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Five things we’ve learnt from United vs Spurs

Rooney-of-Manchester-United-celebrates-scoring-their-third-goal-during-the-Barclays-Premier-League-match-betweenManchester United boosted their chances of a top-four finish with an excellent performance against Spurs on Sunday, as Louis Van Gaal’s men finally showed what they’re capable of, dominating possession and dictating the tempo.

With a potentially crucial trip to Anfield coming up next week, have United turned a corner?

Here’s five things we’ve learnt from yesterday…

1) Philosophy at last

When Louis Van Gaal first arrived at Old Trafford, he stressed the importance of having a football philosophy, one he wanted his team to commit to, but as United stumbled from one lethargic performance to another, the buzzword became a stick to beat the manager and the team with.

Against Spurs, however, United finally showed what everyone expected Van Gaal’s philosophy to be about: movement up-front, precise passing and clinical finish.

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United came flying out of the blocks – it was the first time since 14 September that they scored three goals in the first 45 minutes – and imposed themselves on the game, showing the sort of purpose and intent they had been missing all season.

Spurs were abject and it would be premature to claim United have turned a corner, but it was their best performance this season.

2) Blind hope

With Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw out injured, Daley Blind was deployed at left-back on Sunday and many wondered how the Dutchman, an intelligent footballer but hardly the quickest player in the league, would cope with Andros Townsend.

The doubts were shelved once the Spurs winger was withdrawn with only 30 minutes gone, as Blind delivered a fantastic performance at both ends of the pitch. While not as quick as Shaw, Blind is a better reader of the game, which meant he was never caught out of position and his ball distribution going forward was excellent.

Shaw has enormous potential but, at the moment, Blind might be a better option than the England international.

3) Pass, pass, pass

Deploying Blind at left-back meant United had a defender who was comfortable in possession and also allowed Michael Carrick to play alongside Ander Herrera, in what is quickly developing into United’s best midfield combination.

Carrick’s influence on the team is often understated but the former Spurs man remains a player of enormous importance for United, bringing some much needed composure in the middle of the park.

However, his game suffers when he’s deployed alongside a player like Blind, who’s an extremely good reader of the game but lacks the dynamism required to complement Carrick’s passing game.

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With Herrera and Carrick sitting in front of the back four and Juan Mata on the right, United moved the ball expertly and, for the first time this season, at speed, constantly finding pockets of space in behind Spurs’ midfield and defence.

With the ever-improving Marouane Fellaini occasionally dropping deep, Carrick and Herrera took turns to roam forward and, for the first time in what felt a lifetime, United’s midfield bossed the game.

That what a team does with the ball is more important than for how long it keeps it might be one of football’s oldest cliches, but it is also one of the truest.

4) Young deserves a starting spot

The days when United fans moaned at seeing Ashley Young’s name in the line-up are long gone, as the former Villa man has played his way into the team with a string of excellent performances and he did not disappoint on Sunday.

Young’s partnership with Blind on the left flank caused Spurs trouble throughout the game, with the former also able to exploit the space created by Fellaini ahead of him, as the Belgian proved difficult to handle for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.

With Wayne Rooney guaranteed to keep his spot up-front in virtue of Robin Van Persie’s injury and Radamel Falcao’s fall from grace, Young, Mata and Angel Di Maria will battle it out for a starting spot at Anfield.

The Argentine is a world class player but has struggled for form this season and his defensive contribution is minimal when compared to Young, while Mata has made an impact when selected, meaning the former Real Madrid man could well start from the bench next week.

5) Rat race

Considering all the criticism United have received this season, it is somewhat surprising to find them just two points behind Manchester City with nine games to go.

United could and, probably should, have been in an even better position but ruing missed chances will not put points on the board and they must concentrate on their remaining fixtures knowing their destiny is in their hands.

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With games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City still to come before the end of the season, maintaining momentum will be crucial but United should be looking ahead of them rather than over their shoulder.

If Arsenal, who are currently one point behind City, can be considered title challengers than United should fancy their chances of clinching second spot.

Dan