Alexis Sanchez a rare bright spark as Man United endure Wembley woe

Matt Jones 1/02/2018
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Two sides with ambitions of top-four finishes clashed at Wembley but the difference in quality on the night between Tottenham and Manchester United was stark as the hosts strolled comfortably to a 2-0 victory that sees them close in on the Champions League spots.

The tone was set in this one with just seconds on the clock when a hopeful punt forward from the back caused havoc in the United defence and Cristian Eriksen took full advantage to give Spurs the lead after 11 seconds.

Although United were playing well, they found themselves 2-0 down at the break as Phil Jones clumsily turned Kieran Trippier’s cross beyond David De Gea and into his own goal.

Both sides had penalty shouts as Andre Marriner first waved away Tottenham appeals after Antonio Valencia got the ball from Dele Alli but only after recklessly diving in. United were incensed in the second half when a header from Alexis Sanchez, making his Premier League bow for the visitors, struck Son Heung-min on the hand, but again Marriner was unmoved.

Here, we analyse the performance of United’s new boy, whose return to London proved to be nothing more than capital punishment.

BASIC STATS

SANCHEZ

Goals – 0

Shots – 0

Shots on target – 0

Touches – 75

Key passes – 0

Dribbles – 1

Dispossessed – 4

Aerials won – 0

Interceptions – 1

Fouled – 5

EFFECTIVENESS

SANCHEZ

Despite this being Sanchez’s Premier League bow after his debut in the FA Cup tie with Yeovil, there appears no lag, no settling in period. He was sharp against the League 2 side, and that continued against superior opposition. He was sharp and elusive, intricately linking up with new team-mates he looks like he’s known for years.

In-particular, he and Anthony Martial appear to have quickly struck up an understanding. Although they were playing on opposite flanks, they appeared perfectly aware at all times of each other’s movements. At such an early stage of his United career, this could be a huge plus point for Jose Mourinho – who has struggled so far to find the right balance with his pairings in wide areas.

The problem for Sanchez was that Spurs’ lightning start put them on the front foot and their incisive passing in midfield stunted United’s creativity. The Chilean often had to drop deep to get on the ball as well as helping out his overrun team-mates in midfield, with Nemanja Matic struggling in particular.

He was even popping up in defensive areas for United, twice nipping in to thwart Tottenham attacks in his own half before the break and brilliantly tracking back – executing a perfect sliding tackle to rob Spurs of possession at one point and setting up a United counter-attack.

Although United were thwarted every time they attacked or forced into long balls forward, Sanchez remained one of their brighter sparks and clearly presented a risk to the home side, with the South American irking the opposition as he was fouled no less than five times.

KEY MOMENTS

SANCHEZ

3rd minute – Sanchez and Pogba combine in the final third to release Lingard in the box. However, Lloris is sharp off his line and makes the tackle to stop the forward’s run.

54th minute – A penalty shout for United, but it’s not given. United win a corner and Sanchez is lurking at the back post. He nods it back across the goal and it strikes Son’s hand, but referee Andrew Marriner waves away United appeals.

VERDICT

SANCHEZ

The Chile star was one of the more effervescent United performers on the pitch; the problem was not many of his team-mates fed off his energy. He was a willing outlet wide on the left or right, showing plenty of neat touches and close control as he looked to play colleagues in behind.

He showed off his wide range of passing, playing the ball short and sharply, or spreading the play across the pitch. When United’s midfield seemed stifled by Spurs’ high-energy probing and pressing, he dropped deep to help out, both by taking hold of possession and looking to start attacks as well as making several smart challenges.

He is a quality addition to United’s attacking ranks, adding pace and causing problems for opposition defences. The problem was too many other players in red endured an off night. The rest of the United players simply need to get on the same wavelength as him.

6/10

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Man United defender Phil Jones after his own goal against Tottenham.

Tottenham wasted no time in blowing Manchester United away, Christian Eriksen netting after just 11 seconds following a defensive mix-up and Phil Jones soon adding a comical own goal.

The visitors to Wembley were well beaten as their eight-match unbeaten run was thrillingly ended, each star performer coming from the Spurs ranks.

Here, we rate the players at Wembley:

TOTTENHAM

Hugo Lloris – 6: Quiet night for the returning France No1, despite all the attacking prowess in the United line-up. Pulled off one superb stop from Romelu Lukaku.

Kieran Trippier – 7: Criticism he’s received of late seemed to spark a much-improved display. Kept Alexis Sanchez relatively quiet and provided the devilish cross which Phil Jones turned into his own net.

Davinson Sanchez – 7: Had the legs to keep up with Anthony Martial and didn’t shirk any physical challenges with Lukaku.

Jan Vertonghen – 7: Adds an air of serenity to the Spurs back line. How United could have done with such a performer. 

Ben Davies  6: His long ball from deep sparked the early opener. Diligently stuck to task of keeping Martial quiet.

Eric Dier  7: Lucky to get away with a physical challenge on Paul Pogba. But this also showed his determination to win the midfield battle.

Mousa Dembele  7: This match was a helter-skelter affair, yet the Belgium centre midfielder, typically, kept his cool. A leading pass-completion rate of 94.8 per cent speaks volumes about his refined display. Booked.

Christian Eriksen  7: What a way to mark your return to action, scoring after 11 seconds. The thought of him supplying passes to new boy Lucas Moura is mouthwatering.

