Tottenham brush Man United aside in fitting farewell to White Hart Lane
LONDON -- Three thoughts from the final game at White Hart Lane as Tottenham held on to beat Manchester United 2-1 ...
1. Spurs brush United aside in fitting WHL finale
Tottenham gave White Hart Lane the perfect send-off by brushing Manchester United aside in their final game at the stadium. From Victor Wanyama's fifth-minute opener, when he escaped Wayne Rooney to head home from 6 yards, Spurs were in cruise control against a United team with their focus fixed firmly on the Europa League final against Ajax on May 24.
Regardless of United's alternative priorities, Spurs were too strong and impressive for Jose Mourinho's team, and their unbeaten home record in the Premier League this season was never threatened by the visitors.
A year ago, United had the misfortune to be West Ham's opponents in the final game at Upton Park, and they lost on that occasion, too. But while that was a story of emotion pushing West Ham over the line at their old ground, Spurs were cold-headed and professional in seeing off United, with Mauricio Pochettino's team dominating for virtually the entire 90 minutes.
Harry Kane's goal three minutes into the second half put Spurs 2-0 ahead, and it should have been more, with David de Gea producing a string of important saves to keep the score respectable for United. Rooney's goal at 71 minutes gave the score an element of respectability for United, but they ultimately suffered the same fate as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City this season by coming away from White Hart Lane well beaten.
Spurs at least signed off at White Hart Lane with their pride intact, even if they were unable to deliver a trophy to ensure the perfect farewell.
2. Jones and Smalling are a worry for Mourinho
Eric Bailly's red card against Celta Vigo on Thursday ensures that the centre-half will miss Manchester United's Europa League final against Ajax through suspension, and the Ivorian's absence will be a huge blow for Jose Mourinho. If recent form is anything to go by, Daley Blind (who played at left-back against Spurs) will take one of the centre-half slots against Ajax, but this game showed that Mourinho will be reluctant to trust either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling alongside him in Stockholm.
The United manager has been critical of the pair in recent months, bemoaning the speed of their return from injury, but now that they are fit, he will have to choose one of them against Ajax.
Jones was tormented throughout this game by Kane, losing the physical battle and being dragged out of position time and time again by the Spurs forward. Smalling was no better, with the England defender's lack of concentration and composure at the heart of the defence giving Spurs endless encouragement.
Mourinho has other problems to solve if United are to salvage a Champions League spot from their miserable season by defeating Ajax, but he is a manager who always builds from the back, and he cannot do that with Smalling or Jones in the team. The loss to injury of Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw compounds Mourinho's problem, but he has to pick one of Smalling or Jones and hope that they perform better than they did here.
3. Rooney ends United's top-five goal drought
Forget the excuses about injuries and too many games: the fact that Wayne Rooney's 71st-minute goal at White Hart Lane was Manchester United's first away from home against any of the current top five squads this season says everything about the club's current inability to escape sixth position.
United fired blanks when losing 4-0 at Chelsea and 2-0 at Arsenal and also failed to score in drab 0-0 stalemates at Liverpool and Manchester City. They've been toothless away from Old Trafford this season -- to be fair, they've hardly been firing them in at home, either -- but to go so long without scoring against the club's title rivals underlines their failings.
Mourinho is fully aware of the problems he must address at United to turn the 20-time champions into genuine title contenders again, and at the top of his priority list is a centre-forward who can win tight games and make the difference against the top teams. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored goals but not in the biggest games, while this was Rooney's first goal against a top club this season.
United are simply too cautious and defensive away from home, a tactic that encourages opponents, particularly the strong ones, to push them back and attack. It seems a long time since the old days of United being prepared to take anyone on safe in the knowledge that even if their opponents scored four, United would win by scoring five.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_