Talking points from United's trip to Tottenham
Manchester United shared the spoils with Tottenham Hotspur in a 1-1 draw as the Reds returned to competitive action for the first time in three months.
Here are the major talking points from our trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following the restart of the Premier League…
The scenes in North London prior to kick-off saw the recognition of two very different but both hugely significant situations. Firstly, the players lined the centre circle for a minute of applause in memory of those around the world who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Then just as the match was about to commence, both sides took a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement – something which has been reflected in the replacing of player’s names on the back of their shirts.
As fantastic as it was to see the Reds return to action, the match certainly had a different look and feel to what we’re all used to. The empty stands and drink breaks midway through each half were among the more obvious visual signs, but the lack of atmosphere that we associate with big matchdays was the most striking change. In all honesty it was a little eerie. What we gained in return, however, was an audible insight into how the players react to the different moments within a match, from passionate appeals for fouls to telling team-mates to push further forward in the early stages of an attack.
POGBA'S FIRST GAME IN 2020
Following a lengthy spell out with injury, Paul Pogba made his first appearance since Boxing Day when he was introduced as a substitute just after the hour mark. The Frenchman’s impact was swift; within a minute, he produced an effort on goal, prompting a key block by the Spurs defence. Then, in the closing stages, an enticing run into the area drew a clumsy foul from Eric Dier as Pogba’s quick feet proved too much for the Tottenham man to handle. It was great to see Pogba back on the pitch and no doubt there’s more to come between now and the end of the season.
Following a rule change to help squads cope with the demands between now and the end of the season, teams are now allowed to have nine players on the bench and bring five of them on. By introducing Mason Greeenwood, Paul Pogba, Odion Ighalo, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly in the second half, Ole Gunnar Solskaer made history by becoming the first manager of the Reds to make five substitutions in a competitive match.
FERNANDES FIRES AGAIN
Since joining the Reds in January, Bruno Fernandes has now scored three out of the three penalties he has taken for United. The spot-kick he coolly placed past Hugo Lloris was the Portuguese's fourth goal for the club in total. When you consider he also has the same number of assists, it is clear to see what a positive impact he has had on the squad.
Just when it seemed Solskjaer's men might get the win that the second-half performance merited, the officials at Stockley Park intervened and ruled that referee Jon Moss's decision to give United a second penalty was incorrect. Dier was let off the hook for his challenge on Fernandes and with that, the Reds were prevented from taking all three points and adding Tottenham to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City on the list of teams we've beaten home and away this season.
With players having only returned to full training earlier this month, virtually from a standing start, fitness will no doubt be a factor in games. It was therefore encouraging to see such an energetic performance from Luke Shaw, who seemed unfazed by the resumption of full-blooded competitive action. The full-back was both defensively disciplined and offensively threatening throughout the 90 minutes. Solskaer will surely be hoping the whole squad are able to follow this example throughout this season’s remaining fixtures.