1. This is one of those days when you cannot decide whether you want to forget it quickly and look ahead or remember it for all the good parts. United were shocking in the first half in what was a performance reminiscent of the Bilbao and Ajax defeats from last season.
At 2-0 down at half-time, United were in need of one of those special comebacks that has seen us win after being 3-0 down (2001) and 2-0 (2009) to Spurs. And United almost provided that. The second half had so much to be positive about that a United fan couldn’t possibly have left the game depressed. But the fact is that it’s 3 points dropped and considering the tough set of fixtures in coming weeks, it may prove to be costly.
2. The first goal was so avoidable, I am not sure where to begin. Vertonghen- a centre-back by trade- has no right to go on a Messi-esque run down the left wing and leave Rafael, Carrick, Ferdinand and Evans trailing in his wake, putting the ball in the net with a deflected shot. It was an infuriating start, but we really knew we were up against it when Gareth Bale launched a classic counter-attack straight out of a 90s Manchester United highlights reel and finished with aplomb to make it 2-0 to Spurs. If I’m allowed to be a bit harsh on Lindegaard- De Gea might have done better with trying to stop the shot- but we wouldn’t know as long as this absurd goal-keeper rotation that doesn’t help anyone keeps happening. The third Spurs goal was again a result of lackadaisical defending by United on the right, where Rafael seemed to have a mare. Unacceptable in a game of such importance, even given that Bale is superhuman.
3. United scored two of the most gorgeous goals they’d ever score. The respective finishes by Nani and Kagawa were so superb, we would never stop waxing lyrical about it under different circumstances. Nani had by far his best performance of the season- he put in some seriously good balls and found himself in shockingly good positions repeatedly. Kagawa was excellent as well, and his substitution for Welbeck in the 77th minute was pretty bizarre. RvP and Rooney combined to give us some of the scintillating football we’d been hoping for since the moment the top 2 Premier League strikers found themselves on the same camp. United had a gazillion chances in the second half that Van Persie and Rooney would have buried on another day. Hell, even Patrice Evra had a free header that should have found the back of the net. Carrick’s deft head-flick hit the cross-bar, as did Wazza with a sensual free-kick earlier on.
4. It was madness, to be fair. United had 86% possession in the second half- EIGHTY SIX PERCENT. This was utter dominance of Barcelona against Mourinho’s Inter in 2010 proportions. Tottenham were allowed to make only 35 passes all half- it’s unfortunate that a couple of them were in the goal that they scored. Well, that was the goal that killed United off. Manchester United comeback victories are as certain as winter following summer, and there was little doubt that our players would come out with renewed purpose after going a couple of goals down. But a vintage Manchester United side wouldn’t have conceded such a shoddy 3rd goal that more or less nipped our comeback in the bud. It was all United thereafter- it was ridiculous. Nani and Rafael ran like harried bunnies down the right wing and pinged in cross after cross. Van Persie made a few delightful passes and runs himself, as did Shinji Kagawa. Wayne Rooney’s arrival had possibly ignited this new-found ambition, and his presence was as vital as it has ever been. No Manchester United supporter would have been spared edge of the seat excitement watching Rooney, RvP, Nani and Kagawa play so stunningly well together.
5. Paul Scholes. Genius. We either find anti-aging pills to keep him playing forever, or we pump megabucks into research that will successfully develop human cloning. Because that man is absurdly good and simply irreplaceable. United are definitely a one-man team, there’s no mistaking that. The only thought a United player had when getting the ball in that second half was to somehow get it to Scholes’ feet and wait for him to do something. Not only does Ferguson’s reluctance to buy an adequate replacement for him look incredibly daft, it’s also an indictment for the rest of the league’s midfielders that they are constantly out-passed and outwitted by a 38 year old once-retired asthmatic.
6. I cannot not talk about United’s starting line-up. In one word- atrocious. Fergie continued with the 4-2-3-1 he’s been keen on trying out of late- by sticking Ryan Giggs on the left wing. Giggsy is without doubt a candidate for the greatest footballer ever to wear a Manchester United jersey, but thinking that a midfield of him, Scholes and Carrick (108 years on earth between them) would ever work against an opposition midfield containing monsters like Moussa Dembele and Sandro is a footballing blunder of the kind that makes signing Gabriel Obertan seem sensible. United were predictably overrun in the first half, and it was very painful to watch. Why didn’t Cleverley or Anderson get the nod? A real slap on the face of those who thought Wednesday’s League Cup tie against Newcastle United was some sort of an audition for them (which the two passed with flying colours, by the way). Who am I to question the great man, but over the top of my head, I can say that we will be less bullied in the centre of the park if we insert some young legs in there. Also, if Darren Fletcher comes back.
7. There have been plenty of games in the history of football that have had hugely contrasting halves, but you’ll never see one like this. United were piss poor in the first 45, hardly looking like a team that has been the best in England for 4 seasons out of the last 6. But the way we played in the second period made Spurs look like a 3rd division side fighting for survival. They did not try to attack at all, merely content with defending stoutly and protecting the lead they had. And credit to them for doing that admirably well. It was heartening to see the dramatic increase in crowd noise in the second half- it was probably the most singing our fans have done in quite some time now. There were crestfallen looks at the end, made all the worse by Andre Villas Boas celebrating as if he had just led his team to World Cup victory.
8. United came back from Anfield with 3 points when their performance deserved minus 3, so we can really have no cause for complaints. It was frustrating to see two possible penalty calls go against us, but then we were on the right end of refereeing decisions against Liverpool last week. You win some, you lose some. We move on. This loss is definitely a blow, especially given Chelsea’s and City’s victories earlier on, but there is no need to panic just yet. We can only hope that Fergie will learn his lessons and put in a better line-up from the start next time, and that United will put in that out-of-this-world second half performance from the beginning next time. I dare say that we have to play all of Rooney, RvP and Kagawa from now on- just like we used to play Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez together. If we find a formation that makes all 3 of them click, there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll have the most devastating frontline in world football.
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