Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup semi-final curse continued on Saturday as the Lilwyhites failed to book their berth in the final on the eighth attempt as Manchester United edged them 2-1 at Wembley Stadium to come within sight of their 13th title.
Dele Alli’s fabulous opener in the first-half had Jose Mourinho worried, but his team responded with a remarkable goal of their won, via Alexis Sanchez, to level proceedings in what was a breathtaking opening half-hour.
There was a marked drop in intensity as the match progressed, with half-chances falling to either side galore but at the interval the sides were deadlocked.
Ander Herrera would pop up with the winner in the 72nd minute after some good work from Man of the Match Sanchez and from then on, United held the Lilwhites at bay to make it yet another season without silverware for the North Londoners.
Here are the five major talking points from the high-octane encounter in the English capital:
Mauricio Pochettino picks wrong XI?
Michel Vorm over Hugo Lloris for a FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United?
Pochettino’s loyalty towards his players is admirable but surely your captain and best goalkeeper by a country mile needs to start a high-profile game as this?
It’s hard to blame the Dutch custodian for the two goals, but one has to wonder if Lloris could hav stopped the second one at least.
Herrera’s shot wasn’t great, for it wasn’t in the corner, rather towards the centre, and had Vorm’s positioning been a bit better, he could easily have got a hand to it.
Then, with Harry Kane looking ineffective against the duo of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, perhaps Pochettino should have mixed things up by replacing the star forward for Lucas Moura, perhaps a little earlier?
Small margins, but often the minutest of differences can prove telling
Frenetic first-half with goals of highest quality
Perhaps not the finest FA Cup semi-final you’ll ever witness, but the first-half was fast-paced and both strikes were of the highest quality.
Spurs’ opener caught United cold, with Davinson Sanchez’s inch-perfect raking ball down the line finding Christian Eriksen on the right wing with unerring accuracy and the Danish midfielder’s cross for Dele Alli was perfect as well.
Alli’s first-time finish made it look easy for scoring a fizzing half-volleyed cross isn’t easy, but arguably the equaliser was even better than the opener.
The way that Paul Pogba shrugged Mousa Dembele off the ball was a rare sight and his exquisite cross for Alexis Sanchez was top-class, as was the Chilean’s header.
Fans were worried that Jose Mourinho’s men would set up his side to park the bus and while United did defend deep, they did take the game to Spurs on a whenever the chance presented itself.
The second-half did taper off in quality and the game did get stretched but the first-half was superb and the crowd assembled at Wembley roared its delight.
Red Devils lucky to end first- half with 11 men
Antonio Valencia put in a tidy shift on the right flank, but the Ecuadorian should have been sent off by Refree Anthony Taylor in the first-half, of that there is no doubt.
He went in with both studs up on Dele Alli near the touchline, but despite having a clear view of the incident, the match official chose to caution the United captain.
The rules of the game are quite clear, if you go in with your studs showing you run the risk of getting sent off and not only was Valencia guilty of that, he did make it a double-footed lunge as well.
At the time of the foul, it was 1-1 and it’s safe to say Spurs could have gone on to clinch the tie had they played more than an hour with a man up.
Alexis Sanchez’s love affair with Wembley continues
How often has Alexis Sanchez come up big for Arsenal at Wembley?
With two FA Cup titles during his time in North London, it’s safe to to say a lot but this time it was in a Red Devils jersey and arguably his best-ever performance since making the switch to the Red half of Manchester.
The combative Chilean was everywhere, giving it his all like he always does but crucially his end product was on-point for a change.
Paul Pogba deserves credit for creating the opening for the equaliser, but Sanchez’s ‘hang-time’ header was top class for there was still a lot to be done as the ball came in and the diminutive South American jumped highest to get the Red Devils back in it.
He didn’t let the tempo drop for a single second and as he ran himself into the ground and was undoubtedly the man of the match, especially considering his presence of mind proved crucial in the the build-up to the winner.
United deserve credit for stifling Spurs’ creativity
Yes, Harry Kane wasn’t in top form, but surely the much-maligned duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones deserve acclaim for keeping the Premier League’s most-feared marksman quiet?
Apart from Alli’s superb opener, the United defence managed to hold firm, helped no doubt by the tireless efforts of midfielders Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera.
It was a team effort as Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku and Sanchez all chipped in too, with David de Gea surprisingly not being called into action for the most part.
Mourinho got his tactics spot on against a team that have played some terrific football this season and that’s no mean feat.
The Portuguese may not be the most endearing figure in world football, what with his propensity towards defensive football, but he’s certainly going to go down as one of the most successful ones.
A third major trophy in two seasons is in sight for the Special One, something his two predecessors failed to do so in their ill-fated stints and that is food for thought for his critics, isn’t it?