1. There is a psychological complex when it comes to the off-field relationship between Tottenham and Manchester United. United are credited with coining the term “lads, it’s Tottenham” to sum up the mental fragility of the London club. That dismissive statement, combined with United poaching Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov, adds another layer to the recent rumors of United attempting to lure Mauricio Pochettino as manager.
  2. Indeed, much of the intrigue in this matchup comes from its potential managerial implications. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could do Tottenham supporters a favor in beating Pochettino, thereby strengthening his own case for permanent role at United. Diego Simeone and Gareth Southgate are now also rumored candidates for Solskjaer’s position.
  3. This is Solskjaer’s first real test after five consecutive wins against the likes of Newcastle, Bournemouth, and Reading. More specifically, this will be the first time he’s on the back foot and asked to rely on more than his side’s superior individual talent to get a result. He strikes with the first tactical surprise of the match, benching Romelu Lukaku for Jesse Lingard’s movement and counter attacking ability at the striker position. 
  4. Tottenham come out aggressive in possession early, switching the ball from wingback to wingback in trademark fashion.
  5. Whereas Solskjaer has Lingard playing a false nine, Harry Kane occupies a fixed position as a target striker flanked by the movement and energy of Son Heung-min and Dele Alli.
  6. Harry Winks creates the game’s first chance with a turn and a run up the middle. He mis-hits his shot, but his combination of skill on the turn and mobility to cover space made that sequence.
  7. Keeping the idea of mobility, Moussa Sissoko’s activity up and down the field is its own form of playmaking for Spurs.
  8. Lingard responds with United’s best opportunity off a scuffed clearance that fell to Ashley Young. Sissoko creates a chance for Tottenham, then United respond through Martial leading a counter attack resulting in Rashford getting a shot on target. This match is turning into an end-to-end event with the best opportunities coming off the space created by the opposition getting a shot on target.
  9. On that theme, again United counter off a Tottenham corner kick. Martial and Rashford are continually picking up the ball in their own half with space in front. A lack of cover in defensive transition is a number’s game with Tottenham attacking with their front free, Christian Eriksen, Sissoko, Winks, and Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies on the wing, leaving just Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to defend counters. 
  10. Martial then creates a chance off an error from Trippier. This match is simple from United’s standpoint: get Martial and Rashford into space, and let them create something by beating a defender 1 v 1.
  11. That style is in contrast to Tottenham creating chances through the movement and quick touches of Eriksen, Son, Alli, and Kane straight down the middle. United are relatively static with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera being conservative in contrast to Winks and Sissoko creating pressure with their late runs.
  12. Another difference between both sides is how recklessly Davies and Trippier are pushing up in possession as compared to Luke Shaw and Young. That idea of mobility also plays out in their respective playmakers: Eriksen thrives in movement and touches in small spaces, Pogba with the long balls.
  13. Kane gets a goal wiped out through an offsides, but the move of Trippier crossing to a late running Alli, who cuts it back for Kane is an essential Spurs sequence.
  14. Now, with Spurs controlling the match with possession, United are happy to sit back. This forces Tottenham to build through long balls from their center backs, with one to Kane and another to Alli. That is how Chelsea unlocked Newcastle, this with ball from David Luiz to Pedro, the day before.
  15. Sissoko pulls up with a muscle injury. He comes back on after receiving treatment but gets subbed off for Erik Lamela. Taking off his energy and movement is a huge loss for Pochettino, who must reconsider his shape in the second half. Lamela has more link up ability than Sissoko, but is lacking in covering on defensive transitions which is essential with how high their fullbacks play.
  16. And there it is: Trippier turns the ball over with Lingard deflecting his pass. Pogba unleashes a patented diagonal in space to Rashford, who does the rest and puts it far post past Lloris. That sequence is Pogba’s bread and butter, as we saw in last summer’s World Cup.
  17. Pochettino must re-balance his shape going into half. The two sides remain unchanged for the second half, save the Sissoko injury.
  18. Tottenham create an early chance through Kane going right up the middle, with Lamela helping the link-up play. Lamela is playing right behind Kane, with Eriksen dropping back alongside Winks.
  19. Again Tottenham threaten De Gea, this time with an Alli header. And again, Lamela plays a role in the build up.
  20. Perhaps freed up by Sissoko’s injury, Pogba is finding a lot of attacking room in this second half for late runs. He has a header saved by Lloris, then another opportunity that gets deflected high.
  21. Watching Pogba get that space is a good reminder of how stretched Tottenham’s squad is without Eric Dier as cover.
  22. With Lamela, Eriksen, and Winks as the midfield trio, Spurs are even more susceptible to counter attacks.
  23. Yet with all the talk about positioning, these matches do come down to individual moments. Alli had a 1 v 1 with David De Gea and should have scored, as Rashford did earlier. United left themselves wide open with Pogba and Matic out of position on a counter, and who else but Eriksen to play the perfect through ball.
  24. De Gea comes through again with another leg save off Alderweireld from a corner kick. That is at least two goals he’s saved now.
  25. De Gea saves a free kick from Kane. This is some performance.
  26. Lukaku comes on for Martial, with Lingard moving to the right side.
  27. Alli gets another chance saved by De Gea, with the sequence beginning right up the middle with Eriksen.
  28. A potential flashpoint: Pogba puts his studs into Alli’s thigh. He escapes with a yellow, but that definitely could have been something more.
  29. Fernando Llorente comes on for Spurs to provide another direct focal point.
  30. Solskjaer reinforces United’s defense in subbing on Diego Dalot for Lingard.
  31. But that defensive cover doesn’t matter with De Gea’s form. First, he gets another leg save on Kane, and another save on Llorente. That’s his 10th and 11th save of the match.
  32. There’s one final chance for Spurs through an Llorente’s cross going just beyond Kane’s reach. Spurs never quite got that one final opportunity on goal, although it probably would have been saved by De Gea anyway.
  33. There is some worry over Kane, who limps back into the dressing room following the final whistle.
  34. Did Solskjaer prove himself tactically? That is the one remaining question as he ticks the requisite boxes of understanding a club’s culture and connecting with his players. Putting Lingard in a false 9 role to help solidify United’s defensive shape was a match-winning decision as Lingard’s deflection literally lead to a goal-scoring sequence. Then again, no one plays a better long ball in transition than Pogba and De Gea had probably the best goalkeeping performance of this Premier League season. But every manager relies upon their world-class talent winning matches by taking their chances. We can wonder whether United were this good all along, and if any manager following Mourinho would have gotten these performances. As we continue to dive deeper into the discussion of whether Solskjaer should be named the permanent manager of United, we are running out of “what-ifs” after six straight wins.
  35. But Tottenham had so, so many chances to not only equalize but to win the match outright. In losing Sissoko and potentially Kane to injury, and in losing Son to the Asian Cup, and having already lost Dier, we can see Pochettino’s ability to stretch his resources into results. Under that context, we realize how important Pochettino is to the club symbolically. If he were to leave for United or Real Madrid, Spurs would lose more than just a tactician but the overall vision for a side punching well above their financial weight. It’s not only in the results, but in changing how a club views itself. Then again, if Pochettino were to leave for those rumored clubs, he wouldn’t have as much control or synergy through bringing players along in the youth system to his influence on transfers. Considering that context, both Solskjaer and Pochettino may be currently in the managerial position that fits them best.