The Premier League is finally, truly back.
Also back: the drama and controversy surrounding the officiating.
Tottenham Hotspur took a 1-0 lead in the first half of their first game back in action following the pandemic lockdown, but Manchester United went home with a share of the points after Paul Pogba earned a late penalty.
Steven Bergwijn scored a sumptuous goal for Spurs, but the points slipped away once again.
As with any Mourinho lineup, it’s best to expect the unexpected. The Portuguese gaffer subverted expectations here again as he chose to leave Toby Alderweireld on the bench, in favor of Eric Dier, who has struggled this season. Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko started together in midfield for the first time in a while, and the Tottenham line was once again led by Harry Kane after his recovery from injury.
At the beginning, it wasn’t hard to tell that both teams had endured a three-month layoff without playing a competitive game. There were fouls, misplaced passes, and lost dribbles all over the pitch.
The players started to settle in, with Spurs clearly willing to play on the counter attack. The home side sat back cautiously, but went forward in numbers when the opportunities presented themselves.
Marcus Rashford had the first real chance of the game. A headed clearance by Davinson Sanchez was put in the wrong part of the box, and Rashford struck the ball well, but Hugo Lloris got down to make the kick-save.
The visitors would regret that miss a few minutes later.
Tottenham had been looking dangerous on the counters, but the final pass hadn’t yet worked out. Bergwijn decided to skip that part of the move when he opened the scoring.
The Dutchman picked up the ball off a goal kick and burst through the United defense, ultimately unleashing a thunderous hit that went right through David De Gea, who would have been expected to make the save.
There were no fans inside the ground to cheer, but Spurs fans everywhere undoubtedly jumped up and down after the club’s first genuinely positive moment in a long time.
Man U almost got right back into the match, but Lloris got down quickly to slap away a ball that had ricocheted off Sanchez and towards the net.
The passing started to look a bit slicker as Mourinho’s team finished out the first half with more encouraging play. Bergwijn was at the forefront again as he drove a dangerous attack down the right, and he even found Son Heung-Min at the back post, but De Gea did well to get a hand on Sonny’s header back across goal.
As the second half began, Spurs were trying to avoid doing something they had done quite a bit during some of the worst moments of their mediocre season to date: giving up a lead.
Despite their advantage, the Lilywhites still took their chances to get forward, looking threatening as they dashed forward, passing around out-of-position United players.
The Red Devils came close on 54 minutes, when Bruno Fernandes took a shot from range that dragged just past the far post.
Then, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played the talented card he had lurking on the bench. Paul Pogba came in alongside Mason Greenwood and almost instantly provided a boost to the visitors. Pogba paired well with Fernandes, who played an impeccable ball into the box for Martial, but Dier was there to slide in and deflect the shot at the last second.
United kept coming. Martial got better purchase on a turnaround attempt in the box, but Lloris leapt acrobatically to get enough of a strong hand on the shot to push it over the bar. It was a stunning save.
Mourinho clearly recognized he had to make a change, but instead of bringing on Tanguy Ndombele, he brought on Gedson Fernandes and Giovani Lo Celso.
Pogba eventually made his impact felt in true. The Frenchman danced past Dier in the box, and then went down at the slightest bit of contact. Jon Moss pointed to the spot despite what looked like a soft penalty, and Fernandes did the rest.
Moss seemed to completely lose the plot at the end of the game. He awarded another penalty to United, but VAR was thankfully there to show that Fernandes had clearly taken a dive in the box. It should’ve been obvious, really.
United had one last chance before the whistle blew, but Greenwood pulled a shot wide.
It was a frustrating share of the points for Spurs, who had led for so much of the game. With the deficit they face in the standings, it became even less likely that Champions League qualification will be earned in these last eight games.