Manchester United vs Tottenham match report: Kyle Walker own goal gifts Louis van Gaal opening day win on day of five debuts

Manchester United 1 Tottenham 0

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Summer’s third most keenly-anticipated sporting event after the Ashes and The Great British Bake Off – the start of the Premier League – had less significance than one and considerably less drama than the other.

Were it a cake, it would not have passed Mary Berry’s technical challenge. It was settled by an own-goal and contained 10 minutes of excitement at either end.

For Louis van Gaal, who might have expected some kind of iced Victoria sponge when he celebrated his 64th birthday at his favourite Manchester restaurant, Wings, after the match, the important thing was that, in contrast to the opening game of last season, it had been won.

“Yes I am 64,” the Manchester United manager said with a smile. “The Beatles wrote a song about it and, if you listen to the words, then all my wishes are fulfilled,” he added, just able to hold himself back from singing the line about: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64.”

Nobody in the home dressing room pretended it had been won well. The season may have been opening beneath deep blue skies on a perfectly and expensively relaid pitch, but there was too much rust to be kicked off too many boots for it ever to have been a great contest.

Sometimes, it felt like pre-season. Even the decisive goal, which began with Nabil Bentaleb surrendering possession and finished with the ball at Wayne Rooney’s feet on the penalty spot, betrayed a lack of sharpness.

Ordinarily, Rooney would have shot instantly but he hesitated for a fraction – time enough for Kyle Walker to take the ball off the tip of the England captain’s boots and push it past his own goalkeeper. The Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino, who had seen his side begin brightly, threw his water bottle to the ground in disgust.

“Why did you not ask me about the result?” said Van Gaal when the first question of his press conference asked him to assess the performance. “The most important thing is we have won and there was a lot of pressure on us because last year our start was very bad.

“Maybe I put too much pressure on the team before the match but neither team could cope with the pressure – not Manchester United and not Tottenham. They made our goal because they lost the ball under pressure and shot it into their own net. Tottenham had the first chance and, had they scored from it, this would have been a different game. We were lucky.”

 

Logically, Tottenham should have been in no shape to compete. They had spent most of the week in Munich, playing for the Audi Cup that Van Gaal said was part of “a nowadays world when a manager has to compete with the commercial activities of a club”. Spurs had only returned to London on Thursday and yet they began and finished sharply – it was just the middle passage of play after Walker’s own-goal that made Tottenham look listless.

“It is frustrating,” Pochettino reflected. “After 95 minutes at Old Trafford, Manchester United managed only one chance. Our fitness levels were higher than Manchester United and we finished the game fresher but football is about scoring and we did not.”

One of the Argentine’s biggest frustrations would have been that Tottenham did not test his fellow countryman in Manchester United’s goal. David De Gea watched this match from an executive box, his future at Old Trafford dribbling away with Real Madrid expected to make a £25m offer for the goalkeeper in the next few days. It had been thought United’s third-choice keeper, Sam Johnstone, would have started on the grounds he had played four matches on the pre-season tour of America while Sergio Romero had not started a league match since December and had trained with his back four for just two days.

Sergio-Romero.jpg

 

However, had Johnstone conceded early on – as Romero nearly did when a gorgeous flick from Harry Kane sent Christian Eriksen through – he might have disintegrated mentally. Romero, whose goalkicking was dreadful, had lost a World Cup and a Copa America final. He could cope with an early goal and, as the game climaxed, he saved well from both Eriksen and Kane. He was, however, fortunate that he was well protected by Chris Smalling playing alongside Daley Blind, since Phil Jones was absent with illness.

The other debutants had mixed afternoons. Van Gaal singled out Matteo Darmian at right back while Bastian Schweinsteiger, given an ovation merely for warming up, came on to the kind of reception reserved for the truly great and promptly got himself booked. He will improve and so too will the football season.

Comments