Clutch Anthony Martial elevates drab Manchester United to victory over Tottenham Hotspur: Key talking points

"Are you not entertained?"

Russell Crowe’s famous words, bellowed out at a bloodthirsty mob of Romans in Gladiator, questioned how barbaric humans could become in the need, nay, desire for theatre.

Manchester could have done with a bit of that on Saturday as Tottenham Hotspur paid a visit to the Theatre of Dreams. There is a certain irony in calling Old Trafford by its fabled name in recent times. Most of the season ticket holders will attest to the state of vapid stupour to which they have been relegated when the team plays at home, especially against a ‘big club’. And it has been no different as United embark on what seems to be their most dull run of the season. With a draw at Anfield that felt like a loss and a loss at Huddersfield that felt like a beating, the only thing good about United on Saturday was the result. One can’t help but recoil in horror as the fixture list reads Chelsea away, Arsenal away and Manchester City at home, in the coming few weeks.

Nevertheless, if the need arises to talk to your friends about this match, here's a quick rundown of some of the talking points in a game that should have been a stalemate, if not for a minor error near the end.

Clutch Anthony Martial elevates drab Manchester United to victory over Tottenham Hotspur: Key talking points

Manchester United's Anthony Martial celebrates scoring against Tottenham on Saturday. AP

It’s all in the midfield

In a game largely played along the 20 yards of either team’s halfway line, it was United who gained control. The absence of Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick meant that players like Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic were largely tasked with keeping creative outlets like Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen quiet.

And that is exactly how things went down as United were always in command and did not allow the away team to create a worthy chance until the 77th minute. People who look at this performance and take digs at manager Jose Mourinho for being too defensive — even at home — don’t appreciate how good Tottenham really are. Mistakes, especially at the back, cost against this team. And the rewards for going forward are not aplenty considering that the Spurs backline is one of the best in the Premier League, if not the world.

Young and Valencia lead the way

A frenetic end to the first half was exemplified by Manchester United’s fullbacks. Both Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia — winger-converted-defenders — were leading the way with authoritative action on the Tottenham wide players. Serge Aurier and Alli tried to combine and take Young on, only for the ex-Aston Villa winger to stifle and frustrate the Spurs attackers. After a crushing defeat to Huddersfield, wherein the passion of his players was questioned by Mourinho, it was United’s old guard standing up and leading the way.

It may have been smooth sailing in the league till now, but Tottenham provided the 20-time Premier League champions with their sternest test at Old Trafford this season. And it was eventually a couple of Sir Alex Ferguson signings who were showing the rest what it meant to wear the United shirt.

Tottenham work because their system works

When the right manager is given time and full reign over the team, the results are clear for all to see — it doesn’t matter if its Real Madrid, Manchester United or West Ham United. Tottenham have earned the respect that is shown to them on the football pitch. The problem with Spurs though was highlighted in manager Mauricio Pochettino’s ‘disdain’ for the Carabao Cup. Think of it this way, if there was a way to describe the present Tottenham team, it would be to call them the perfect squad... that hasn’t won a trophy yet.

And the only way they make a step up to the next level is to win silverware. But that can’t happen if the manager chooses to follow a mindset, wherein certain trophies are coveted but others are not worth fighting for. Championship teams are defined by their hunger to win everything in sight and that has been the difference between Mourinho and Pochettino in the past two years. While the once 'Special One' happily gobbled up three trophies last season and built a challenge for the squad to go one better, the former Southampton gaffer made it another season without anything to show for.

Jose Mourinho with Mauricio Pochettino after the match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. AP

Jose Mourinho with Mauricio Pochettino after the match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. AP

Anthony Martial is a clutch player

The 87th minute.
The 84th minute.
The 90th minute.
The 81st minute.

Those are the timings of Anthony Martial’s goals for United this season when he has come on from the bench.

His goal against Spurs was no coincidence if one looked at his positioning. With a three-man backline that had grown weary after successfully taming Romelu Lukaku’s attempts to hold up play in the Spurs' final third, Martial brought pace to the front and instead of his preferred position on the left, was nestled between the three central defenders. All it needed was the Spurs backline to make one mistake for the Frenchman to once again showcase his stunning composure in a one-on-one situation.

Pochettino needs to work on his substitutes

While Manchester United’s substitutes have had the most impact in the Premier League this season, according to a Telegraph report, the Spurs are a dismal 15th when it comes to goals or assists made by substitutes. This is mostly down to two reasons. The first one being that the London club has been fairly dominant and has thus not really required its bench to turn up.

The second and far more telling reason is that their bench doesn’t really have the ability to impact play. Poch played the only two substitutions he could have made today in Moussa Dembele and Fernando Llorente. Not strengthening his squad in the summer and the absence of Harry Kane and Erik Lamela on the teamsheet made its presence felt today.

All in all, football is a game of results and had Martial’s goal not counted, this was a fairly even, if not drab contest between two teams who are likely title contenders, come May. As a critic, one can’t help but see the logic employed by either manager. But as a fan of football, it is in no one’s interest to watch a contest that is so heavily centred around the outcome rather than the means to the outcome. For now, if watching quality football is your priority as a fan, I would suggest the other club in Manchester.

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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2017 07:54:15 IST

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