The only concern for Manchester United must be that this powerful, mature and tactically intelligent show has only delayed the inevitable. There have been too many false dawns under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and although there was much to admire in the way his team came out in the matches after a terrible week, it is too early to know whether revealing Tottenham’s mistakes means that a corner has been turned.
There must be more of these achievements from United before anyone can say that Solskjær’s job is safe, and it must be acknowledged that this victory, sealed by clinical endings from Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford, had something to do with the level for the opposition.
This was a miserable experience for the Spurs, who are driven into mediocrity under their uninspiring manager, Nuno Espírito Santo. Daniel Levy, the club’s chairman, must know that it is unsustainable. Levy heard loud shouts urging him to step down when Rashford came off the bench to make it 3-0 in the dying stages, and there was also loud mockery of Nuno as he replaced Lucas Moura with Steven Bergwijn in second half, chants of “You do not know what you are doing” a reminder that Solskjær is not the only manager with problems.
Nevertheless, Solskjær deserves the credit for improving United after last weekend’s chaos against Liverpool. There was steel strength on the Norwegian team, which is up in fifth place, but more importantly, there was a well-executed plan. The switch to a back three seemed to be the first clean sheet since August, and Solskjær could take enormous pleasure in getting the best out of Ronaldo, who benefited from having Cavani next to him in the attack.
United’s veteran front two proved to be far too cunning for Nuno’s defenders, and for Ronaldo this was a reminder that the 36 – year – old’s lack of pressure on the ball will not always be an obstacle to success. The striker’s goal, a brutal volley that bounced past Hugo Lloris shortly before the break, felt like a statement: write me off on your danger.
It was a special effort from Ronaldo, which exuded conviction after being picked out by Bruno Fernandes, and he was later to set up Cavani’s goal with a deft pass in the 64th minute.
In those moments, Solskjær could see a new identity form, even though the Cavani-Ronaldo partnership together has an age of 70. United’s manager had to respond after a week of intense speculation about his future, and it was encouraging to see him adapt and prioritize solidity over flair, the switch to 3-4-2-1 gives his team more balance and muscle than Spurs.
The changes had a calming effect on United, who were harder to play through with Scott McTominay and Fred a strong duo in midfield. Solskjær believed that McTominay was the best player on the field, and he also praised Raphaël Varane, who excelled along with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof at the back after returning from an injury. Harry Kane was never allowed to sniff.
Spurs were average and created a bit again. Son Heung-min volleyed over from close range and Cristian Romero got a goal rejected for offside, but Nuno’s team did not test David de Gea a single time and it was not a surprise when they came back.
United had created the better openings, Cavani’s movement worried Romero and Eric Dier, and they led after 39 minutes. Fernandes, stationed in the No. 10 position, had time to look up and bend a glorious ball over Spurs left back, Ben Davies, who had a perfect overview of Ronaldo peeling away from him and crashing an angled volley past Lloris.
There was not much the Spurs could have done to stop Ronaldo. However, there was more they could do with their overall performance. Their midfielders, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, were bad on the ball, Kane was weak-minded, and that summed up the lack of precision when Giovani Lo Celso squeezed an opportunity to release Son in the 51st minute.
United played with more intent, Fernandes again sent Ronaldo through to shoot past Lloris. Spurs were relieved to see the flag up for offside.
Soon there was buh from the Spurs fans, although it was hard to understand why they turned on Nuno to replace Moura with Bergwijn. The decision made sense: Moura, willing but purposeless on the right wing, had not noticed much.
But the replacement did not improve the Spurs. Soon the two were down, Fernandes robbed Skipp and found Ronaldo. The striker released Cavani, who hit Lloris with a nice dink.
Spurs, down to eighth, were finished. Rashford ran through to slip a third past Lloris, and the final stages played out with United fans roaring their support for Solskjær. After all the whispering about dissatisfaction in the locker room, they have not given up on him yet. More relevant, players still believe.