Erik ten Hag hailed the best performance of his early reign at Manchester United as a 2-0 win over Tottenham on Wednesday left Antonio Conte questioning Spurs’ Premier League title credentials.
Fred and Bruno Fernandes got the goals in the second half in a thoroughly deserved win that put the Red Devils within one point of the top four.
Only the heroics of Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal kept the score down on a chastening night for Spurs’ dreams of competing for a first league title since 1961.
“It was the best team performance so far this season,” said Ten Hag. “You see we are developing, but you see the last weeks how we want to play. We get better every time.
“Against this Spurs, which for me is a magnificent team, it was really enjoyable to watch it.”
The only sour note of a night when United clicked was the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo trudging down the tunnel before the game had ended after Ten Hag refused to bring him on as a substitute.
“I deal with that tomorrow,” added Ten Hag. “I want the focus to be on the performance of the team.”
Spurs ‘will struggle’
Tottenham’s return of 23 points from 10 games was their best ever start to a Premier League season.
But after drawing at Chelsea and losing at Arsenal, Conte said his side will struggle to compete with the best England has to offer.
“It was not a good game for us,” said the Italian. “I have to be honest, this was not the first time for us in this season.
“The table is good but every time we’ve played a high level game we struggled. Against Chelsea we struggled because we only got a draw in the 92nd minute.
“With Arsenal we lost and today, against United, we lost. For sure when the level is high, we are going to struggle.”
Ten Hag had bemoaned his side’s lack of killer instinct in scoring only once in home games against Omonia Nicosia and Newcastle over the past week.
With Ronaldo again relegated to the bench, it looked like United may again fail to turn their fine approach play into goals as they had 19 shots on goal in the first 45 minutes without reward.
Antony was inches away from a fourth goal in five Premier League games as the Brazilian’s strike clipped the outside of the post.
Lloris then produced a hat-trick of brilliant stops in a matter of minutes to keep out Marcus Rashford’s low drive, Fernandes’ free-kick and Luke Shaw’s powerful volley.
The second period was only two minutes in when Fred’s deflected effort from the edge of the box finally beat the wrong-footed Lloris.
Victory would have taken Spurs to within one point of leaders Arsenal, but even falling behind could not jolt a response out of Conte’s men.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were kept in check by United’s impressive centre-back pairing of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane.
Even for Kane’s best sight of goal, Martinez got enough of a touch to deflect the England captain’s shot behind.
Fernandes had not scored at club level since August, but kept his head with a neat finish into the far corner to seal Tottenham’s fate 21 minutes from time.
The Portuguese had another goal ruled out for offside and Rashford was also denied the goal his performance deserved by another incredible Lloris save low to his left.
Yet, an evening full of positives for the hosts was marginally overshadowed late on by the sight of Ronaldo disappearing down the tunnel rather than staying put on the bench to salute his teammates.
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