Man United vs. Spurs: Friday night's football was something of a damp squib

So much build-up, such a flat finish.
Man United vs. Spurs: Friday night's football was something of a damp squib

So much build-up, such a flat finish.

Premier League football returned to London with one of English football’s sexiest fixtures, but as Friday nights go, this was something of an anti-climax, a damp squib with unseasonal summer drizzle hanging over north London.

This is usually a fixture dripping with history and tradition, two of England's great clubs. Think of Jimmy Greaves jinking his way through a United side containing Best, Law and Charlton, Fergie inspiring his side to come from 3-0 down at half-time to win 5-3, the very last game at White Hart Lane, when Jose Mourinho was United's manager, Pochettino v Solskjaer vying to take over from him a year later. Always high stakes, always full of passion and drama.

So it was weird to watch this game, with no less at stake than a realistic chance of Champions League football, played out in the eerie atmosphere of an almost empty stadium. Tottenham spent almost a billion Euros building the most state-of-the-art stadium in Europe, possibly the world and only a handful were allowed in.

The longest bar in Britain, in the concourse of the West Stand, was deserted. The streets around this futuristic construction were like they would be on any regular Friday night, with a handful of late commuters making their way home and a handful of night-birds checking out the chicken shops.

Tottenham was like a ghost town and this UFO-like stadium resembled a ghost ship. The club's resident DJ tried to pump up some volume with music before kickoff and at half-time, which only made the atmosphere more eerie when the game kicked off.

A short memorial for victims of the pandemic was met with a minute's applause from the players and the remainder of the 300 or so inside the stadium. Players briefly took the knee before Jon Moss signalled the start, and so began this strange experience. The loudest sounds were the constant thudding of the ball and the voices of the players, some louder than others. Hugo Lloris was surprisingly vocal in the Spurs goal, constantly cajoling his team-mates, calling his defenders back and leading by example, with two smart early saves, one with his feet from a Marcus Rashford shot, then moments later holding a curler from Fred. Lloris is so measured and softly-spoken off the pitch it was somewhat incongruous to hear him barking out orders throughout, but perhaps that is why Mauricio Pochettino chose him as captain.

David De Gea was nowhere near as vocal, though one wonders whether he spoke up at half-time, if only to apologise for the howler that allowed Tottenham to take the lead. Steven Bergwijn's shot was powerful, no doubt, but the Spaniard let it squirm through his grasp far too easily for a goalkeeper of his standing.

He made amends of a sort by tipping over a header from Heung Min Son soon after conceding the goal, but Lloris made an even better save just after the hour mark by flinging himself full length to palm away Anthony Martial's goalbound shot. A mistake by Serge Aurier had led to United's chance, and he was duly berated in French by his captain.

Even stranger was the near-silence that greeted the intervention of VAR ten minutes from the end, when Eric Dier clumsily bundled over Paul Pogba on the byline. Referee Moss pointed to the penalty spot but had to wait a minute or so for the video crew at Stockley Park to ratify his decision. Rarely can there have been less tension, less baying from the stands, while we waited for confirmation. Bruno Fernandes despatched the spot-kick without fuss.

United's Portuguese playmaker flitted in and out with some delightful touches, as did Erik Lamela somewhat surprisingly for Spurs, some of whose big-name players were less involved. Harry Kane looked a little off the pace, understandably given this was his first game since New Year's Day because of hamstring surgery. Heung Min Son, who spent lockdown recovering from a broken arm and then completing national service in South Korea, was not at his sharpest.

For United, Pogba was kept on the bench for an hour, having recovered from a long lay-off too, but made a difference when he joined the fray.

Although United thought they had the best chance to win, when Moss awarded another penalty in the closing minutes, only to be overruled by VAR, it was Solskjaer who seemed happier with a draw than Mourinho, sending on defensive reinforcements to hang on for the draw that suits United better than Spurs in the race for a top four place.

It all felt a bit flat in the end, certainly with no supporters to sing, shout, boo, jeer or cheer. It looks like this is what we have to get used to, but one cannot help harking back to the good old days of BC – Before Coronavirus.

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