“Ronaldo’s fierce far-post volley six minutes before half-time was routine by his own standards – but it was still brilliant enough to be part of any goal of the month competition.”
Saving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the sack before the clocks go back wasn’t in Cristiano Ronaldo ’s brief when he was welcomed back to Manchester.
In fact, there is even a theory that allowing hearts to rule heads by making sure Ronaldo didn’t fall into the hands of Pep Guardiola has been part of Solskjaer’s problem.
But with the United boss needing his very own Mark Robins moment, it was the man from Madeira who provided it.
Ronaldo’s fierce far-post volley six minutes before half-time was routine by his own standards – but it was still brilliant enough to be part of any goal of the month competition.
Bruno Fernandes’ clipped pass was a bit special as well. Spotting Ronaldo smuggling himself in behind Ben Davies, the Portuguese midfielder served up a delicious delivery that his countryman gobbled up.
Offside via Getty Images)
And just to show he is every inch a team player these days, Ronaldo turned provider in the 64th minute for Edinson Cavani to show United’s 30-somethings are definitely all right.
Eric Dier’s dire attempt to catch the Uruguayan offside helped as well, but once Ronaldo had put Cavani clear there was only going to be one outcome.
Marcus Rashford sealed the deal four minutes from time after replacing Ronaldo, beating Hugo Lloris with an assured low finish after being set free by Nemanja Matic.
Now, after spending the last week as a dead man walking, Solskjaer will draw level on points with Guardiola if his team
wins Saturday’s Manchester derby.
There is no doubt that the brilliance of stars like Ronaldo, Cavani and Fernandes is papering over cracks that are preventing United from becoming genuine contenders.
But you can be sure Tottenham’s fans wouldn’t mind a bit of it.
The home supporters who lined up outside their billion-pound stadium to chant ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ as United’s squad disembarked from their team bus must have felt a bit foolish at the end.
Maybe their taunts were for Nuno Espirito Santo. Or, more likely, Daniel Levy.
Spurs were jeered off at half-time. Santo’s decision to bring off Lucas Moura was met with chants that the Portuguese doesn’t know what he’s doing.
It’s one step forward, two paces back for Tottenham.
But Levy found it tough enough to find a manager in the summer, so Santo is another manager who might benefit from his chairman’s lack of a Plan B.
Solskjaer knew he had to respond to his Liverpool humiliation – and so did his players.
The United boss teamed up Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and the returning Raphael Varane in central defence.
So with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw employed as wing-backs, and Fred and Scott McTominay providing a midfield shield, it meant United had seven men protecting David de Gea rather than the none-at-the-back policy that allowed Mo Salah and Co to run riot.
It meant Rashford, Mason Greenwood and £73million Jadon Sancho were on the bench.
But the system enabled Fernandes the freedom to play just behind Ronaldo and Cavani – and it was that seasoned class that won the game.
The visitors certainly weren’t going to go down with a whimper.
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
Luke Shaw was booked for a rugby tackle on Moura and Harry Maguire followed after wiping out Giovani Lo Celso’s theatrics.
They also got a break when Heung Min-Son controlled Moura’s lofted pass, only to lift his shot over.
Spurs thought they had exploited United’s fallibility at set-pieces when Cristian Romero bundled home Harry Kane’s flick only to be flagged offside.
It was another quiet night for the Tottenham captain, who has still only scored one Premier League goal this season.
United’s tenacity was illustrated perfectly when Wan-Bissaka hunted down Son to produce a brilliant recovery tackle.
Wan-Bissaka didn’t know that the Spurs forward had strayed offside, but his attitude earned him high-fives and pats on the back from his team-mates.
Then Ronaldo scored his seventh goal of the season and United were on their way.