Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Manchester United: Spurs Handed Reality Check By Champions

Manchester United put in a performance worthy of champions today at Spurs, as they came from behind to beat Tottenham 3-1 despite having to suffer the ignominy of Paul Scholes being sent off.

Goals from Ryan Giggs, Anderson, and Wayne Rooney cancelled out an early overhead kick by the on-form Jermain Defoe as United swept Harry Redknapp's resurgent Spurs aside.

The last time Spurs won their first five games of the season was in 1961, the year they won the double, but the omens weren't good going into this game.

Spurs haven't beaten United since 2001 and White Hart Lane has become a place where the Red Devils usually take all three points. You got the feeling going into the match that Spurs' confidence was all show and that a good start by the champions could end all resistance pretty quickly.

As it was Spurs were fastest out of the blocks after Jermaine Defoe scored a contender for goal of the season with an acrobatic overhead kick after 40 seconds.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto's long cross for Peter Crouch turned the United defence superbly and Vidic's clearing header went back across the six yard box, Defoe's off the ball running was excellent and he left Rio Ferdinand in all sorts of trouble as he created the space for the fantastic finish that gave Ben Foster no chance in the United goal.

From a Spurs point of view it was a brilliantly taken goal, Defoe has been on fire since the start of the season for club and country and his goals will be vital if Spurs have any hope of challenging for Europe.

Alex Ferguson on the other hand will be furious with both Ferdinand and Vidic. The Serbian's initial header was weak and poorly directed while Ferdinand's cowards challenge on Defoe, where he turned his back on the ball, will mean the United manager will be seething come Monday as he looks to put these mistakes right for the rest of the season.

It was left to the old man of the United team to drag them back into the game. The Red Devils had begun to exert pressure on the Spurs midfield who were being by-passed quite easily.

The more mobile United duo of Fletcher and Anderson gave Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone plenty to think about as United pinged the ball around with one-touch ease. It was from one of these training ground moves that Dimitar Berbatov was taken down 25 yards from the Spurs goal.

The free kick was duly dispatched by Ryan Giggs who curled a beautiful effort into the top corner to level the match.

Wilson Palacios, the culprit for the free kick, was having a nightmare in Spurs midfield and the yellow he picked up for the foul only compounded matters. He seemed to lose all sense of purpose and responsibility until he was replaced at half time by Jermaine Jenas.

With United on level terms the weaker characters in the Spurs team seemed to give up, as if there work was done by taking an early lead, and the Red Devils went in search of a second goal.

Carlo Cudicini saved Spurs on more than one occasion and Sebastian Bassong even cleared an effort from Berbatov off the line as United began to squeeze the life out of Tottenham.

A goal was coming, and it arrived from the most surprising of sources as Anderson popped up to fire home from the edge of box after Spurs failed to clear from a United corner.

It was the Brazilian's first goal for United and he will feel massively relieved after finally delivering a noteworthy performance. Speculation was rife in the summer that Anderson would be leaving Old Trafford, after Alex Ferguson made it known that he was unhappy with the Brazilian youngster's fondness for the nigh-life in Manchester.

He was given a last chance to impress and the doubling of effort on the training ground saw the ex-Porto player named in the starting XI for this massive game.

The goal just before half time knocked the wind out of Spurs, who thought they had done just enough to survive. A hair-dryer style rollicking from manager Harry Redknapp and the introduction of Jenas for Palacios meant that Spurs would be a very different beast in the second half.

The difference was immediate and Spurs attacked with more purpose, and only a last-second intervention by Vidic denied the excellent Keane the equalizing goal after Jenas had found him unmarked on the edge of the six yard box.

United were going to have to ride out this early storm and, very similarly to last years classic at Old Trafford, they began to give away niggling free kicks in an attempt to disrupt the flow of the game for Spurs.

Paul Scholes picked up a yellow after a nasty challenge on Defoe from behind. A classic professional foul, Defoe was in acres of space on the half way line where there was no danger for United and was clattered from behind by Scholes; as United let Spurs know that they were going to have to win the war before they could win the game.

Ironically, Spurs enforcer Wilson Palacios had been taken off at half time for losing complete focus on the game, so Spurs were facing a tough task to overcome this United side.

Spurs were getting on top by playing progressive football, Jermaine Jenas' introduction for his first game of the season was proving to be a masterstroke by Redknapp as he was picking up all the loose balls in the middle of the park and setting up one Spurs attack after another.

He was denied a brilliant goal by Ben Foster after he picked the ball up at the halfway line and ran straight at the United goal, his fantastic curling effort was clawed out of the top corner by Foster at full stretch.

From the resulting corner Peter Crouch lost Rio Ferdinand for the umpteenth time and smashed a header off the bar.

Moments later Paul Scholes was rightly handed his second yellow of the game after he arrived late into a challenge with Tom Huddlestone.

The sending off served United better than Spurs, Alex Ferguson re-shuffled and left Rooney alone up front as he packed his midfield to combat Jenas and Huddlestone who were by this stage, dominating proceedings.

Losing the age-weary Scholes and the lacklustre Dimitar Berbatov left United carrying only the sending off—instead of two players—and with that in mind they began to catch Spurs on the break through the energetic Rooney.

The killer goal arrived on the 78th minute as Rooney latched onto Darren Fletcher's raking pass. He still had much to do and calmly controlled the ball before he beat two Spurs defenders and slotted it home past the advancing Cudicini.

With Spurs' resistance broken the last 10 minutes were played out to an emptying stadium.

Harry Redknapp's team have come on leaps and bounds over the last year, but Manchester United's victory was never in doubt despite Spurs taking the early lead.

They are still short of the class needed to break the top four, never mind challenge for the title.

For Alex Ferguson and United it was another good day at the office, and they remain the benchmark for all the other teams to be judged against.

Player Ratings—Spurs

Cudicini (8), Corluka (5), King (6), Bassong (6), Assou-Ekotto (6), Lennon (6), Huddlestone (7), Palacios (4), Keane (6), Defoe (7), Crouch (6).

Subs—Jenas (8), Kranckjaer (6), Hutton (6)

Player Ratings—Manchester United

Foster (8), O'Shea (7), Vidic (7), Ferdinand (5), Evra (8), Scholes (6), Giggs (7), Anderson (7), Fletcher (8), Berbatov (6), Rooney (9).

Subs—Nani (5), Carrick (7)

 Follow Premier League Report on Twitter: twitter / PremLgeReport