Forget all the brave claims, all the optimism, all the belief that this team would be different. In one combination of mistakes by Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier it all slipped away, and with it, perhaps the dreams of this squad, its manager, and its fan base. One can’t help feel that this year peaked at half time at Wembley Wednesday night, and now we are staring at the abyss. Madrid win Wednesday, we still have to survive a test in Dortmund, and either the Europa League or a knockout match with the likes of Barcelona or PSG awaits.
Of course for significant stretches of this game we were the better side. We pressed well, controlled midfield, kept advancing the ball into United’s half. The defence, after a shaky beginning, appeared well-organised. Until it wasn’t. But you see the object of the game is to score, and but for the one marvelous opportunity with Dele from Eriksen, Spurs never had a true chance. And that’s what missing Kane meant. It was as if Eriksen and Dele kept making passes to spots where they assumed someone would be because that’s where Harry would be. Only he was nowhere in sight.
As on Wednesday night it was the opponents who began the second half with purpose and it took an alert play from Davies to prevent a carbon copy goal as the Hammers’ first—keeper parries, forward there to deposit the rebound. Ayew was unmarked, not so Rashford. Lukaku could have won it with an exquisite header minutes before his next header set up Martial for the winner. Aldweireld was slow to De Gea’s kick, Dier was abysmally late to Lukaku’s pass, Lloris had no chance against Martial. Would Sanchez have done better? I think we know the answer to that question.
More concerning was the early substitution of Son—the one man, as on Wednesday night, that seemed capable of breaking down Mourinho’s defence. The game became more open with Dembele and Llorente on the pitch, but then again we were the ones who conceded a goal. Was Poch making the move out of necessity, knowing Kane can’t play Wednesday, either, and trying to preserve Son for Madrid? Dembele frankly looked out of sorts, and in the final minutes when he and others had the ball just outside the box with multiple teammates poised to make runs at De Gea, he/they had no answers. It was almost as if they forgot they were supposed to try to score.
Perhaps, other then Alderweireld and Dier the true culprits are Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane. For the life of me the decision to play Kane vs Lithuania—second game in three days and an utterly meaningless one—is beyond baffling. Kane knew and Pochettino should have made sure Southgate knew that the toughest stretch of the season loomed. Madrid-liverpool-United-Madrid all in a two week span. If we want to judge individuals, Aurier played very well, Winks missed a couple of balls but continues to impress, the rest of the attackers were all a bit off their best. Lloris had his usual two poor clearances. The defence but for the twin mistakes was solid. So what—Manchester United got the three points.
Well scrap the Brave New World—it’s still the old one, and we’re back in third place, trophyless. Let’s see on Wednesday just what kind of grit and backbone this team possesses. They didn’t play badly today. They played hard. They just lost. They blinked. Now we find out their true character.
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