Reds beat Spurs to book a Wembley return
The great 2018 comeback kings have only gone and done it again.
Go a goal ahead against Manchester United and you’ll pay the consequence. Spurs did it at their Wembley ‘home’ and the never-say-die Reds simply brushed them aside to come back and book a place in the FA Cup final on Saturday 19 May.
Then Manchester City went 2-0 up in the derby in April, but even that wasn’t good enough to silence United’s fighting spirit. And at Wembley, despite Spurs taking an early lead on their own temporary home ground, the Reds refused to buckle and hit back for a famous win with goals from Alexis and Ander Herrera overturning Dele Alli’s opener.
In that same period of the opening winter storm, the Reds conceded a goal to Christian Eriksen after just 11 seconds. This time, United survived long enough to create a chance that could have seen Romelu Lukaku's name go on the scoresheet first but the Belgian's ninth-minute header sailed over the bar and Jose Mourinho’s aghast face in the technical area suggested he thought the striker might have done better.
The Reds were left rueing that missed opportunity to get a foothold in the game when Spurs went in front after 10 minutes. A swift move down United’s left flank caught the Reds out and Eriksen slung in an inviting low cross that Dele Alli steamed in on at the far post to poke in the opener.
Spurs smelt blood and came close again in the 17th minute twice - first when Alli almost connected again from a Son cross and then Eriksen went close.
Wembley may be the North London club's current HQ but with half the stadium on this occasion wearing Red the United support helped the side recover.
With seven goals in the National Stadium for Arsenal and his country, Alexis clearly loves the place and after 24 minutes he made it eight goals here. Following on from previous FA Cup semi final goals for the Gunners against Reading and Manchester City, Tottenham became another victim of his prowess.
Paul Pogba stole in to dispossess Mousa Dembele on the touchline and floated in a deep cross to the far post. Alexis isn’t the tallest hitman around but he got off the ground to guide a header beyond Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
It was a sweet moment for Alexis as he’d been booed at every touch by the Spurs support because of his previous connection with their local rivals Arsenal. United had wrecked Tottenham’s early fluency and Mauricio Pocchetino’s side began to look more ragged on their own manor.
Many London pundits reckon Spurs lack the killer edge to add trophies to their quality and United certainly exposed that Achilles heel again as the Reds continued the ascendancy of the first 45 minutes to finally overturn Alli’s goal completely.
Alexis was involved again, possibly fortuitously as his square ball just eluded Lukaku in the 62nd minute. But the ball rolled kindly and as Lingard stepped out of the way Herrera stormed in to steer in United’s second.
Mourinho's men were biting into tackles and not giving Spurs a minute's peace as the Reds faithful turned the stadium into Old Trafford. There was a rallying roar from the Tottenham end of Wembley when the fourth official raised the electronic board to indicate five minutes of added time.
But it seemed an almost half-hearted backing as United had reduced the ‘home’ side to a nervy and punchless outfit who couldn’t produce the kind of comeback that the Reds are famous for.
Roll on, 19 May.
United: De Gea; Valencia (C)(Darmian 80) Jones, Smalling, Young; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Lingard (Rashford 82), Alexis (Fellaini 95), Lukaku. Subs not used: J Pereira, Lindelof, Mata, Martial.
Booked: Young, Rashford.
Spurs: Vorm, Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies (Moura 68), Dier, Dembele (Wanyama 78), Eriksen, Alli, Son, Kane (C)
Subs not used: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Sissoko, Lamela.
Booked: Son, Alli.
Smalling's reminder to Southgate
Chris Smalling may have been in the headlines recently for his goals against City and Bournemouth but it was keeping potent hitman Harry Kane quiet that caught the eye at Wembley. England boss Gareth Southgate had left him out of his most recent Three Lions squads, putting a big question mark over Smaling’s involvement at the World Cup this summer. But with Southgate watching at Wembley it was a timely reminder by Smalling with Russia fast approaching.
Alexis is a cert for the final
Jose Mourinho doesn’t give out guarantees over places in his XI but when you have scored eight times at Wembley for two clubs and your country then as lucky omens go they do not come any better. Surely the Chilean, if he avoids injury, can look forward to another FA Cup final appearance.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR UNITED?
United host Arsenal next Sunday in the Premier League (KO 16:30 BST) in what will be Arsene Wenger’s Old Trafford finale following the Frenchman's announcement that he will be stepping down as their manager at the end of the season after 22 years in the job.