After a disappointing home loss to Arsenal, it was critical to Manchester United's top-four finish objective that they capture all three points against Tottenham on Sunday. Tottenham were in stagnant form, after recently being eliminated from UEFA Europa League competition and defeated in the Capital One Cup by Chelsea.
United entered the game without injured front man Robin Van Persie, suspended attacking midfielder Ángel Di María, and central defender Jonny Evans. Louis Van Gaal may finally have found his team selection, because they certainly produced the team's strongest best performance and fully deserved, best result.
David De Gea started yet another game in goal. In the backline, Van Gaal selected Antonio Valencia at right back, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as center backs, and Daley Blind at left back, a familiar role in his time before United. Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick started at center defensive midfield positions. Ashley Young, Juan Mata, and Marouane Fellaini were inserted in attacking midfield positions just behind lone striker Wayne Rooney.
United established their dominance early in the match, stringing together one touch passing in their well-positioned midfield. Early in the match, Carrick began the move towards a goal with a brilliant one touch through ball pass to Marouane Fellaini's run on the left side of the 18-yard box. Fellaini finished the move with a finessed shot placed in the side netting of the goal to put United in the lead, 1-0.
Carrick added the second goal, completing his man of the match performance in style. Marouane Fellaini started the chance by winning the header on a United corner kick back across goal. A Tottenham defender deflected Fellaini's header, but the resulting deflection fell to Michael Carrick, who finished the move on goal with a well-placed header into the bottom right corner, United 2, Tottenham 0.
United delivered a complete performance against Tottenham with a strong defensive performance throughout the lineup, allowing only one shot on goal from five shots total. In fact, their defensive pressure lead to the third goal that completely put the game to rest. Wayne Rooney served up the proverbial knockout punch in the form of a goal. In the 34th minute, he stole an errant touch from Tottenham's Nabil Bentaleb 40 yards from goal; Rooney dribbled the Tottenham defense and scored the goal with a cool finish and even cooler celebration, mocking his kitchen knockout video publicized by English newspapers.
United sprang to a three goal lead in just the first half, which they were able to preserve and ensure that David De Gea received yet another clean sheet. There was a brief scare, as Harry Kane nearly "nutmeg"-ed De Gea on a close angle shot, the only recorded shot on target for Tottenham all match.
The Red Devils played extremely well, turning in their best performance: dominating the game early, and stamping their ownership on at least 4th place. After such a promising performance, Van Gaal can do a few things to guarantee continuing strong performances. First and foremost, adopting the same successful formation and team selection would do well to settle the players, generate team chemistry, and establish consistency in form. It is doubtful that United will play the 4-5-1 against upcoming opponents, Liverpool. In their last meeting, both teams played 3-5-2 formations and United (or more accurately, David De Gea) were able to shut out Liverpool, 3-0. That match will and should have no bearing on this upcoming rivalry clash. The Liverpool side that United will face has been in the run of form for any English team this year, as it hasn't lost since that match in December. There are many factors that will affect Van Gaal's selection, including Ángel Di María's return from suspension, Robin Van Persie's injury status, Jonny Evan's six match suspension, Radamel Falcao's poor form, and James Wilson's hamstring knock. Van Gaal should select Wayne Rooney at striker, keep Fellaini in attacking positions, deploy a backline that has familiarity, and he must start Michael Carrick if he is fit.
At this point in the season, every match is extremely important to the United top four finish, but none more important than this match with the fifth place contenders, only two points behind. United play away against Liverpool at Anfield at 3:30pm ET on Sunday, March 22nd.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more