LOUIS van Gaal, unlike his Manchester United team, had not run out of steam. The manager shot from the hip after this largely forgettable stalemate, mixing a little bit of sugar with plenty of spice.
United, he said, had produced the best first-half performance of his tenure but he knows that they are not going to win any titles if they display this level of profligacy. He referenced the chances that Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata missed across the piece yet it was in the first period that his team failed to capitalise.
â€œWhen you play your best first half of the season and you are playing in White Hart Lane, and playing a top-six club, and you create six to eight open chances, then you have to finish them,â€ Van Gaal said. â€œIf you donâ€™t reward yourself, normally the opponent wins. When you cannot win these type of matches when you are the better team â€“ like at Aston Villa [before Christmas] and also now â€“ then it is very difficult to be the champions at the end of the season.â€
Van Gaal was not exaggerating with his assessment of the first-half chance count â€“ Falcao and Van Persie wasted the best ones â€“ but at least his team did not succumb to the second-half sucker-punch that is so often a feature of matches that follow those patterns.
Tottenham advertised it. As United faded, the home team were more competitive; they were quicker to the second ball and they extended David de Gea. There was also the moment when Harry Kane released Ryan Mason but the midfielder lifted his shot over the crossbar.
Tottenham had two appeals for a penalty: the first, after Paddy McNair clipped Kane â€“ the Tottenham striker stumbled but, crucially, he kept his feet â€“ and the second towards the end, when Wayne Rooney manhandled Kane following a corner. Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, said that both of them should have been given, although grabbing inside the area hardly comes with the cast-iron assurance of an award.
It was Van Gaal, not Pochettino, who could grumble about the fairness of the scoreline and his argument was based on a first half in which Mata excelled and Ashley Young made inroads from left wing-back.
United had the ball over the Tottenham line in the 23rd minute only for an offside flag against Falcao in the middle to nullify Phil Jonesâ€™s header at the far post while Mataâ€™s deflected free-kick hit a post. Vlad Chiriches cleared in the ensuing melee ahead of Falcao.
Rooneyâ€™s touch had let him down in the early going, following Mataâ€™s ball over the top, and Falcao twice failed to muster sufficient power in his shots after getting in on Hugo Llorisâ€™s goal. On the first occasion the Colombian was put off by Federico Fazioâ€™s challenge.
Lloris deserved his man-of-the-match champagne and it is getting to the point where his excellence barely raises an eyebrow. â€œHe is one of the best goalkeepers in the world,â€ Pochettino said. â€œI say the same thing every week.â€
The goalkeeper thwarted Van Persie at close quarters, after the striker had taken down Michael Carrickâ€™s high ball and then taken a less-advised second touch, and the goalkeeper beat away Youngâ€™s long-range curler which was bound for the top corner. Van Persie had been clean through. His was a glaring miss.
There was niggle, not least involving Van Persie, who had a running battle with Jan Vertonghen. Falcao also tumbled theatrically after Vertonghen had caught him with a stray hand. Van Gaal invaded the personal space of the fourth official, Lee Mason, to protest at an early decision; Rooney nagged at the referee, Jon Moss, who showed six yellow cards, and Pochettino had his grievances too. This is what happens when football cancels Christmas for footballers.
Van Gaal warmed to a familiar theme when he complained about how it had been impossible for the players to recover from the Boxing Day fixtures and he said that his three defensive substitutions were because of tiredness. â€œThe second half was not football any more,â€ he said. â€œIt was a struggle for life.â€
Tottenham pressed on to the front foot as the game wore on, which was the latest testament to their fitness and Andros Townsend, Fazio and Christian Eriksen each worked De Gea. United, though, were left to lament gilt-edged misses in the second half by Van Persie and Mata. Both of them blazed high following crosses from the right.
Van Gaal sounded an upbeat note when he declared that United would â€œof courseâ€ be better in 2015. Yet this was an afternoon of frustration, when the ball would not go in.
Man of the match Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur) – The Guardian