Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera saw United overcome Spurs and reach their second FA Cup final in three seasons.
Spurs came flying out of the gate and took the lead in the 11th minute when Dele Alli slid in to meet a wonderful cross from Christian Eriksen. United, however, managed to find their feet, and hit back through Alexis Sanchez’s cushioned header, before Ander Herrera rifled them in front midway through the second half. United managed to hold off an increasingly desperate Spurs, and booked a return ticket to Wembley in May.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Every team needs an Ander Herrera
Herrera is the kind of player that his own team’s fans love, but everyone else hates. This game was a stage where he could show everything he brings to this United side.
He was constantly harassing and harrying, forcing turnovers of possession, nipping at the heels of the Spurs midfield. When necessary, he brought players down, and generally made himself a nuisance.
He played a few lovely balls up the right wing to Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia, and was doing a good job of knitting the team’s short passes together with Nemanja Matic. Herrera was already playing on the last nerve of every Spurs player and fan in the stadium when his finely struck winner burst past Michel Vorm. The baby-faced midfielder justified his presence in the team after a good performance against Bournemouth in midweek, and showed why every team needs players who can get on their opponent’s nerves, as well as play.
The duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, who had been bullied by Harry Kane the last time these two sides met at Wembley, will be pleased with their day’s work. The English striker was shut down at every opportunity, and the centre-back pair were keen on making their presence known to him every time he got the ball.
Jones and Smalling’s fire was evident towards the end, as they combined to protect the ball from Kane, leaving the England striker on the turf by the goalline, as they glared at him. It was a long day for Kane, and once United cut him out of the game, Spurs did not look like they had a backup plan, being forced to resort to long-range efforts.
Same old Spurs
It has to be a tiring routine for Spurs. Another trophyless season is now going to pass them by. They should be able to qualify for the Champions League once more, but the aftertaste left by this campaign will be bitter.
The loss to Juventus, coupled with this one, will sting. Twice, Spurs have been in the driver’s seat of a do-or-die cup game, and twice they have seen the game slip from their grasp. At some point, players like Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, and Kane will want to furnish their trophy cabinets with some silverware.
Spurs have been unwilling to break their wage structure to match the money on offer at the rest of the big clubs, and are not winning trophies. What is stopping these players from leaving? Pochettino may have his work cut out for him over the summer.
Alexis picking up steam
Alexis Sanchez has endured a tough start to his United career, but there are signs that he is beginning to turn the corner. Including this game, his last four games have seen two goals and three assists, and his build-up play with Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba is improving. This is the Sanchez that United wanted to see.
It has come a bit later than anticipated, but the future is looking brighter, especially once Sanchez has a full pre-season at the club. If he can recapture his peak Arsenal form, United will be a very difficult side to beat. Mourinho will want a repeat of this performance in the FA Cup final.
Mourinho’s tactics shine through
Speaking of Mourinho, the Portugese manager’s gameplan, particularly in the second half, was excellent. United focused on quick transitions in the final third, a polar opposite from their display at West Brom. His players responded extremely well to going a goal down, and minimised their touches in and around the opposition box. The pair of Matic and Herrera closed down space in midfield, tackling Mousa Dembele into submission, while Pogba was allowed to surge upfield. Knowing that Spurs were deadly on the counter-attack, Mourinho conceded possession to them, and forced them to slow down their attacking play.
It was telling that Spurs’ goal came from a quick attack up their right wing, and from that point on, they were met with a red wall every time they went close to the United goal. Mourinho has given himself another shot at silverware, and neither Chelsea, nor Southampton will fancy their chances if they perform like this once more.