Monday 27th August 2018

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Man Utd 0 Spurs 3

Mauricio Pochettino had scored his first victory as a manager at Old Trafford and what an emphatic one it had proven to be, the younger of the two coaches unsure quite how best to handle Mourinho’s moment of humiliation on the touchline. At the final whistle Mourinho marched onto the pitch as if to do something that had been on his mind and just ended up solemnly applauding the Stretford End, a strange end to a disastrous evening for him.

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Pochettino, long regarded as the best man for the Old Trafford job, had delivered a major victory and in the moment it was hard to see where Mourinho comes back from this start to the season with two defeats in his first three games. There may yet be a turnaround, but as United go to Burnley on Sunday in 13th place it does not feel like there is much to hang onto for a team that is failing in all departments and a manager who seems like he could do anything.
Mourinho had been reluctant in the last few minutes before kick-off to disclose the true nature of his formation, although very few would have been counting on the three-man defence that he came up with – Ander Herrera the unlikely right-sided third part of that.
The little Spanish midfielder has been given a variety of tasks over the years, including man-marking Eden Hazard but this was a new one even for him. He approached it with his usual seriousness getting himself book on 19 minutes for a foul on Lucas Moura which presented United with some potential problems. Even so, it felt like a bit more than just an unusual solution to what Mourinho sees as a problem for his team.
On the bench was the right-sided centre-back Victor Lindelof, acquired last summer for around £31 million. His performance against Brighton and Hove Albion was not one to inspire hope and this was Mourinho’s response but at least the Swede was on the bench. For Antony Martial, Juan Mata Eric Bailly and Andreas Pereira, all of whom played in that defeat, there was no part at all in the evening’s squad.

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Mourinho re-united Chris Smalling and Phil Jones alongside Herrera in defence, an old partnership to which he periodically returns. Smalling looked the most assured of the three with a fine tackle to fish the ball out from Dele Alli’s feet when the Spurs man ran into the box after Nemanja Matic was caught in possession.
United had the better of a poor first half, but only just. They asked a lot of Romelu Lukaku who stuck stoically to his job of playing with back to goal and trying to hold off whatever one of his two fellow Belgians playing centre-back for Spurs was marking him. Lukaku was on his own there, with Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba trying to break from advanced positions in midfield. The United centre-forward missed the one chance presented to him by a bad back pass from Danny Rose.
The Spurs left-back was playing his first game of the season, an unexpected inclusion in the team and he did not have an auspicious first half. Hugo Lloris retained the captaincy after his drink driving charge last week and there was less for him to do than might have been expected. United could not hold onto the ball with any great fluency before the break, the only consolation for them being that neither could Spurs.
Pochettino was the more agitated of the two managers on the touchline at his side’s failure to pass the ball effectively in attacking areas of the pitch. Harry Kane was barely in the game before the break and the same could be said for Christian Eriksen. Both of them feeling the effect of United’s packed midfield.

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The goals that decided the game came quickly after the break. First Kane on 49 minutes taking a step backwards away from Phil Jones who realised in horror too late that he had lost track of both his man and Kieran Trippier’s corner. The England captain nodded one back across David De Gea’s goal and out of reach. Trippier sent Eriksen down the right three minutes later and he crossed for Moura to score the second.
It was not as if United had many chances after that, with Alexis Sanchez sent on as well as Fellaini. Lindelof, lost in a mild panic, tried to pass the ball to De Gea and succeeded in giving it to Dele instead. Then Moura scored the third, running through United, past Smalling and finishing confidently. There was still time, ten minutes in all including injury-time, for Mourinho to soak in the worst of it, watching a team with no ideas, in a stadium rapidly emptying.

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