No Premier League team has won as many points from losing positions (25) as Manchester United this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side repeated the trick on Sunday, coming from 1-0 down at half time to beat Tottenham 3-1.
Goals from Fred, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood gave United three points to tighten their grip on second place while Tottenham, now six points off fourth, allowed another lead to slip (18 points dropped from winning positions this season).
It really was a microcosm of each team's campaign.
Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium has seen the best of Paul Pogba.
Twice the Frenchman has played at the shimmering £1bn venue and twice he has been the best player on the pitch, once again driving Manchester United forward just as he did in a 1-1 draw against Spurs back in June 2020.
Pogba started this match, unlike the same fixture last season when he came off the bench to make a difference, but it wasn’t until the second half that the 28-year-old started to have a real influence.
Whether it was on the left, right or through the middle, Pogba was the one pushing United higher up the pitch. Nobody made more key passes (two) or dribbles (six).
Of course, Pogba’s difficult relationship with Mourinho during his time at Old Trafford added another layer of narrative to this performance, but the most prominent storyline of the Frenchman’s 2021 is that he finally looks like the leader and driving force United thought they were getting back in 2016.
They can’t allow him to leave now.
News broke on Sunday morning that Harry Kane will consider his future at Spurs if the club fails to qualify for next season’s Champions League, something Richard Jolly wrote about in the build up to this game, and this performance proved why he has a big decision to make this summer.
This Tottenham team are a long way from challenging for major honours. The truth is that with Mourinho at the helm they are a long way from even Manchester United, who only had to move up one or two gears to find the net three times in the second half.
Kane is an elite level striker, one of the best in the game right now, but he was isolated for much of this match, registering just one shot on target. When he did receive the ball, he was expected to conjure up something out of nothing on his own.
Can Tottenham Hotspur really give the 27-year-old England captain what he wants? On this showing, no.
In the penalty box, there are few as good as Cavani. Had it not been for a highly questionable refereeing decision after a VAR check, he would have scored the opener for United, finishing underneath Hugo Lloris from 12 yards out. Cavani then played the pass for Fred’s equaliser and headed United’s second, all in the 18-yard box.
This is where the Uruguayan does his best work, where he has made a career for himself, and Cavani certainly gives Solskjaer an option he otherwise lacks. But Manchester United’s attack isn’t built to create many opportunities for him in the penalty box. Imagine how many more he would score if it was.
The centre forward role in Solskjaer’s side needs to be able to conduct a counter attack through the middle of the pitch and Cavani was more than once found lacking in this respect.
Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were desperate to break out down the right, but Cavani was frequently too slow to make a pass or in carrying the ball. This is where Manchester United could desperately miss Anthony Martial if he is indeed sidelined through injury until the end of the season.
Nonetheless, Cavani is worth having around for his cutting edge in front of goal. As speculation swirls around the 34-year-old’s future, this display proved why United must keep him around.
With Mourinho potentially facing something of a reckoning as Tottenham Hotspur manager over the next few weeks, with the race for the top four set to come to a head and the Carabao Cup final on the horizon, he reverted to what he knows best for this match.
Having earned themselves a reputation as the neutral’s favourite under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham were pantomime villains here, particularly in the first half when countless players in white were guilty of exaggerating contact and crowding the referee. It paid off in the way Son Heung-min got a Cavani goal ruled out.
The whole match was played amid the feeling that things could boil over at any moment, but Man Utd showed their own nasty side in the second half. Rather than shying away from the scrap, the visitors fully engaged in it after the break, harnessing their pent up frustration in the right way.