This was billed as the Return of José Mourinho but was undoubtedly the Marcus Rashford Show. Here was his finest display for Manchester United, the 22-year-old a blur of menace and inventiveness and registering both goals.
On arrival Mourinho had shaken hands with a security guard and club photographer then hugged a media officer with a warmth missing from the end of his United tenure. Back then he was a sulky figure, sacked last December following a demise signposted by the 3-0 loss to Tottenham on the day of his infamous “respect, respect, respect” tirade.
Mourinho’s latest incarnation at Spurs is as a “humble” 56-year-old who has learned the lessons of the United dog days. Apparently, that is. He had guided the north Londoners to three consecutive wins since replacing Mauricio Pochettino but the new persona was yet to be tested.
How a dodgy VAR decision or defeat might affect the Premier League Uriah Heep with a penchant for humblebrags would fascinate. And given his former team’s stuttering form under Ole Gunnar Solskjær whether United could disrupt the new Mourinho and his Spurs project was an unknown ahead of this contest.
Might United prove the team who, at kick-off, were the only side to take points from Liverpool? Or be the rabble that lost to Newcastle, Bournemouth, West Ham and Crystal Palace?
The XI Solskjær sent out in search of a fifth win in 15 games relied on the 18-year-old Mason Greenwood to lead the line in what was his first league start of the season. Mourinho’s team was attacking, embodied by the forward-thinking Lucas Moura, who was selected on the right.
United’s draw with Liverpool featured a 3-4-1-2 that was the platform for their campaign’s most convincing display thus far. Last night’s formation was a 4-2-3-1 and just six minutes in the imperious Rashford beat Paulo Gazzaniga to put his side ahead. Mourinho waved his side back for kick-off, his unhappiness contrasting with Solskjær’s demeanour.
United’s manager was yet to leave his seat and from there heard the Stretford End regale him with “Who put the ball in the Germans’ net? Ole Gunnar Solskjær.” The mood lightened further when Harry Winks clattered Daniel James and Mourinho became collateral damage as the Welshman tumbled into him, nearly knocking him over.
United’s display – Spurs’ equaliser apart – would prove a near-clone of that which troubled Liverpool in October, as they harried Spurs and, when in possession, zipped the ball around slickly.
It meant Solskjær’s side tormented the visitors and caused their ever-more-frustrated manager to ponder the gameplan. When Dele Alli misplaced a pass up went the arms in disgust.
United were dismantling Mourinho’s men and Rashford was irrepressible. One of his shots crashed off the bar, another was saved by Gazzaniga – the No 10 was an inspiration. Jesse Lingard, Fred, James and Greenwood all followed his lead.
This was breathless from United and made it feel quaint just how lost they can look. Inconsistency is the hallmark of young teams, of course. So, too, the inability to kill opponents off, as United had not done with Spurs as the interval neared.
So it was that a sublime Alli touch-and-finish meant his team were back level in a contest that should already have been over. Mourinho did not gloat over the equaliser. Solskjær, meanwhile, berated the fourth official.
It meant the second half was a test for United – and their manager. They passed it admirably, thanks primarily to Rashford, who won and then converted the crucial penalty for a ninth league strike of what may prove the watershed season of his young career.
In the buildup Solskjær had spoken of the need for patience and how victories can speed up the development of his side. This result has to galvanise and give the manager some respite from the pressure. As for Mourinho, the new-found humbleness should mean the greeting of his first Spurs loss with the grace of, well, the Humble One.