When Manchester United’s Rafael da Silva was sent off in the 74th minute for a second yellow card offense, United were there for the taking. Down to ten men, Sir Alex Ferguson issued the command to his players to bunch up, pack the midfield and defense and contain Tottenham as much as possible. It was Tottenham’s opportunity to show United and the world what they had, to sprint down the wings and open United up. Ultimately they failed, but it’s testament more to United’s brilliant defending than a lack of inspiration from Spurs.
Sunday’s nil-nil draw at White Hart Lane was a perfect example of how strong defensively Manchester United are. Nemanja Vidic was man of the match with his consistent performance in the back for United, constantly denying Tottenham goalscoring opportunities by preventing Spurs from getting shots on goal and clearing balls out of the area, time after time. He was assisted by a range of players helping the defensive cause in the final 20 minutes. Even Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney came back to help quite often.
United’s defensive resiliency Sunday reminded me of their performance against Arsenal in mid-December where no matter what Arsenal tried to do, United were a wall of defense preventing Arsenal from penetrating it.
Tottenham could have done better in those final 20 minutes, though. Peter Crouch was ineffective almost the entire game. Tottenham were too predictable with their crosses from the right wing which United headed away with ease, one after the other. Bale, in the last quarter of the game, was isolated on the left wing after Anderson came on and Darren Fletcher was in charge of stopping the Welshman from accomplishing his trademark blistering runs. Rafael van der Vaart, meanwhile, was his usual wonderful self but I felt all of his free kicks left much to be desired and that Gareth Bale should have been taking them instead.
Overall, though, it seemed that no matter what Tottenham threw at United, the Red Devils could stop them.
What does this mean for Tottenham and United? For Manchester United, it’s another crucial point which moves the red half of Manchester back into first place on goal difference. It also means another undefeated game. I wouldn’t be too surprised if several United players will be nursing injuries during the next week given the way Tottenham pushed them to their limits, but United should be pleased with the point.
Tottenham’s performance was strong, but I felt it was a “If only…” situation where they could have done better towards the end of the game especially the best chance of the match that fell to van der Vaart but he curled it agonizingly wide over the bar. After picking up a point against United, Tottenham sit in fifth place and you have to wonder now whether the gap between them and third place Arsenal, a gap of six points, is too much. Tottenham may end up battling Chelsea for fourth or fifth place and it’s too early to write them off from a push for third or higher, but time is running out.
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