Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester United well over the course of 90 minutes at Old Trafford in the opening match of the 2015-16 Premier League season, but a flukey own-goal from Kyle Walker was the difference as Spurs fell to the Red Devils 1-0 on Saturday.
Spurs opened the match with Eric Dier in central midfield paired with Nabil Bentaleb. The Belgian duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen started their first Premier League match anchoring the center of defense. Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Harry Kane made up the front line, with Kyle Walker and Ben Davies (subbing in for the injured Danny Rose) were the fullbacks. Michel Vorm deputized for Hugo Lloris.
Far from looking tired and awed by United, Spurs were the better side for most of the first half, and they also had the best goalscoring opportunity after Harry Kane put Christian Eriksen through on goal early on. Eriksen tried to chip United's new keeper signing Sergio Romero, but the ball went just high.
Midway through the half, a midfield breakdown led to the only goal of the match. A bad give-away in midfield led to a Matteo Darmian cross into the box to a wide-open Wayne Rooney. Kyle Walker barged in to make a last-gasp tackle, but in the process he tapped the ball past Michel Vorm into the net to give United the lead despite not having a single shot on goal up to that point.
Spurs were on their back heels for the remainder of the half as United pressed their advantage, but were able to see out the half without conceding.
Spurs started the second half without any subs, but Nabil Bentaleb made way for Ryan Mason six minutes in. The second half was again a very even-handed affair, with neither club managing many chances on goal; United didn't test Michel Vorm until after the 70th minute. Sensing issues with the midfield, Mauricio Pochettino eventually brought on Eric Lamela and Dele Alli for Dembele and Dier.
Late in the half Spurs pushed forward chasing an equalizer. Harry Kane's deflected header was tipped away by Romero who then immediately afterwards saved Christian Eriksen's rocket from outside of the box to maintain the scoreline. Despite some solid moments, Spurs were not able to get the goal and fell 1-0.
- The scoreline feels harsh, because Spurs played quite well for much of the match. Ask your typical Spurs fan and they'll probably tell you they expected to get pounded at Old Trafford, but Spurs really were the equal to United for much of the match, if not better.
- Wayne Rooney was wide open for the goal and likely would have scored if Walker hadn't been there for the challenge. No blame should be placed on Walker for the own-goal; it was an unlucky play.
- As well as Spurs did, their midfield was a mess. Nabil Bentaleb was extremely poor today, which felt surprising considering his performances last year, but was actually a continuation of a not-very-good preseason. Bentaleb's passing was awful, and his give-away was directly responsible for United's only goal. Poche rightfully subbed him off early in the second period. Ryan Mason was decent enough as his substitute, but Spurs didn't show much of anything that would make you say that they've fixed the midfield issue from last season.
- Eric Dier had a good shift at DM today. I saw a few people slagging him on Twitter, but even though he looked a little clueless in his distribution from midfield, Spurs' back line looked a lot better with him in front of them shielding the defense. His defensive instincts suited him well in this regard. I'm not sure he's the answer to Spurs' midfield problems, but he was cromulent again.
- Nacer Chadli was pretty much invisible today. We've said this before, but if Chadli's not scoring goals, he's not doing much for the team. The decision to play him beside Kane in a weird 4-4-2 was strange, and I would've been happy to see him subbed off instead of Dembele, who I thought had a decent enough match.
- Spurs' defense was very good today. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld look good together and worked as a team. Spurs looked stolid and composed at the back, which is something that feels strange to say considering the defensive problems from last year.
- Nice to see Kyle Walker playing again. He had his good and bad moments, but it's hard to argue in favor of sitting him for Trippier at this point. Looks like he's more or less back to his old self, for better or for worse. He was fine.
- You'd like to have gotten a point from today, but overall this is a match you can build upon and take positives from. It's the first match of the season, and there's a lot that can get better. A promising start despite the loss. But let's buy a few players, yeah?