Manchester United’s win over Tottenham was a game that had everything – lots of attacking football, two excellent teams, some outstanding individuals, and a fascinating tactical battle between the managers.
United’s interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won that particular contest in the first half and I could tell by the way that he and the rest of his bench celebrated Marcus Rashford’s goal together that it was down to the work they had done before the match.
I recognise that reaction because I had Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager, so these things happened a lot during my time at United. Sir Alex knew how games would pan out because he would identify weaknesses in the opposition, and he knew how to exploit them.
Solskjaer did the same at Wembley. He had a masterplan that came together, and ultimately it won United the game.
The second half was very different – Spurs created a lot of chances and if it wasn’t for United keeper David de Gea then they would probably have equalised, if not taken all three points.
But United held on for what was a special win, and moments like this will only make the United players believe in Solskjaer even more.
I’ve heard all about how he has lifted morale since taking charge, which is great, but seeing his tactics come to fruition will make his relationship with his players even stronger.
United’s goal was made on the training ground
United’s shape was the key to them controlling the game before half-time, because the way Tottenham tried to play suited how Solskjaer had set his side up.
Spurs usually like to pin your wingers back by sending their full-backs up the pitch, and then they dominate midfield because they outnumber you.
But Solskjaer did not let them do that on Sunday. Instead, he allowed Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier to come on to United’s full-backs and told his forwards to stay high and wide.
That gave Tottenham’s centre-halves massive problems because it left huge spaces either side of them for the pace of Rashford and Anthony Martial to exploit.
In midfield, United had Jesse Lingard at the top of a diamond to put pressure on Spurs’ holding midfielder Harry Winks and stop balls into him or Christian Eriksen.
As soon as United won the ball back, they always got it forward into the channels quickly because Rashford and Martial would almost always be in one-on-one situations.
That is exactly how United’s goal came about. They needed a player with the technical ability of Paul Pogba to make the unbelievable pass that set Rashford up, but the move was made on the training ground and through the work they did last week.
Lingard blocked Trippier’s pass inside and gave it to Pogba, who knew Rashford would be making that run. Equally, Rashford knew the pass was coming. He took a fantastic first touch – and found the bottom corner.
The gameplan worked, and it was executed perfectly.
Hard work sees United over the line
Both teams changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation in the second half, which was a far tougher period from United’s point of view – they were hanging on at times.
I think Spurs were expecting United to stick with their diamond after the break, so they put players out wide to go two on one against United’s full-backs to try and overload them.
I am not sure whether United recognised it straight away or if they had planned to change anyhow, but they attempted to combat that by matching Spurs’ shape.
It would not have worked if United had stayed with their diamond because the spaces that Rashford and Martial were enjoying before half-time were no longer there – the Tottenham full-backs were not bombing on any more because they had wingers outside them.
However, Spurs still went on to dominate the game because 4-2-3-1 was a formation their players were probably more suited to, and also because United had used up a lot of energy.
If you are willing to let two players stay forward like they did with Rashford and Martial, then it means only eight men are defending and eventually it is going to catch up with you.
United were dropping deeper and deeper, but although they were tiring they continued to work extremely hard and every member of their team played their part in holding out.
Cool and calm – De Gea keeps his composure
I was particularly impressed by Ander Herrera, who started out on the right of their midfield diamond but had a very different role in the second half, next to Nemanja Matic as a defensive midfielder.
A lot of his work went unseen, when he was tracking players and staying with runners, but every time he got on the ball he showed great composure and he rarely wasted a pass.
Victor Lindelof stood out too, not just with his determination but with his communication and the way he organised the rest of the United defence.
It was the first time I have seen him act like a real leader, and he looks like a player who has been given the confidence by his manager to be the team’s voice at the back, which is going to be massive for United going forward.
As well as the outfield players performed, they would not have won the game if not for De Gea’s brilliance behind them.
He is obviously a fantastic goalkeeper but I know from playing alongside him that his biggest strength is his temperament.
His composure is amazing and he always remains cool and calm – he does not get too excited when he makes a fantastic save, and he does not let it affect him when he makes the odd mistake.
Whatever happens, David has a level of belief in himself and he always keeps that consistent. He is the best goalkeeper in the world.
What next? PSG tie on the horizon
|Man Utd’s next five games|
|Saturday, 19 January||Brighton (h)||Premier League|
|Friday, 25 January||Arsenal (a)||FA Cup|
|Tuesday, 29 January||Burnley (h)||Premier League|
|Sunday, 03 February||Leicester (a)||Premier League|
|Saturday, 09 February||Fulham (a)||Premier League|
|Tuesday, 12 February||Paris St-Germain (h)||Champions League|
This was a fantastic result for United and they have now won six games out of six under Solskjaer.
Unfairly, some people just thought he would come in and make the players smile. They also expected him to win his first few games in charge before this one, because they were not against any of the top sides.
But the Premier League is tough and you cannot win games by just telling your players to go out and enjoy themselves.
People might look at Solskjaer’s tactical input against Spurs more than they did against, say Huddersfield, but he had to have a plan in that game too.
He has passed every test so far and the next few weeks will give him the opportunity to continue his run.
There are some tough games coming up in the league and FA Cup but United have got the chance to build some momentum before they play Paris St-Germain in the Champions League last 16 on 12 February.
Solskjaer has still got a battle on his hands to finish in the top four but they are already in a much better position than when he took over.
He will also be thinking they can win the FA Cup, and that anything is possible in Europe. That is the mindset he will be putting into his players – and confidence will definitely not be an issue for them.
Darren Fletcher was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.