impressively filled the gaps in this game.

United did start as if they wanted to make a statement, most of all Rashford.

Rashford is on precisely the kind of razor-sharp form that sees him ready to latch on and maximise any loose ball, which was precisely what happened as he strode through and lashed the ball through Paolo Gazzinaga.

Rashford is on precisely the kind of assertive form where he'll attempt pile-driver shots from distance, smashing the bar as he did in 25th minute.

He's on precisely the kind of instinctively expressive form where he'll dribble through the Spurs defence, as he did straight after half-time for that penalty.

And he's enjoying precisely the kind of confidence that ensures there's no chance of him missing one of those penalties any more, sending Gazzinaga the wrong way.

It was similarly the Rashford that Mourinho only occasionally saw in his time at Old Trafford, even if many would say much of that was down to the Portuguese's man-management.

There were questions about some of Mourinho's tactical management here, not least how long he left Spurs' midfield so easy to get at.

It wasn't just Rashford that was enjoying himself. So was Fred, who genuinely looked the most influential midfielder on the pitch. That was of course greatly helped by having someone as impressively combative as Scott McTominay beside him, and the fact Mourinho persisted with a faulty a duo in Winks and Sissoko.

Fred was asserting the type of passing control you might have expected from Winks if he was in a fully functioning midfield.

He wasn't, although the Brazilian isn't completely fully functioning yet either. Fred is clearly a better player than he has looked for most of his time at United, but there were still signs here that process isn't finished yet. One was a shot that could have been generously described as an inventively disguised crossfield ball - given it didn't even make it out for a throw-in.

Another was where he was so caught out by Dele's admittedly brilliant touch to tee up his own fine equaliser.

If that goal was an illustrate of Mourinho's often supreme effect on some individuals, the manner of the goal was a reflection of that recurring collective problem in his teams. They have so often been dependent on flashes of instinctive brilliance, rather than co-ordinated and constructed attacking play.

Spurs never really got close to their own top level of the last few games here. They were so flat-footed, and limp.

United meanwhile looked at their best level for quite a while, and just in time.

MAN UTD: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young, McTominay, Fred, James, Lingard (Shaw, 87 mins), Rashford, Greenwood (Pereira, 80 mins). Unused subs: Mata, Romero, Garner, Tuanzebe, Williams.

Tottenham: Gazzaniga, Aurier, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Winks (Ndombele, 70 mins), Sissoko (Lo Celso, 86 mins), Lucas Moura (Eriksen, 64 mins), Alli, Son, Kane. Unused subs: Rose, Dier, Foyth, Austin.

Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)

Man of the match: Marcus Rashford

Match rating: 7/10

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