If you’re a Manchester United fan, you’re probably mostly pleased about what some called a heroic performance, a display of champions, in the snow, hanging on to a Robin van Persie goal for 65 minutes only to concede and equalizer on the last minute of extra time. For the rest, those looking for flaws, it was a timid and reserved exhibition from one-man team.
There’s a to-do list on Alex Ferguson’s blackboard for every stadium, for every match. Against Tottenham, at White Hart Lane, it’s usually to draw Spurs forward and then hit them with the counter attack. It wasn’t exactly a lighting quick counter that led to Robin van Persie’s goal, but there wasn’t anyone covering him as he rose to score a header, his 18th goal of the season, as Hugo Lloris dived for a save that never happened.
Between that and the very late Tottenham goal, it was mostly the home side piling on pressure. Ferguson was very cautious and fearing of Moussa Dembele and Gareth Bale, the real menace Tottenham had to offer, but while slowing the two midfielders he helped Jermain Defoe get away from his markers more than once. The striker who never seems to get the credit he deserves simply couldn’t find a way to get past David de Gea, who had a few impressive saves.
Van Persie disappeared, and United went into a very defensive mode, as both Phil Jones and Michael Carrick did an outstanding job in keeping Dempsey and Dembele in check for most of the game, while Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie were left without much to do, having no one really joining them in attacks as the game moved on.
Wayne Rooney entered the match and was fouled in the box, but never got a whistle for it. Tottenham had their fair share of complaints earlier on, that didn’t really impress anyone. One of the keys for United all day was stopping Aaron Lennon, which worked quite well for almost the entire 90 minutes, but not beyond them, as the calm winger set up Clint Dempsey for the late, late equalizer.
The defending of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand was exceptional. The entire United defensive unit threw itself at anything and everything making its way into their box, but when a team looking to win a title (and more, according to Ferguson, musing about trebles), shouldn’t be held back for so long, narrowly defending its goal against constant attacking waves, leaving a minimal task force in order to break the siege.
But Ferguson didn’t want much more out of this one. The loss to Spurs changed the way he looked at this season and his tactical approach, but it didn’t make him suicidal. Play your strengths, hide your flaws. Playing with an enforced midfield using the diamond was the way to halt Tottenham for most of the match, and it nearly wasn’t enough for the point if De Gea and his centre backs weren’t having a brilliant day. For scoring and attacking, at the moment, there’s only one man good enough to count on. Alex Ferguson may be insisting United aren’t a one-man team, but every match that goes by suggests otherwise.