Tottenham Hotspur fought back twice to hold Manchester United to an action-packed 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday evening.
A fateful run of three defeats across their last five league games at the tail-end of 2023 plunged United into mid-table, nine points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal at the start of this round.
With Erik ten Hag’s future in Manchester in the balance, kicking off 2024 Premier League action on a winning note was imperative for the Red Devils, and they couldn’t have imagined a better start.
Only three minutes into the game, a fortunate rebound fell nicely for Rasmus Hojlund, who, after opening his league account with a match-winner against Aston Villa, added another to the tally.
Quick to find a pocket of space inside the box, the 20-year-old frontman hammered the ball past Guglielmo Vicario into the near-top corner to put Man Utd in front.
However, Ten Hag’s men relinquished their attacking ambitions too little too soon, allowing Tottenham to establish midfield supremacy and move plenty of bodies forward.
Spurs knocked on Andre Onana’s door in the 12th minute as Rodrigo Bentancur was the highest in the air to get on the end of an inviting cross from the flank.
Diogo Dalot pulled off a last-gasp clearance to thwart the Uruguayan’s header off the line, yet Ange Postecoglou’s team kept pushing forward in numbers.
Fifteen minutes of sustained pressure paid off in the 19th minute.
Pedro Porro’s inch-perfect corner-kick delivery found Richarlison inside the six-yard box. The Brazilian routinely headed the ball past Onana to draw Tottenham level.
Richarlison’s equaliser was a wake-up call for Man Utd.
Despite failing to create many scoring chances, the hosts nearly regained the lead midway through the first half, with Destiny Udogie’s awkward header rattling off Vicario’s far post.
Minutes later, the Red Devils netted again through Marcus Rashford, who exchanged a quick one-two with Hojlund before squeezing the ball into the bottom corner with laser-sharp precision.
Ten Hag failed to learn his lesson the first time. United’s sluggish start to the second half backfired as Bentancur put things back to square one only a minute after the break.
Winter signing Timo Werner released the ex-Juventus midfielder in space. Although the latter still had a lot to do, he kept his composure to slam a thunderous left-footed strike into the roof of the net.
Seeking vengeance for a 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture, Ten Hag turned to the bench for Scott McTominay and Lisandro Martinez, who returned to action after months on the sidelines.
But it was the former who nearly restored United’s lead. Barely a minute after coming on, the Scotland international unleashed a powerful mid-range attempt, only to see it fly a whisker wide of the post.
Man Utd knew the importance of taking three points, yet they let Tottenham control the tempo in the second half with 66% ball possession and almost double the Red Devils’ number of passes.
However, Tottenham dominated only statistically. Their feeble initiative failed to produce any scoring opportunity after Bentancur’s goal as United defended with authority.
As if that wasn’t enough, Micky van de Ven, who made his first Premier League start since early November, hobbled off the pitch down the final stretch.
Things could’ve been worse for Tottenham had McTominay found the back of the net in the 95th minute. Despite being unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, he sent his free header into the stands.
His incredible miss could come back to haunt Ten Hag.
Spurs failed to complete their first league double over Man Utd since 1989/90, although they did whittle down the gap on the last Champions League qualification spot.
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