(Photo by derJani/Pixabay)
Manchester United have overcome arguably the worst VAR decision of the season to beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1, further strengthening their grip on second place in the Premier League.
With Leicester City losing to West Ham, the Red Devils moved seven points clear of the Foxes with just seven games remaining.
More VAR Controversy
In a season mired in controversial VAR decisions, referee Chris Kavanagh made one of the worst decisions in the history of VAR, chalking off a fine strike from Edinson Cavani for an apparent foul by Scott McTominay in the build-up.
As McTominay sped past Heung-Min Son, his trailing arm brushed the South Korean, who threw himself to the ground theatrically.
After checking the replay, rather than booking Son for diving, Kavanagh inexplicably awarded Spurs a free-kick.
To add insult to injury, just seven minutes later Son, who had somehow made a miraculous recovery from his injury, fired Spurs ahead after some fine build-up play from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura.
Spurs goal galvanised a United side still reeling from being denied a worthy opener, and the away-day specialists equalised in the 57th minute as Fred pounced on a rebound to make the score 1-1.
In the 79th minute Cavani got his goal, with a fine diving header from a superb Mason Greenwood cross.
Greenwood is coming to the boil at just the right time for United, and he sealed the win with the third goal of the match in stoppage time.
Manchester United: A Team On A Mission
After some stuttering form before the international break, United have come back a team on a mission, and look set to finish second in the Premier League, while still holding ambitions of European glory in the Europa League.
Previous United squads in recent years would have dropped their heads after going behind in such disappointing circumstances, but this United side looked determined to put the game to rights on this occasion, which gave their manager much pride.
“Character again. When you get the injustice and adversity, that decision [to disallow the goal] is just shocking and to come together. Yeah, we lost our focus for maybe a few moments and minutes and unfortunately conceded a goal. But we came together and composed ourselves. We went there as a team on a mission, we looked like a team on a mission, that this is not going to derail our season.”
“The game is gone. The game has gone if that's a clear and obvious error. It's a clear and obvious error that he [referee Chris Kavanagh] looks at it. It was a perfectly good goal, you know, I think that kickstarted us though. I know we conceded a goal just after, but the performance from then to the end of the game was so much better. How is Scott [McTominay] running? I run like this [motions] and use my arms when I run. I have to say if my son stays [down] like this for three minutes and gets 10 of his mates around him, if he gets that in the face from one of his other mates. Yeah, he won't get any food [from me]!” said Solskjaer.
Great Response From United
After their midweek exertions in Europe and going a goal down against a good team, United could perhaps have been forgiven if they put in a sluggish performance.
However, they showed a great response and great character, something that was a hallmark of the teams Solskjaer played in under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“We did start like a team that looked like it had been in Europe on Thursday night. It was a great reaction, an absolutely top reaction and we played some great stuff in the second half. After they scored, we felt the injustice and adversity and that went into our players' heads. It was good character we showed and we had to come back from it. We can't let those decisions ruin a good season for us.”
“In the second half, especially in the last hour, it was very, very good with quality. The ball never gets tired when you move it quickly. Edinson's was a performance like today that we, as a club, have missed for a few years. We haven't had that type of no. 9 for a long, long spell. We had a little meeting with the boys, this morning, and said we need to use him correctly with his movement. Fred even scored which tells you everything about the performance.”
“The cross [from Greenwood] is something we worked on and Edinson's movement, of course he is excellent. And that goal, that shows what Mason has improved on this season. Normally, defenders want to show him down the right side. Okay, if you want to show him down the right, on the outside, he's got a good right foot as well. Great goal.”
“Our prep was different than normal today, it was done by videos and meetings because we flew back Friday morning, didn’t get back until the afternoon and needed some recovery again on Saturday so we’ve prepared everything – we don’t go too far away from our principles anyway and we know Tottenham, they’re always difficult to play through. You need to earn the space, you need to go from side to side, you need to play round them at times, get crosses in, but also when it opens up, then you play through the middle. The first goal, was some good play through the middle in the end. Second, great cross and then after that more spaces are created because they have to go forward,” added Solskjaer.
Reds Atone For Old Trafford Embarrassment
After being beaten 6-1 by Spurs at Old Trafford earlier in the season, former manager Jose Mourinho never hid his delight at getting one over his former employers.
Since then, both managers have traded barbs in their press conferences, but Solskjaer insists that despite the digs and their clash over the VAR decision, the two managers get on well.
“I think sometimes some words are being said, sometimes you feel sorry for – the most important thing is that we’re good colleagues and – call it friends, before, after and sometimes during a game you can have a little bit of a dispute and I think we’ve got the utmost respect for each other and I think that’s the point here. Sometimes it’s some words being said that you don’t really [mean] – I had a couple of words I can take back at that time.”
Title Still Out Of Reach
Despite leaders Manchester City losing at home to Leeds, any hopes of catching their neighbours would be a long shot at best.
“It’s not theoretically impossible, but it would take a lot and it would take a miracle, but sometime miracles happen. For us though, we just have to get as many points on the board as possible and keep getting the wins that we need to make sure we’ve improved from last season and we want to at least get as close to them as possible,” concluded Solskjaer.
Even though their win at Spurs is unlikely to have the direction of the Premier League trophy change this season, a character-building win such as this helps to develop the mindset of a team looking to take the next step sooner rather than later.