In many ways, United’s 1-1 draw against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs felt like a loss. But in the grand scheme of things, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
In the not so distant past, most people associated with the Reds would have snatched at a draw away to the North London side. But Friday night’s fixture which restarted United football following the lockdown had a different feel to it. It felt like the standards and expectations were back up to where they once were.
The reserved mindset of just not getting beat was no more and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side was evidently up for it. They wanted to get on the front foot from the get go. There was no feeling out process.
Although Mourinho sides do tend to often sit back, this Spurs outfit looked overwhelmed at times. United pressed with the right intensity and the intent was to keep going forward. Spurs stars such as Harry Kane or Hueng-min Son were often anonymous.
In spite of a couple of individual mistakes which led to the hosts opener, the performances and the attitudes of the players were certainly the biggest positives to take from that match, as acknowledged by Solskjaer in his post game media obligations.
Marcus Rashford’s return was one of the biggest talking points as he made his long awaited injury comeback after arguably the biggest week of his life. The Reds top scorer is sure to be an influential figure during this busy summer period. United’s No. 10 looked lively, but admittedly a little rusty. But nonetheless, he got a good 90 minutes of work under his belt.
The other huge return for Solskjaer was the re-emergence of Paul Pogba. After 10 months on and off the pitch because of injuries and with the seemingly never ending transfer speculation surrounding his name, the Frenchman looked ever so solid back in Red.
Pogba was inspired in his 30 minute cameo, winning the penalty which Bruno Fernandes converted to put the visitors level, and the first public showing of his link up with the Portuguese midfielder has left fans hungry for more.
United certainly look ready to play football and win matches. The work being put in at Carrington was on show, as was the significantly improved team chemistry.
The change in culture is evident but it cannot be forgotten that these are still the early stages of the rebuild, and so a tough fixture away to a Mourinho low-block may turn out to be the perfect test ahead of the fixtures that are remaining for this squad.
Six out of United’s eight remaining league matches are against opposition in the lower half of the table and you can’t help but assume that the pictures from those games will look eerily similar to those from Friday where the Reds were in charge of the ball for 67% of the 90 minutes.
Therefore, as aforementioned, this first competitive run out in three months against Spurs could yet prove to be invaluable. United always looked threatening against a sturdy defensive set up and the Reds would have likely come back to Old Trafford will all three points 9 out of 10 times after having played like that. But, credit where it’s due, Spurs’ Hugo Lloris was in inspired form, too.
United could end up five points adrift of Chelsea after the weekend following this result, but the Reds’ run in is favorable on paper; and Solskjaer’s side is certainly not down and out of the top four race yet with eight games to spare if they can carry over the application and intensity of the Spurs game into those against ‘lesser’ opposition.