Tottenham score inside first minute en route to easy win vs. Man United
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Tottenham's impressive 2-0 home win over Manchester United.
1. Spurs blow United away, boost Champions League hopes
Tottenham forced themselves back into contention for a top-four finish and made Alexis Sanchez endure a miserable return to North London with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Manchester United at Wembley.
Sanchez, making his Premier League debut for United after his recent transfer from Arsenal, cut a frustrated figure as Spurs coasted to the points after taking the lead through Christian Eriksen's goal on 11 seconds. An own goal by Phil Jones on 28 minutes extended Tottenham's lead, and United were fortunate not to concede a 31st-minute penalty after Antonio Valencia fouled Dele Alli 12 yards from goal.
But while Tottenham were hugely impressive, United produced arguably their worst performance of the season, prompting Jose Mourinho to substitute Paul Pogba after 62 minutes following the £89 million midfielder's anonymous display. Marouane Fellaini, Pogba's second-half replacement, was himself withdrawn after just seven minutes, prompting the Belgium international to take off his shirt and march straight down the tunnel.
United clearly failed to perform, but their defeat could also be attributed to Mourinho's unusually adventurous team selection against a top-six rival. Meanwhile, Spurs took full advantage by exposing the fault lines in United's line-up and claiming a win that moves them to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea.
2. Man United still defensively weak against top opposition
Watching this game, it was hard to believe Manchester United went into it boasting the best defence in the Premier League. Mourinho's team had also gone six games in all competitions -- a run stretching back to the 2-2 Old Trafford draw against Burnley on Dec. 26 -- without conceding a goal, but their obduracy lasted just 11 seconds against Spurs after a defensive meltdown that led to Eriksen scoring his early goal.
United have been solid in recent weeks, but they have been largely untested during that run. This was the first real challenge since facing Manchester City at home in early December, though, and they also lost on that occasion, going down 2-1 to their neighbours.
United's problems at Wembley stemmed from Mourinho's decision to start with Pogba and Nemanja Matic in a midfield two, but the back four were awful throughout the game. Ashley Young and Phil Jones were both at fault for Eriksen's opener, with Jones scoring the own goal on 28 minutes that doubled the hosts' lead.
Chris Smalling was badly exposed by Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane, with the England defender backing up Gareth Southgate's claims that he is unconvincing with the ball at his feet. Valencia also had a poor game, with the right-back lucky not to concede a penalty after a first-half foul on Alli.
Mourinho does have solutions. He can restore Luke Shaw at left-back in place of Young, while Eric Bailly will soon be fit to return at centre-half after he recovers from injury. But the defence will remain a concern, especially when up against the very best in the Champions League.
3. Spurs hit the launchpad for crucial month ahead
It would not have been a huge overstatement to suggest that this game was the start of a make-or-break period for Tottenham's season. Next week's FA Cup fourth-round replay at home to Newport County aside, this was the first in a crucial period of four games for Mauricio Pochettino's men at home and abroad, with Premier League games against Liverpool and Arsenal next up before their Champions League round-of-16 first-leg tie against Juventus in Turin.
But their emphatic destruction of United proved they have the credentials to emerge from that run with hopes intact in both the Premier League and Champions League.
Since enjoying a similarly eye-catching win against Real Madrid at Wembley in November, Spurs have stuttered and spluttered, struggling to reproduce that performance. And with United travelling to London having added Alexis Sanchez to their squad this month, Mourinho's men had the air of a team confident enough to win at Wembley. But Spurs rose to the challenge, and with Eriksen and Alli both outstanding, they proved too strong for the visitors.
This was Spurs at their best, and they will need to maintain that level to win against Liverpool, Arsenal and Juve. But they put down a marker by beating United and their belief will now shoot through the roof.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_