Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea produced a Wembley masterclass as interim manager Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer made it six wins out of six to damage Tottenham’s Premier League title ambitions.
Marcus Rashford’s low finish from Paul Pogba’s superb pass on the stroke of half-time stretched Solskjaer’s flawless start – but the Norwegian had De Gea to thank for a magnificent display as Spurs laid siege to United’s goal after the break.
The Spaniard made a succession of crucial interventions, 11 in total, including many with his feet, as Spurs tried in vain to avoid a defeat that makes their task of keeping pace with Liverpool and Manchester City even more arduous.
United showed great resilience to back up their early positive approach but it was De Gea who broke Spurs’ hearts by denying Harry Kane on several occasions, as well as Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld.
The result leaves Spurs nine points behind leaders Liverpool and United level on points with fifth-placed Arsenal as they revive their top-four hopes.
Few would have placed Solskjaer as a serious contender on any list to replace Jose Mourinho when he was sacked as United boss in December.
And while he may not be the front-runner yet, he has done everything asked of him and this victory against a team in title contention – and with a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who many regard as favourite to be next in the chair at Old Trafford – was the biggest statement of his credentials yet.
Make no mistake, Solskjaer relied hugely on De Gea’s brilliance as he formed a one-man barrier to defy Spurs to secure this win, but he also arrived with a positive mindset and team selection that put United right in the game and led to them getting that half-time lead through Rashford’s goal on the counter-attack.
This was his sternest test after a relatively friendly introductory fixture list and, with the help of De Gea, he was able to complete it successfully.
Solskjaer has given a disaffected squad unity of purpose once more, with Pogba seemingly instantly rejuvenated by Mourinho’s departure, and this run of wins has rebuilt fractured confidence and belief.
The odds on may yet be against Solskjaer claiming the job permanently as other names, such as England manager Gareth Southgate and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, are mentioned, but if he is undertaking an audition, wins like this do his chances no harm.
De Gea gave a brilliant demonstration of goalkeeping – showing that feet can be utilised as successfully as hands when the occasion demands – but there was also real cause for frustration for Spurs.
Pochettino’s side created chance after chance after half-time only to be thwarted by De Gea, captain Kane his victim on several occasions.
No-one could question Spurs’ heart or application but they may feel they could – and should – have done better with many of their opportunities, often giving De Gea the chance to make the saves when more accurate finishing would have left him with no hope.
This result is a bitter blow to Spurs as they try to keep pace with Liverpool and Manchester City and the sight of Kane limping heavily and accompanied by a physio after the final whistle is an added worry for Pochettino.
Spurs have had damaging home defeats to Wolves and now United in recent weeks – they cannot afford many more if they are to maintain a meaningful title pursuit.