After a convincing 2-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday at Old Trafford, Manchester United closed the gap to the top four teams in the Premier League to one point.
After failing to score the goal their superior control deserved in the first half, United finally scored when Fred’s 20-yard attempt flew in off Ben Davies in the 47th minute. With just over 20 minutes left, Bruno Fernandes secured the advantage by curling a beautiful first-time shot past Hugo Lloris from right inside the penalty area.
The win maintained United’s upward trend under Erik ten Hag after a challenging season debut, with Cristiano Ronaldo restricted to a spectator role from the bench.
They continue to occupy the fifth spot in the Premier League but are currently only one point behind Chelsea in fourth place.
Tottenham is still in third place, but they missed a chance to pass Manchester City and get to within one point of Arsenal.
“I am pleased with the team,” Ten Hag said. “I think it was the best team performance this season.
“You have seen today we are developing. You see how we want to play, we get better on the pitch every time. Spurs are a magnificent team so far this season, I said to the lads in the dressing room it was enjoyable to watch you.
“It was a squad performance. What we have seen today, we have 11 players who defend and 11 who attack. I am pleased with that. I will not say that I am totally satisfied. That has to be the standard at Manchester United.”
The one negative for United was Ronaldo leaving the bench and walking down the tunnel before the full-time whistle, something Ten Hag said he would “deal with” on Thursday.
Nearly all of the action in the first half was one-way, as Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris had to make several saves to maintain the scoreless.
Lloris had to be on guard just in the opening 25 minutes to stop attempts from Fernandes, Anthony, Fred, Marcus Rashford, and Luke Shaw.
Rashford, who started in place of Ronaldo, had the most obvious chance. And the attacker might have performed better after Fred played him clean through, but his shot was near enough to Lloris for the French goalkeeper to get down and turn the ball behind.
When Anthony cut inside on his left foot and curled into the far corner in the first half, Lloris was beaten just once, but Anthony’s shot hit the outside of the post.
However, after all of United’s frustration in the first half, it only took the hosts less than two minutes into the second half to eventually score with a stroke of luck.
Just outside the penalty area, Fred’s first-time shot from Jadon Sancho’s pullback appeared harmless until it hit Spurs defender Davies in the shin and bounced into the goal, catching Lloris off guard.
When a cross found the previously silent Harry Kane alone at the goal in the 68th minute, Tottenham appeared ready to score an improbable equalizer.
However, David de Gea stopped the England striker’s shot before the offside flag was raised, making the situation moot.
A minute later, Man United doubled its advantage. When Eric Dier attempted to enter the box, the amazing Fred broke through it first. When the ball dropped to Fernandes, who finished with a refined, perfect shot, Lloris had no chance.
Rashford was once again stopped by Lloris when he may have scored, allowing United to increase their margin of victory. The most shots by a team in a Premier League game this season were taken by Ten Hag’s team, who had 28 in the contest. The 318th league game he has supervised between Serie A and the Premier League, it was also the most a team under Antonio Conte has faced in a game of the highest level.
“We have to be honest, United deserved to win,” Conte said. “They started the game very well. In our side, we did not start the game. It was really difficult, because we made a lot of simple mistakes.
“The table is good, but every time we play a high level game, we struggle. I want to be honest — against Chelsea we struggle, we lost against Arsenal and Manchester United we lost.
“In this type of game, I think that you need to arrive and not make big mistakes, with great concentration, great focus. You need to be ready to fight a war, or you die against your opponent. The level is very high, we are struggling.”