Marcus Rashford scored twice as Manchester United condemned former manager Jose Mourinho to defeat on his return to Old Trafford and ended Tottenham’s three-match winning streak under the Portuguese.
Rashford beat Tottenham keeper Paulo Gazzaniga at his near post after six minutes after the ball had broken to the England forward off Davinson Sanchez.
Then, after a long wait for a VAR check, Rashford kept his nerve to convert a penalty four minutes after the break, once it had been ruled the striker had been fouled by Moussa Sissoko.
Dele Alli had equalised with a brilliant goal at the end of the first half but United were good value for their victory after creating a number of excellent chances they failed to take.
Rashford was unable to become the first United player to score a league hat-trick since Robin van Persie’s memorable effort against Aston Villa in 2013 but he now has 12 goals in 13 games for club and country, and his nine Premier League goals leave him one short of his season best.
Mourinho’s return well-received
As expected, Mourinho was well received by the United fans, who never fell out with their former manager and have no particular axe to grind with him.
That respect will never match the affection Old Trafford has for Solskjaer though.
And the Norwegian used memories from his playing days to get the crowd up for the game by emerging last from the tunnel, triggering a song in his honour and the start of what proved to be a lively atmosphere.
Evidence of change at United came with a team that contained only five players Mourinho picked for the corresponding fixture last season.
That August night ended in a 3-0 defeat for United and an angry Mourinho demand for the media to show him some “respect” for his three Premier League titles.
The first of those triumphs is over 15 years ago now. Mourinho’s task is to show his best days are not behind him.
He didn’t make a particularly brilliant job of that in his last weeks in Manchester and, as happened so often then, tonight he spent long periods in his technical area with his hands in his pockets watching his team get outplayed.
His substitutes failed to inspire and with eight goals conceded in four games, Mourinho evidently has some work to do defensively.
At the end, he moved to shake Solskjaer’s hand before striding purposefully away to try and lift his players.
Dele’s delightful goal
For months, there had been a debate about what had happened to Dele Alli.
Once one of the golden boys of the English game, he had been reduced in influence and effectiveness and lost his place in Gareth Southgate’s national squad.
Who knew the answer was replacing the manager he loved?
One of the first things Mourinho did after replacing Maurizio Pochettino was to ask Alli whether it was him or his brother who had been playing for Tottenham in recent times.
This is definitely him.
His third goal in three Premier League games – he only scored three in his last 17 under Pochettino – was extraordinary.
Fred thought he had the situation under control as the ball looped up on the edge of the six-yard box.
But Alli leaned into the Brazilian, then rolled round him after a beautiful piece of control before turning a shot past De Gea into the far corner.
It was as breathtaking as the Cristiano Ronaldo-esque 35-yard shot Rashford rattled the bar with – and Mourinho loved it.
Solskjaer needs help
In his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer had dismissed as “lies” suggestions he had told his players he would be sacked if United lost against Tottenham, and again at Manchester City on Saturday.
The word remains from United that the Norwegian is under no immediate danger of losing his job amid an acceptance from those in senior positions that there will be bumps in the road this season.
This was the type of performance that gives credence to Solskjaer’s belief genuine progress is being made.
Yet one look at the respective substitutes’ bench shows United are crying out for reinforcements when the transfer window opens next month.
Whereas Mourinho had six experienced full internationals to turn to as he tried to change the game in Tottenham’s favour, Solskjaer had two and neither Luke Shaw nor Juan Mata have won a cap for quite some time.
At the end, Solskjaer milked the rapturous reception he was given.
If Sheffield United and Arsenal fail to win on Thursday, United will stay sixth. In order to stay there, Solskjaer will need more than the crowd behind him.
Man of the match – Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
‘Rashford’s best performance’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaking to BBC Sport: “You are always happy when you win. The boys are learning and improving all the time but tonight we were fantastic for long, long spells.
“The three points are massive for us. We’ve had too many draws this season and given too many points away from winning positions. It’s a great lesson the last two games [Sheffield United and Aston Villa] and we came back in a great manner.
“We’ve started the rebuilding. We’ve made decisions that we had to and we’re looking to build this club to be better again and I can’t think short term when I’m trying to do that. When we turn the corner and win three or four games on the run, they will get that Man Utd feeling again.”
On Marcus Rashford: “It’s the best game he’s had under me. He was mature and strong against good Premier League players. His penalty was calm and composed, and his [first] goal, we know he’s got those strikes in him, and he had three or four chances.
“It’s like he was back on the playground or in the back garden. We want them to have fun, there’s nothing dangerous out there – just 75,00 people wanting to see the best [of them].”
Tottenham head coach Jose Mourinho, also to BBC Sport: “We started the second half with a goal that it is impossible to concede.
“We were not alert, sleeping at the throw-in and we let [Marcus] Rashford attack. Once he is inside the box it’s more difficult to defend and he was clever and waited for the touch. In the first half they started more aggressive and more intense and deserved to be in front, maybe even 2-0, then we took control of the game.
“The goal at the start of the second half gave United the chance to play the way they did.”
On Dele Alli: “Dele is fine, he gave a good performance and tried everything, even in the second half when it’s more difficult and they are more compact.”
On Marcus Rashford: “When he plays from the left he is really dangerous and I knew that and gave the players the best information about it. His first goal is a typical Rashford goal coming on the inside. Our boys knew that clearly.”
United blues continue for Tottenham – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last nine home matches in all competitions (W5 D4) since losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in August.
- Tottenham Hotspur have lost more Premier League matches against Manchester United than against any other team (35 defeats).
- Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has won none of his last five away Premier League matches against the Red Devils (D3 L2), failing to beat four different managers in that time (Ferguson, Moyes, van Gaal and Solskjaer).
- Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United (9 goals, 2 assists).
- Dele Alli has scored in three consecutive appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in all competitions for the first time since March 2017 (a run of four).
- Manchester United have lost none of their last 138 home Premier League matches when scoring first (W125 D13).
- Tottenham have conceded twice in all of their four matches under Mourinho in all competitions – they only had a run of conceding 2+ goals in four consecutive matches once under Mauricio Pochettino, doing so in February and March 2015.
Manchester United are next in action against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, 7 December (17:30 GMT). Tottenham are at home to Burnley on the same day (15:00).