Man Utd 3-1 Tottenham: Nani and Giggs put Reds back on top
By Daniel Alston.
It was a combination of experience and adventure for Manchester United, as goals from veteran Ryan Giggs and the skillful Nani defeated Tottenham and took them back to the top of the Premiership, putting pressure on title rivals Chelsea.
The Red Devils headed into the weekend knowing that 3 points at Old Trafford were needed if they were to keep pushing Roman Abramovich’s men to the wire, while Tottenham had their own goal to pursue. After conquering Arsenal and Chelsea last week, they were looking at a third and final scalp of the top 3, as well as claiming that 4th and last Champions League spot that has proved so elusive in past years.
Manchester United were without 34-goal Wayne Rooney once again, as well as first choice defenders Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville. Forgotten man Owen Hargreaves was able to be named a substitute as he finally looked to end his injury turmoil.
Tottenham welcomed back their own England international, Aaron Lennon on the bench after 4 months out. Wilson Palacios returned from suspension and Ledley King was declared fit after missing out against Chelsea.
A sunny lunchtime clash between the defending champions and a side bang in form; you’d have thought the action would be frantic, the game would be end-to-end and both keepers would have their work cut out for them.
Cue then, a rather boring first half. Half an hour was on the clock before there was even so much as a shot at goal – a hopeful 30-yard effort from Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Action soon flowed subsequently however. Dimitar Berbatov having two good chances, one magnificently blocked eight-yards out by the impressive King, the other sent just over.
On 35 minutes, Nani brought down Bentley as he meandered towards Edwin Van der Sar’s goal; the Portugal international picking up the game’s only booking. The resulting free-kick looked in the perfect position for the deadly left-foot of Gareth Bale, but the youngster cleared the bar with Tottenham’s best first half chance.
The interval brought about no changes, but mere minutes into the second period and it was already more interesting than the previous 45 minutes of play. Patrice Evra was suddenly seen kneeling and clutching his side before inexplicably vomiting on the pitch. Brief attention from the physio and some water was enough to allow the Frenchman to continue.
Berbatov doesn’t seem to get the goals his efforts sometimes deserve; quite akin to Carlos Tevez’s spell at Old Trafford. And today his name would again not figure on the score sheet, but his efforts proved just as effective.
Winning one of many headers in the air against the tall pairing of Tottenham’s centre-backs, United’s number 9 planted an Evra cross downwards and across goal. Darren Fletcher stretched out his left leg, but fell a few inches short of turning the ball into the net.
Minutes later, Berbatov’s unselfishness would result in a goal. Winning possession on the left, he cut inside away from his marker and at the retreating defence.
Perhaps missing the opportunity to fire goalwards, the Bulgarian then shifted and backheeled the ball into the path of Evra cutting around the back. Benoit Assou-Ekoto recklessly sliced him down and the penalty decision was never in doubt.
In the absence of top goalscorer Rooney, who better to step up to take the spot-kick on a pivotal Saturday afternoon than the evergreen Ryan Giggs?
Despite his prolonged career that stretches further back than the Premiership itself, the Welsh wizard had never taken a penalty in the league before Spurs’ defensive clumsiness created such an opportunity.
And with that experienced left boot, he took said opportunity to fire into Gomes’ right-hand corner. 1-0 United. (58)
Tottenham had already withdrawn the ineffective Jermain Defoe for Eidur Gudjohnsen as they sought a way through a resolute United defence. Succombing to injury, Antonio Valencia was replaced by Michael Carrick as another ex-Spurs player took to the field.
The play continued to be scrappy and slow, with further changes following. Lennon on for Bentley, and Evra off for John O’Shea.
And shortly after the substitutions, Tottenham were level.
Having won a corner, Bale swung in and King duly headed home with apparent ease. Replays showed that he may have climbed on the back of Carrick but also that Rafael had stepped out of his position on the far post just as King made contact. Had he stayed put, the young Brazilian would have stopped the ball from crossing the line. 1-1. (70)
With more danger coming from set pieces, greater height could be a deciding factor then. And they don’t come much taller than Peter Crouch who made a 74th minute appearance in place of Pavlyuchenko. United in turn, rolled their dice one last time by bringing on 18-year old Federico Macheda for Rafael; the young Italian sitting up top with Berbatov and Fletcher filling in at right-back.
After his explosive entrance into the fray at the back of last season with that goal against Aston Villa, injuries have seen Macheda make little impact this season. But moments after coming on here, he was involved in another game (and potentially season) changing moment.
Picking up a pass from Fletcher, the youngster cooly played the ball into the run of Nani, whose first touch allowed him to get away from his man. His second touch was even better: a deft chip over Gomes and into the back of the net. 2-1 United. (81)
No acrobatic celebration from the 23-year old this time around – an emotive display of relief and gratitude instead.
Near chances continued to appear and evaporate with last ditch challenges from Scholes, Vidic and Dawson all protecting their goalkeepers from further late action. The new found right-back Palacios however, wasn’t quite so kind.
As Nani picked up a loose ball on the halfway line, he raced towards goal and looked to twist and find the space to shoot. Upon entering the box, he appeared to do so, but just as he was set to pull the trigger, Palacios stumbled into the back of him and gave away another clumsy spot-kick.
Up stepped Giggs again, this time opting for the opposite corner but getting the same result. 3-1 United. (86)
And there’s still time left on the clock for Nani to be sick in similar fashion to Evra. Food poisoning, perhaps?
As the final whistle blows, there can be few complaints. Spurs end a run of 3 tough games with 6 points and one hand on that 4th place. United, the better side here, can now sit back and hope Chelsea falter against Stoke City.
Ultimately, neither club’s season was decided here, and it wasn’t really the 5-2 classic last year produced. Yet both sides are in the positions they would like to finish and the remaining two weeks of fixtures will most certainly be full of nail-biting and nervousness.
And without a few key players in a tough game, United will be buoyed by the performances of their Welsh talisman and the man who is finally emerging from the departed Ronaldo’s shadow. After much criticism and jeering, could Nani be the one that helps the Red Devils retain their crown for a fourth successive season?
What did you make of the match? Can United continue to pick up results without Rooney? Will Chelsea slip up? And what of Nani’s performance today? Leave your views below…
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