Five talking points from Spurs’ FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United
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Ben Pearce reflects on another FA Cup semi-final disappointment for Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino
Tottenham squandered a first-half lead as they lost their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United 2-1 at Wembley.
Dele Alli put Spurs ahead in the 11th minute but Alexis Sanchez levelled midway through the first half and Ander Herrera struck a 62nd-minute winner.
Here are five talking points from the national stadium:
Christian Eriksen helps to give Tottenham another ideal start
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The Dane had given Spurs the lead after just 11 seconds during January’s 2-0 league win over Man United at Wembley and, although the Lilywhites had to wait a little longer this time, they got another early opener.
Eriksen was this time the supplier, running in behind Paul Pogba down the right touchline before delivering an inch-perfect cross for Alli, who slid in to score at close range.
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Notably, it was Davinson Sanchez who launched the ball down the line to free Eriksen.
The 21-year-old centre-back was selected ahead of Toby Alderweireld and his contribution to Tottenham’s breakthrough helped to justify his inclusion in the team.
A half of two halves
Spurs’ opener gave them an injection of confidence and for the following 10 minutes they were utterly dominant.
Kieran Trippier cheekily nutmegged Pogba. Heung-Min Son’s cross floated just beyond a stretching Harry Kane at the back post. Phil Jones made a goal-saving, arguably match-saving tackle, on Dele Alli. Eriksen fired wide inside the box. Son ran at Antonio Valencia one v one, forcing the United defender to make a good block.
Spurs were unable to score the crucial second goal though, and instead Jose Mourinho’s men composed themselves and fought their way back into the game, winning some midfield battles and set pieces before equalising.
They continued to ask awkward questions and probe for openings after that, with Alexis Sanchez getting time and space to try to pick out midfield runners. Pogba forced Vorm into a diving save from 25 yards.
While Spurs were inches away from restoring their lead just before half time as Eric Dier’s deflected shot hit the post, Tottenham went into half-time ruing their inability to strike a killer blow during the period when they were firmly on top.
Mousa Dembele has off day at a bad time
The Belgian is renowned for his strength, and he rarely loses a physical tussle. It happened today though, and in costly circumstances.
Spurs were leading 1-0 as Dembele received the ball deep inside his own half in the 24th minute. But rather than clear his lines or look for a pass, he tried to muscle his way past Pogba.
He failed, losing the ball, and Pogba promptly crossed for Sanchez, who arrived behind Jan Vertonghen and in front of Ben Davies to head past Michel Vorm.
It was a poor goal for Tottenham to concede, but Sanchez and Vorm – the two players who might have been omitted if the starting line-up had been decided by a fan poll – were blameless.
Dembele was the man at fault, and the error seemed to affect him as he lost the ball twice more in the following minutes, to Sanchez and Lukaku.
The Spurs midfielder recovered his poise and looked keen to make amends in the second half, but this was not his finest day, just when Spurs needed their top men to deliver.
Fine margins and clinical finishes prove decisive again
Tottenham narrowly lost 2-1 against Juventus at Wembley last month in a match where the briefest of moments and a few inches were all-important. Who can forget Kane’s late header, which hit the post and dropped onto the goal-line?
It was a similar story today. Spurs were not outclassed at Wembley, United just took more of their chances, registering five shots on target to Tottenham’s two and scoring with two of them.
The big moment came in the 62nd minute as Sanchez played the ball across the edge of Spurs’ penalty box to Lukaku, who miscontrolled but saw it run through to the far side.
Davies was suddenly outnumbered against Jesse Lingard and the onrushing Ander Herrera, and Lingard left the ball to Herrera, who fired home.
Perhaps this time Vorm could have done better – the shot was very central – and the obvious question is whether Hugo Lloris would have saved it if Pochettino had picked his first-choice goalkeeper.
Yet Vorm was probably not expecting Lingard’s dummy, and he may well have been unsighted. Lloris, who has not been in peak form recently, would probably have been troubled too.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the , Eriksen sent a 25-yard effort narrowly past the right post with David De Gea seemingly beaten. Had the ball been a foot to the left, the Dane would surely have equalised.
When Dier’s first-half shot against the woodwork is added to the picture, Spurs could be forgiven for feeling unlucky again.
But perhaps this is where experience of lifting silverware, and a winning mentality, comes into play. Can it be a coincidence that Tottenham keep ending up on the losing team in these biggest knockout ties?
Any Spurs fans who feared that Mourinho, a serial collector of trophies, would somehow find a way to get his side into the final today probably got exactly what they expected.
Spurs’ FA Cup semi-final heartache goes on
Tottenham have undoubtedly made great strides under Pochettino but today’s defeat was all too familiar – this was the club’s eighth successive defeat in the FA Cup semi-finals, which is the longest run in the competition’s history.
The Lilywhites’ trophy drought will now extend to an 11th year, at least, and the final month of the season is likely to feel like an anti-climax.
The north Londoners still have work to do to secure a Champions League spot – after moving 10 points ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea in the Premier League a fortnight ago, the gap is now just five points.
But, since the final four league matches are against Watford, West Brom, Newcastle and Leicester, they should finish the job.
The FA Cup was the main prize on the table and this loss will hurt for a while.
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