Dele Alli 7: This was a selfless display from the England man. Caused chaos for the opener. Booked.

Son Heung-min  6: Missed the chance to make it six-consecutive home games with a goal. A chance didn’t drop his way despite his best efforts. Possibly hampered by a first-half knock.

Harry Kane – 7: Gave kittens to the United centre-backs. Performance was only missing a goal for 2017’s top scorer in Europe.

SUBS

Erik Lamela N/A: Given a 10-minute run-out at the death.

Moussa Sissoko N/A: Late arrival just before injury-time.

Victor Wanyama N/A: Saw out the final moments.

MAN UNITED

David De Gea  6: Conceded two goals, but no fault can be attributed to the Spain international. Had little else to do, other than pick the ball out of his net.

Antonio Valencia  6: Fortunate to get away with a wild challenge on Dele Alli in the first half. If VAR was in use, a penalty would, surely, have been given.

Chris Smalling – 5: Unsettled throughout. For a man of his size and speed, is too often caught on the back foot.

Phil Jones – 3: It doesn’t get much worse than this. Lost battle in the air with Kane for the first and chaotically went with the wrong foot for the own goal. Kept up pattern throughout career of playing well for several matches, before having a shocker. Booked.

Ashley Young  6: Was a lively presence in the opposition half. But both goals came from his area of the pitch, especially the second. Booked.

Paul Pogba  5: Suffered the indignity of being hooked early in the second half. It’s now several poor matches in a row for the France midfielder.

Nemanja Matic  6: You had to feel sorry for the exposed Serbia defensive midfielder. Offered no support by his adventurous colleagues. Must have felt like being caught in the central reservation on a motorway.

Jesse Lingard – 5: Has shone so many times at Wembley before, but this wasn’t his night. Looks like he could be the victim of Sanchez’s recruitment.

Anthony Martial  6: Hooked from his favoured left-wing spot. Attempts to cut inside were too obvious. Had a few shots and half-chances, yet never looked like adding to his nine-goal haul in the 2017/18 Premier League.

Romelu Lukaku – 6: With so many attackers on the field it was strange to see the Belgium centre forward be left so isolated. Was swarmed on whenever the ball was pumped to him on the ground or air.

Alexis Sanchez  6: Most willing of United’s attackers. But Tottenham did an expert job putting several men on him whenever he got the ball.

SUBS

Juan Mata  6: Failed to make an impact as Jose Mourinho tried to add some control.

Marouane Fellaini  5: Blink and you missed him. The substitute picked up an apparent injury.

Ander Herrera  6: Might get more starts, at Lingard’s expense, if 4-3-3 formation remains.

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Christian Eriksen celebrates his early goal for Tottenham against Man United.

Christian Eriksen scored the joint-third fastest goal in Premier League history and the awful Phil Jones rocketed in an own goal as Tottenham blew Manchester United away with a deserved 2-0 victory on Wednesday night.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men dominated from the off at Wembley, inflicting a miserable Premier League debut on – for added joy – ex-Arsenal superstar Alexis Sanchez.

Here, we examine three things from Wembley:

ERIKSEN WASTES NO TIME ON RETURN

The Denmark playmaker required only 11 seconds to remind Spurs what they had been missing in his absence.

Eriksen popped up in the right place to calmly take advantage of the chaos in the United defence and slot in the vital opener. Only club legend Ledley King has scored a quicker goal in the top flight for Tottenham, taking 9.9 seconds in 2000 to score past Bradford City.

Eriksen was taken ill after Everton were torn apart 4-0 on January 13. In the interim, they’ve meandered to 1-1 draws with struggling Southampton and League Two minnows Newport County in the FA Cup.

In a dominant second half, Eriksen consistently probed. He also showed no lack of match fitness as the collective might of Spurs shut United down.

He truly is a great Dane.

Christian Eriksen was back in action for Spurs.

Christian Eriksen was back in action for Spurs.

CALAMITY JONES STRIKES AGAIN

The ticking time bomb at the heart of the United defence went off at Wembley.

Jones was all at sea for Eriksen’s first, before his ungainly control saw him disastrously go with the wrong foot and fire into his own goal.

There is a defender of real ability within Jones. He’s shown it plenty of times this season as his injury problems have, mostly, been put to one side – this 20th Premier League appearance of the season already beats his tallies from the previous two seasons.

But at the age of 25, he still can cause self-inflicted wounds. Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly’s return cannot come soon enough.

A sorry Phil Jones gets a booking for Manchester United.

A sorry Phil Jones gets a booking for Manchester United.

SANCHEZ CONUNDRUM YET TO BE SOLVED

The addition of Sanchez from Arsenal promised fresh impetus for United, yet on this evidence it’s left manager Jose Mourinho with a real headache.

A bold 4-3-3 formation was utilised from the start, with the Chile superstar Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all crammed into it. This was a break from the norm for Mourinho, whose negative tactics receive such castigation in these top-six clashes.

United’s performance wasn’t a bad one, not by any stretch. Yet harried anchorman Nemanja Matic was noticeably exposed and the visitors had only six shots to the host’s 22.

In the coming weeks, he’ll need to live up to his nickname as the ‘Special One’ to pull off this balancing act.

Alexis Sanchez had a miserable return to London.

Alexis Sanchez had a miserable return to London.

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