Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup heartache continued against Manchester United at Wembley on Saturday afternoon, after an early Dele Alli strike was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera either side of half time.
Mauricio Pochettino knew this was his latest chance to prove the crucial point, that he could take his side to the next level. But Jose Mourinho is an expert at managing the biggest games, and he showed why again..
Here are four talking points as the Red Devils booked their place in their 20th FA Cup final.
1. Alexis Sanchez appeared to continue his Wembley magic in a red shirt
Unfulfilling would be a perfect way of summing Sanchez’s fledgling career at Old Trafford, but great players turn up in the big games, and the Chilean certainly did that. His love of Wembley, and the FA Cup, was made clear at Arsenal, where he scored four goals in his previous four ties at the national stadium. In the midst of some efficacious Spurs pressure following Alli’s goal, which saw Son Heung-Min grow in confidence and Christian Eriksen go close to doubling their lead, Sanchez struck decisively again from an exquisite Paul Pogba cross. It was the perfect way to prove the doubters wrong.
Rumblings of discontent from Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, both of whom were on the bench, had fans concerned. They have understandable concerns over their development under Mourinho, a manager who has built a career on winning trophies at all costs, often avoiding putting his faith in youth. The perception is, even though Sanchez has hardly set the world alight, the Portuguese’s lack of patience for young players will see the precocious pair force moves in the summer. Whether that happens or not, Mourinho may feel vindicated in signing a crucial, game-changing player in January as he looks to reassert his club as one of Europe’s best; will that come at a hefty cost if they lose two superstars in the making?
2. Dele Alli returns to the Tottenham side to get them off to a flyer again
It took Tottenham just 30 seconds to open the scoring in their last meeting with Manchester United back in January, and they led after just eight minutes this time. Alli, the big casualty for Tuesday night’s draw at Brighton, came back into the side and made his mark almost immediately. Amazingly, having once seen it as a hindrance, many claimed playing the game at Wembley, the place they’ve called home this season, would work to Spurs’ advantage. The intensity was there from the off, the atmosphere generated momentum, and they made it count as soon as they could.
Mourinho has made a fairly average collection of individual defenders look rather strong as a unit this term; the Red Devils have conceded the second least number of goals in the Premier League. Spurs found it far too easy to open the scoring, though, when Davinson Sanchez, in for Toby Alderweireld at the heart of the Spurs defence, played a lofted pass down the right to Eriksen. Ashley Young was nowhere to be seen and Pogba failed to cover him, allowing the guileful Dane to play an inch-perfect cross for the onrushing Alli to slide home moments after Romelu Lukaku headed over at the other end.
? Sanchez at Wembley…
– Games: 5
– Goals: 5
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) April 21, 2018
3. Manchester United grabbed their chance when it mattered
When Spurs score on any ‘normal day’; Pochettino is always the first man to look ahead. Staying cool, calm and collected, he rarely gets caught up in the moment. But then Alli scored, giving his side the advantage in the biggest game of their season, and the Spurs boss simply could not contain himself. Equally as telling, though, was the dejected look on his face when Herrera netted the second to turn the game on its head.
Pochettino says he will not have truly changed the ‘nearly’ culture around the club until he wins the Champions League or Premier League, let alone the FA Cup; but Spurs need to learn to walk before they can run, and that expression perhaps suggested the Argentine knew that. It was painful, not only because many people say time is running out for him to break the decade-long trophy duck in North London, but because the same thing happened almost a year to the day against Chelsea. Alli and Harry Kane helped them fight back against the Blues, but they fell short; now, their record for defeats in FA Cup semi finals stands at eight in a row. Mourinho kept his nerve and, after sapping the momentum in the first half, further suffocated his opponent as the game went on as he has done so many times before.
4. Worrying times ahead if Spurs don’t change something
The proof of the pudding is, as always, in the eating, and while this Tottenham team will contest any notion that they need to win a trophy to be remembered, they will also realise the importance of Kyle Walker’s achievements this term. The England fullback left for Manchester City last summer and went onto play a crucial role in winning two trophies this season, including his first league title. Pochettino has undoubtedly built one of the most vibrant young teams seen in recent years, but the longer they wait for a trophy, the likelihood that Walker will become the first of many successful departures will only increase.
Kane is one of their own, but Alderweireld’s contract situation, like Walker’s did, is rumbling on, and Danny Rose, highly regarded by everyone in English football, has barely featured amid speculation over his future. Spurs have a happy camp, but there are cracks appearing; those cracks can only be mended with silverware, which continues to elude them, and changing the wage structure that still does not match their rivals. It is an age-old issue that hampered Arsenal for years; the outgoing Arsene Wenger couldn’t stop it, and Pochettino could face another nervy off-season now.