Manchester - Wayne Rooney has ensured Manchester United packed a punch as they
tightened their grip on a top-four place with an impressive 3-0 victory
over Tottenham on Sunday.
After going out of the FA Cup against
Arsenal last Monday, the sole remaining target for Louis van Gaal's
first season in charge is to finish at least fourth in the Premier
League to seal a return to the Champions League.
A record of just
two league defeats since the start of November had given them every
chance, but the unconvincing nature of some of their performances had
still raised doubts that they would stay the course.
A run of
games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea within
their next five fixtures was supposed to be the acid test.
Gaal's side could not have made a better start by overwhelming a
Tottenham side with top-four aspirations of their own thank to an
impressive run which had lifted them to within three points of United
Spurs had also won on their two previous visits
to Old Trafford but any chance of a hat-trick disappeared with
first-half goals from Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Rooney, who
had woken to unwanted headlines after footage emerged of him supposedly
being knocked out during a sparring session with a former United
United were superior in every department as they
produced one of their best performances under van Gaal and, thanks to a
ninth win in 10 home league games, they are now just two points behind
second placed Manchester City.
United again started with the out of form Radamel Falcao on the bench.
Robin van Persie also still out injured, Fellaini has played an
increasingly important role as an attacking option and it was the
Belgium international who put United ahead after nine minutes with his
fifth goal of the season.
Carrick's return to starting duty for
the first time since late January was also a contributory factor to
United's first-half dominance and it was a pass from the former
Tottenham midfielder that released Fellaini to score with a low
left-footed shot across Hugo Lloris.
Carrick had not scored since February 2014 and managed only one all of last season.
his 19th minute finish was that of a proven marksman as he deftly
guided a header beyond Lloris after Nacer Chadli had struggled to clear a
header from Fellaini following an Ashley Young corner.
looked anything but the side that had won five of their previous seven
league games and watching England coach Roy Hodgson barely saw Harry
Kane, aiming to score for a seventh successive away game, get a
meaningful touch as he seeks to win a place in the full England squad to
be named this coming week.
Rooney will definitely be in that
squad and he underlined his well-being with his 19th goal of the season
11 minutes before the break to make victory a formality.
possession off Nabil Bentaleb, the United captain ran unchecked through
Tottenham's defence before slotting the ball home and celebrating with a
flurry of punches and a collapse to the floor to mimic the morning
newspaper report which claimed he had been knocked out in an impromptu
boxing bout in his kitchen with Stoke defender Phil Bardsley.
couldn't be as bad in the second half and Ryan Mason missed a chance to
pull a goal back when he shot wide 10 minutes into the second half and
Kane was denied by David de Gea at the death.
United also didn't
need to sustain the tempo and intensity that marked this out as one of
their best performances at Old Trafford since the Alex Ferguson era.