Henrikh Mkhitaryan put in a man of the match display as Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Old Trafford to close the gap on a top four position to six points. Mkhitaryan was pure class throughout and scored a beautiful first league goal, to add to his Europa League goal he notched in the week. The Armenian was put through by the impressive Ander Herrera and the composure to set himself with perfect first touch before using his second to lash it past the helpless Hugo Loris.
It was a performance United fans were eager to see from the summer signing from Borussia Dortmund but sadly, the attacking midfielder will miss the next two game after picking up an injury late on the second half. Jose Mourinho confirmed that Mkhitaryan’s injury will rule him out for the next two games (against Crystal Palace and WBA – both away), but he should be back for the home tie against Sunderland on boxing day.
In a much needed win, Mourinho’s men now looked to have turned a corner where results are matching performances. United deserved the win against Spurs and should have notched up a few more.
United were well worth the three points and Mkhitaryan, Herrera, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Paul Pogba can be pleased with their displays in what was a must win for the home club. Jose Mourinho had seen his United side throw away three points by conceding late goals against Arsenal and more recently against Everton.
Against Spurs, United clung on to a single goal lead despite having numerous chances throughout the match. Pogba was extremely unlucky not to add to his four United goals so far this season. The Frenchman had an early chance, setup by Mkhitaryan, saved from fellow country Lloris who dived down low to his right to stop the shot. In the second half United’s number six had the goalkeeper beaten, only to see his superb freekick rattle back off the crossbar. It was an exquisite attempt, which was near perfect if only a few millimetres lower. A minute later Lloris was called back into action as Pogba struck a right footed shot to his left this time to make a decent stop.
Pogba is growing into his role in the centre of the park and since the second half of the Burnley match, he has began to look real quality. He is as strong as a bull with close control that perplexes the pressing opposition, when he waltzes away with the ball. His distribution of the football is top class and his spraying of balls from deep to wide gets United up the pitch and on the attack. United just need him to play as many games as possible.
Ander Herrera, so long overlooked by Louis van Gaal, was exceptional alongside Pogba (and Michael Carrick) and got an assist after he played in Mkhitaryan following a sloppy bit of play from Harry Kane. The Spaniard covered every blade of grass and you could see him urging the Armenian to press at the same high rate that he was in order to force Spurs in to playing long. He was strong in the tackle and used the ball well throughout the match.
Many United fans are pleasantly surprised with the form and inclusion of Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, who marshalled Kane exceptionally. Both Jones and Rojo were able to step in and intercept the ball when Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen looked to play in Kane, whilst making a number of blocks and clearances to thwart any danger. At the start of the season, many reds would have excepted to see two of Eric Bailly, Daley Blind or Chris Smalling occupying the centre back positions – however, due to injuries and the good form of the current pair, Jose Mourinho has opted to stick with Rojo and Jones.
Tottenham’s manager Mauricio Pochettino felt that the game was pretty equal, although called out that United were clinical in front of goal. Mkhitaryan was certainly clinical as he rifled home the winner, whereas Victor Wanyama who was guilty of a horrendous miss against Swansea City last weekend, couldn’t covert a simple header as he found himself unmarked in the United box, following poor marking from Antonio Valencia. The Tottenham midfield tamely nodded the ball back, which then drifted out of play. The final twenty minutes saw Tottenham ramp up the pressure, however – this was mainly due to nerves setting in from the home side, considering recent results. United contained the visitors brilliantly and were well worth the three points.
The only negative, other than Mkhitaryan’s injury, was the booing of Marouane Fellaini as he warmed up and was introduced to the field of play in the final minute of the game. It was a reaction for the Belgian’s challenge against Everton the week before – which resulted in a late penalty for the home side. Fans should always get behind the players, regardless of mistakes. Mourinho dedicated the victory to Fellaini as the manager looked to defend the midfielder from any criticism.
“I accept it because from the fans you have to accept everything and especially fans that are giving so much without getting so much. The only things they are getting are honesty, professionalism dedication but not the results they expect. They have in their mind the mistake that Marouane did at Everton and no more than that. He is a player and a person I like and the person is more important. He will always have my protection and my trust.”
“I want to dedicate this victory to Fellaini because he deserves it. In the last match (Everton), it was him that was involved in the loss of two points (conceding a penalty) and that’s why I want to make it clear he is an important player for me.”