Bruno Fernandes seals Manchester United’s worthy win against blunt Spurs

When Bruno Fernandes curled in Manchester United’s second goal on 69 minutes a seated Erik ten Hag raised his arms in delight. The strike directly followed Harry Kane missing a gilded opportunity to equalize when smashing against David de Gea from close range. From that the hosts raced 80 yards upfield with Antony and the excellent Fred involved before United’s talisman bent a supreme finish past Hugo Lloris for only a second of the term.

Ten Hag had spoken of how more goals would come for Fernandes and provide all that has been missing from the Portuguese. As with the playmaker’s performance, United’s display this evening felt a considerable step forward as they dominated from first whistle to last, Marcus Rashford going close to a third towards the end in a victory that lifts them to 19 points, four Tottenham behind, who remain third, and Manchester City in second.

Diogo Dalot’s wild shot opened dates. This was answered by Rodrigo Bentancur’s raid from midfield which also ended with the target being missed, though De Gea had to stay alert.

United went on to dominate the half, their next foray a break featuring Fernandes’s dummy and Fred’s through ball that closed with Antony’s shot being spilled by Lloris for a corner. From this Fred’s shot warmed the fingers of the Spurs captain. Moments later, Antony cut on to his left foot and went close to curling in the opener.

The early action was all via rapid switches in possession and territory, hardly a surprise as here was a contest pitting a counterattacking unit by default against one by design. United were the former due to Ten Hag’s side being a (sizeable) work in progress while Tottenham, under Antonio Conte’s tutelage, were the proponents of quick breaks by design that relied on the devilry of Son Heung-min and Kane.

Both of the latter were in Spurs XI Cristiano Ronaldo for United, who was dropped in unlike of Rashford. His manager stated that the 37-year-old’s stamina was not up to the “good press” needed to stymie Tottenham’s ease at building from defence. The visitors showed a pleasing tempo in one sequence that featured Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Ivan Perisic stroking the ball around but the attack faltered when Son could not beat De Gea with his head.

Fred had been preferred over Scott McTominay to partner Casemiro in midfield and a ball that created the clearest opening yet perhaps answered why. Rashford should have scored from it but fired too close to Lloris who, seconds later, saved again. This time Fernandes’s free-kick, after a foul on Fred, was tipped over.

Fred’s shot deflects off Ben Davies to give Manchester United the lead. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

United were a red swarm all over their visitors. Dalot raced towards the byline, dug a cross out, and Luke Shaw displayed his technical accomplishment when hammering a volley at the top corner, only for a flying Lloris to repel it. Then Casemiro, at distance, blazed inches wide.

A first sour note for the home team came when Fernandes dribbled a pass short for the second time in quick succession. Ten Hag roared disapproval at his captain, though United were soon enjoying more keep-ball, a dazzling moment coming when Antony turned Perisic inside-out and raced off along the right.

At the close of the first half this was, perhaps, the finest 45 minutes yet under Ten Hag. A goal would’ve crowned it but the sight of Bentancur ripping into Conte indicated the disarray United had Spurs in.

The mission for Ten Hag’s men was to retain control and, surely, they would breach their opponents. It happened inside two minutes of the second half. Fernandes roved into space, fed Antony and he picked out Jadon Sancho on the other corner of the area. The winger tapped back across to Fred and the Brazilian’s shot pinballed off Ben Davies and in. United jubilation was followed by Rashford going close to a second but Lloris, despite going the wrong way, stuck out a left hand to palm the ball clear.

Tottenham were existing on scraps at best, Kane’s shot their sixth compared to their hosts’ 21. Sancho unloaded yet another and Rashford went down in the area with Eric Dier in close attention. When no penalty was awarded, the center-forward was as incensed as Ten Hag who waved his arms and fumed on the touchline.

Tottenham had been reduced to a ghost team unable to press United or beat the two- and three-man squeeze Ten Hag’s team put expertly on them when in possession. Might they, though, still pull off the kind of smash-and-grab result they did at Manchester City last season in that 3-2 win? The odds felt severely stacked against it.

Ten Hag introduced McTominay for Antony for extra security, then Anthony Elanga and Christian Eriksen later, with Ronaldo walking off the tunnel at the end of the 90 minutes for some reason.

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