Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. It was United’s first win in the league since the 6th November when they beat Swansea City 3-1 at the Liberty Stadium and the first win at Old Trafford in the league since United beat the reigning Premier League champions, Leicester City, 4-1 on the 24th September. United have only lost three matches of the 15 played so far this season, drawing them seemed to be United’s problem, which they have put behind them, at this moment in time at least. United are still sixth in the Premier League table, but three points behind fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, six points off fourth-placed Manchester City, the team who were beaten 4-2 by the fallen champions on Saturday and seven points behind Liverpool, who drew 2-2 with West Ham United. United’s season, despite being over weeks ago, seems to have opened up. A title charge is mathematically not out of the equation, but aiming to finish within the top four, therefore qualifying for the UEFA Champions League is not.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a player who has fought for his chance to start for his new club, after a poor start to the season. The time spent on the sidelines, with the manager protecting the player, giving him some inspiration and fight to make it work in the Premier League, which is a big rise from the Bundesliga, seems to have worked. In the last few matches, United had scored eight goals, half of which were directly down to the Armenian, scoring twice (against Spurs and Zorya Luhansk) and assisting twice (against West Ham United). At this stage of the season, seeing him shine and also become the first Armenian to score in the Premier League was a good feeling. However, seeing that Danny Rose challenge in the 81st minute of the match, which saw the Armenian stretchered off, was worrying. Now United need to make do without their player in-form, and the player needs to overcome some negativity once again. Giving an update on his injury, Jose Mourinho spoke via the official Manchester United website, saying:
“It looks like the next match [at Crystal Palace] is a ‘no’, but it looks like it is nothing that is really dangerous or that needs surgery. So hopefully we will probably have Micki on Boxing Day [against Sunderland at Old Trafford].”
Mourinho will be pleased that his team managed to overcome a resurgent Spurs side, effectively cutting them out at various points in the match. United took advantage of the fact that Mkhitaryan was played through on goal bu the quick thinking of Ander Herrera, in order to score his first league goal for the club. That was enough for United to take something from the match, but they did not stop trying. Throughout the match, Paul Pogba was unlucky in his shots on goal, in the first few minutes he could have put United ahead, also thumping the crossbar later in the match, which could have given United some thinking room. Speaking about the important victory over Spurs, which sees United in reach of getting inside the top four this season, providing they keep up this form, Mourinho said:
“We have been playing so well but not getting results. We needed the result today, even if the performance could be not as good as the others. But that was not the case. I think the performance was even better than the others because we were playing against a very good team. A team that, for me, is the one that I prefer in the Premier League because of the way they play football, defensively and offensively. So even more credit to the players for that.”
Mourinho also had something to say about Mkhitaryan’s goal, which was similar to the goal he scored in the Ukraine on Thursday night and similar to the one he tried to score against Feyenoord last month, but was fouled and nothing was awarded. He said:
“We recovered the ball high up the pitch, we were objective with that transition and counter attack, we scored a fantastic goal and it was so important for us in the end. But once more, the goalkeeper [Hugo Lloris] was not the Man of the Match, because Mkhitaryan deserved that, but he could have been too… and also the post! For the way we play, we don’t deserve to suffer, we don’t deserve to arrive in the last 30 minutes with our hearts in our hands. We deserved to be enjoying the match and we cannot enjoy the match when we are under pressure.”
Manchester United are not blessed in defence this season. Chris Smalling, the stand-out performer last season is still on the sidelines, Eric Bailly, the stand-out performer this season has just ended a spell on the sidelines, also playing 90 minutes against Zorya Luhansk in the Ukraine on Thursday night, so needed to be rested in order to get the best out of him before he leaves for the African Cup of Nations in January. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have partnered each other over the last few months, with Daley Blind stepping in at some point. United need to investment in the defence, to find a leader and someone to guide United later in matches, which has seen them concede late goals recently, turning what would have been victories into draws. Mourinho praised his defence, who did well today, saying:
“The team was very good, the effort was by everyone. The way we defended set-pieces was a team effort. I think it is fair to say that Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were magnificent and obviously surrounded by a team that is organised with a big solidarity, giving everything to keep a clean sheet that gave us points.”
Manchester United are now unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions, last losing against Fenerbahçe in the UEFA Europa League on the 3rd November before that was the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the 23rd October. United have lost two other league matches and a Europa League match before that, during the three-match losing streak from the 10th to the 18th September where United were beaten by Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford. Now United seem to have gotten over their poor form earlier in the season, a run in all competitions is needed in order for United to take something from the season. United face Crystal Palace (Wednesday) and West Bromwich Albion (Saturday) away from home, which then gives them eight days in between their next match against Sunderland at Old Trafford. United then play on New Year’s Eve entertaining Middlesbrough at Old Trafford, then on the 2nd January away to West Ham United, which will end the restive period of matches. In this form, United have what it takes to go on a run of matches, possible capitalising from their rivals dropping points, which would see United in a better position early next year. Speaking about going on a run, Mourinho said:
“Now we are sixth in the table, our position didn’t change, but we reduced three points from Tottenham and from Manchester City. So it was not a bad weekend for us, especially because our match at home was one of those when a draw would be something normal, according to the projection of both teams.”
Ahead of the visit to Palace on Wednesday evening, United will be missing two players; Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Antonio Valencia, who received his fifth booking of the season, following Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini, who have all been banned this season for the number of bookings they have received. This may upset the apple cart, but United need to battle with fitness and resting over the busy festive period, so even though Valencia sat out of the Zorya match in Odessa on Thursday, he will get another rest, meaning that he will be raring to go against West Brom on Saturday, then after an eight-day rest, help United dump more bad news into David Moyes’ lap, then finish the year with another win at Old Trafford against Middlesbrough. United have everything in their favour now. They are playing well, have some great players and now the mental nous to forget about those draws and grind out wins, getting the points needed to finish where they want to be at the end of the season. Seeing Liverpool fall of their imaginary perch against West Ham United, suffering a 2-2 draw at home, it makes me think there are lots of mistakes coming from the teams above United before the end of the season.