5 Things We Learned: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester United 3
By Thomas Doyle
1. Ferdinand can still deliver
While Rio Ferdinand may have missed out on the England squad in their 3-2 defeat to Holland last week, the Englishman’s imperious display at the back proved that he can still compete at the top level for Manchester United. Whether it was due to his recent injury troubles, question marks over form, or Pearce’s desire to make a statement about the ‘golden generation’, Chris Smalling was preferred as the younger, vibrant option by interim manager Stuart Pearce for the Wembley clash. While Ferdinand may have cause to wonder whether his international career is winding down, he proved that while he may not have the pace of yesteryear, his anticipation is razor-sharp, allowing him the extra time needed to cover potential threats. At numerous times on Sunday Ferdinand raced to clear when David de Gea was slow in coming off of his line, and he marshalled the threat of in-form Emmanuel Adebayor and former team-mate Louis Saha superbly. There’s life in the old dog yet it seems.
2. Ashley Young can be lethal
After a bright start to his Old Trafford career –including a glittering performance in the 8-2 mauling of Arsenal – things were in danger of going seriously wrong for Ashley Young. A couple of unfortunate injuries have stalled his progress, and while he has a number of attributes, it seemed as though defenders were becoming wise to his tactic of cutting in from the left onto his right foot. However, against Tottenham, Young dispatched two finishes of the highest quality to remind us that he could be vital for Man United in the run-in. The first was a perfectly-executed scissor volley back across goal that eluded the onrushing defenders, while the second was a terrific effort that swerved away from the helpless Brad Friedel’s gloves and nestled in the top corner. Those that know how Young plays would have telegraphed the second strike all day long, but such was the speed and surety of his control, that by the time Spurs’ defence sensed danger, the ball was already on its way. If Young can get back to full fitness and build on this performance, then Sir Alex Ferguson will have three extremely dangerous wingers on his hands for the final stretch of the season.
3. A big game and a big save for David de Gea
The Spurs clash was perhaps David de Gea’s biggest test of the season. There have been serious question marks about the Spaniard’s ability to compete aerially in the physical Premier League, and the likes of Adebayor, Saha, Ledley King and Younes Kaboul presented a serious threat on Sunday afternoon. However, Spurs rarely troubled de Gea in the air, and while he was a little hesitant when coming off of his line, he dealt with the game confidently in general. Of more importance was the crucial one-handed stop to deny Spurs in the second half – at around 53 minutes in, Jake Livermore’s low shot clipped Saha’s calf and, despite the sudden change in direction, de Gea clawed the ball away in an outstanding display of athleticism. The keeper has been put on a specific diet and training programme in order to bulk up, but one thing for sure is that Ferguson has no need to worry about his shot-stopping ability.
4. Jonny Evans is growing into the shirt
With the singing of Phil Jones in the summer and an indifferent campaign last year, Jonny Evans’ career at Old Trafford looked uncertain, so it may come as a surprise for his doubters to see him dominating the back line week in week out now. Is it perhaps unwise to write off the potential and qualities of a young player following one disappointing season? In essence the injuries to Nemanja Vidic and the rest of the centre backs have helped him this season, yet nothing should be taken away from his displays. He has grown in confidence, and rarely commits himself to risky tackles. His ability on the ball has unquestionably improved, and he is showing authority in dealing with set-pieces. One moment in particular stood out on Sunday; with Spurs on the break, Evans darted in and won the ball with a superb sliding tackle that broke the move up and allowed United to retrieve possession; the Evans of last season would have tripped, or missed the ball completely. This year, Evans is quietly, but confidently, becoming a key fixture in the United team.
5. United have a clear run at Mancini’s men
Just as Han Solo sent Darth Vader spinning off into space to give Luke Skywalker a free run at the Death Star in (you’ve guessed it) Star Wars, United’s dispatching of Spurs – and their title hopes – gives Ferguson’s men a clear run at City’s lead with their next seven games against bottom half opposition. While the home defeat to Blackburn should prevent any laziness from both fans and players, Ferguson would expect his team to pick up a near-perfect points haul before the clash at The Etihad. So, in the immortal words of Solo, Let’s blow this Thing and go home. Preferably with the title.