Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea produced a Wembley masterclass as interim manager Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer made it six wins out of six to damage Tottenham’s Premier League title ambitions.
Marcus Rashford’s low finish from Paul Pogba’s superb pass on the stroke of half-time stretched Solskjaer’s flawless start – but the Norwegian had De Gea to thank for a magnificent display as Spurs laid siege to United’s goal after the break.
The Spaniard made a succession of crucial interventions, 11 in total, including many with his feet, as Spurs tried in vain to avoid a defeat that makes their task of keeping pace with Liverpool and Manchester City even more arduous.
United showed great resilience to back up their early positive approach but it was De Gea who broke Spurs’ hearts by denying Harry Kane on several occasions, as well as Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld.
The result leaves Spurs nine points behind leaders Liverpool and United level on points with fifth-placed Arsenal as they revive their top-four hopes.
Few would have placed Solskjaer as a serious contender on any list to replace Jose Mourinho when he was sacked as United boss in December.
And while he may not be the front-runner yet, he has done everything asked of him and this victory against a team in title contention – and with a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who many regard as favourite to be next in the chair at Old Trafford – was the biggest statement of his credentials yet.
Make no mistake, Solskjaer relied hugely on De Gea’s brilliance as he formed a one-man barrier to defy Spurs to secure this win, but he also arrived with a positive mindset and team selection that put United right in the game and led to them getting that half-time lead through Rashford’s goal on the counter-attack.
This was his sternest test after a relatively friendly introductory fixture list and, with the help of De Gea, he was able to complete it successfully.
Solskjaer has given a disaffected squad unity of purpose once more, with Pogba seemingly instantly rejuvenated by Mourinho’s departure, and this run of wins has rebuilt fractured confidence and belief.
The odds on may yet be against Solskjaer claiming the job permanently as other names, such as England manager Gareth Southgate and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, are mentioned, but if he is undertaking an audition, wins like this do his chances no harm.
De Gea gave a brilliant demonstration of goalkeeping – showing that feet can be utilised as successfully as hands when the occasion demands – but there was also real cause for frustration for Spurs.
Pochettino’s side created chance after chance after half-time only to be thwarted by De Gea, captain Kane his victim on several occasions.
No-one could question Spurs’ heart or application but they may feel they could – and should – have done better with many of their opportunities, often giving De Gea the chance to make the saves when more accurate finishing would have left him with no hope.
This result is a bitter blow to Spurs as they try to keep pace with Liverpool and Manchester City and the sight of Kane limping heavily and accompanied by a physio after the final whistle is an added worry for Pochettino.
Spurs have had damaging home defeats to Wolves and now United in recent weeks – they cannot afford many more if they are to maintain a meaningful title pursuit.
Man of the match – David de Gea
‘Man Utd expect to win every game’ – what they said
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino: “I am so pleased and I’m proud. After four and a half years, the second half was the best performance I have seen Tottenham play. It was amazing. In football, sometimes you deserves to win and don’t and other times, you do not and you win. That is why we love football.
“We conceded a counter-attack in the first half but the second was the best performance I have seen. We were not clinical and sometimes you score with less opportunities but it is nothing to complain about. The team played unbelievable football and everyone who watched the game can feel the same as myself.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer: “You expect to win every single game at Manchester United. You won’t, but you must think that. That’s the mentality of this group.
“In the first half we were excellent and in the second they put us under pressure. We could have scored a few as well but we had a good back four and David [de Gea] was unbelievable.
“We created enough chances to put the game away by the break, but if you don’t score you will be under pressure. We defended fantastically.”