Man United: The Empire Strikes Back
Liverpool winning 3-1 away at the KC stadium. Surely, no-one expected anything less if not anything more. The reigning champions level again for the umpteenth time, their leaky defence ensuring that the goal difference keeps them behind Liverpool in second place. Yes, they did have two games in hand but chasing points and championships is not the most comfortable proposition especially when you have key Champions League encounters looming on the horizon. Hence, the Red Devils didn’t exactly have a cakewalk waiting for them at the theater of dreams this weekend.
Spurs have rescued their season somewhat considering it was their worst ever start to a season. The Lilywhites didn’t have much to play for coming in to Old Trafford. Although winning the last 5 of their 6 games, a mostly fit squad, the fact that United had one eye on their Champions League semi-final, Spurs were looking to be a decent bet to pick up something from the game. But their record against the champions, with their last win at Old Trafford coming in 1989 didn’t inspire much confidence for the London outfit. The expected changes were made with the young Brazilian Rafael Da Silva taking his rightful place at right-back while Rio Ferdinand and Nani also returned to the mix. As for Spurs, injuries to Michael Dawson and Roman Pavlyuchenko meant that Ledley King started and Darren Bent retained his place up-top.
Both teams started brightly enough ensuring a good battle in prospect. Clearly, Tottenham had done their homework and reminiscent of their last encounter in the Carling Cup final, Aaron Lennon, once again, ran circles around Patrice Evra. United simply failed to curb the Spurs movement down the right flank. While around the same time, Wilson Palacios lunged viciously with both feet up at the tackle-magnet Cristiano Ronaldo prompting the latter to avoid it by jumping at the last moment. Howard Webb was oblivious to the whole incident. Back to the right flank, united were being driven out of their own territory. The French left-back looked clueless against Lennon, possibly his greatest nemesis in his Manchester United career uptil now. It took 28 minutes for the inevitable to happen when Vedran Corluka and Lennon combined down the right with the Croat crossing for Bent with the ball falling in between Vidic and Ferdinand and Bent on hand to smash it home.
Tottenham 1 – 0 Manchester United: Old Trafford – Silence.
Three minutes later, Lennon still terrorizing the united defence down the right but crossing himself this time for the poaching Bent. The Englishman flicked the ball to the far post where Rafael went AWOL leaving Luka Modric free to bang it in.
Tottenham 2 – 0 Manchester United: Old Trafford – In shock. (Merseyside – popping Champagne).
The goal bringing back bitter memories for the united fans as Porto scored a last minute equalizer the same way in the Champions League quarter finals. The ones looking on in the stadium or through different means through out the world were stunned more so by United’s play than by the scoreline. United, incensed, went all out but a couple of unsuccessful free kicks and corners was their only reward.
Date: 29 September 2001
Place: White Hart Lane, London
United trailing 3-0 at half-time looking down and out after being thoroughly outplayed in the first. But changes at half-time, some hairdryer treatment by the fiery Scot had the red devils transformed in the second half. What transpired after that is highly placed now in the united folklore. United smashed in 5 goals ending up hammering the spurs 5-3. Surely, the United faithful were hoping for an encore.
Changes again at half-time with Carlos Tevez replacing Nani, Fergie looked to increase the tempo. United looked like a team possessed, urgent and hungry to reclaim their throne at the top of the table. Some vintage United-esque play between Berbatov and Ronaldo saw the Portuguese but a good save from Gomes ensured that the scoreline wasnt disturbed. Minutes later, Rooney found Carrick running in the box with a superb ball prompting Gomes to come out to save the former Tottenham man from scoring. Instead, he brought down Carrick albeit getting a touch on the ball in the process, but Mr. Webb generously awarding united a penalty. A more suitable scoreline you think would have prompted a different decision. The enigmatic Portuguese stepped up, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and slammed the ball straight down the middle sending Gomes the wrong way.
Manchester United 1 – 2 Tottenham: Old Trafford – Faith Renewed.
Adrenalin was pumping, united were smelling blood and Paul Scholes was brought on for Fletcher to extract more creativity. Within minutes, Berbatov held the ball up well to feed Tevez who found Rooney on the left and Wazza cut inside, found space and smashed it past the former PSV man at the near post.
Manchester United 2 – 2 Tottenham: Old Trafford – Electric.
The Red Devils were pumped up and even the spurs knew what was coming. In under a minute, Super Roon beat Lennon on the left before sending a delectable cross to a sprinting Ronaldo who obliged by heading past Gomes sending the red half of Manchester into raptures.
Manchester United 3 – 2 Tottenham. Old Trafford – Wild euphoria!!
Tottenham looked on in despair, trying to find some sense in all that was happening. United were far from done as Ronaldo sent in a ball from the right to a prowling Rooney in the box. The English hitman fired it past Gomes but a last ditch save from Woodgate wasnt enough to keep it from trickling over the line to give united some breathing space.
Manchester United 4 – 2 Tottenham: Old Trafford – Normal service resumed.
United a touch slower now, but rampant nonetheless. The red devils displaying exhibition football and spurs waiting for the misery to end. Rooney, master of creativity for the day, strolled past Lennon before chipping in a ball from the left for the lurking Berbatov who headed an effort only to be parried by Gomes but scrappily putting it in the back of the net ultimately.
Manchester United 5 – 2 Tottenham. Old Trafford – At their loudest best this season.
United climbing back to the summit
Twenty two minutes, 5 goals, and United making a statement about their verve and style, something they haven’t done a lot this season. But as a certain gentlemen calling this to be a ‘squeaky-bum’ time, the Red Devils couldn’t have found their rhythm at a better time. The hairdryer from the gaffer, a masterstroke substitution and United rediscovering their passion, a recipe which ended a potential upset into a rout. But expect more twists and turns as the BPL is at its topsy-turvy best. As for Arsenal and their makeshift defence, they should be worried.