It takes a firm lashing of José Mourinho’s asscheeks to get him to walk into a press conference and opine about international humanitarian crises before storming out of the room while doing an unironic Birdman impression, and that’s exactly what Tottenham administered to Mourinho’s Manchester United yesterday. If you couldn’t catch the game or want to relive it in synecdochic form, look no further than the match-killing moment when Lucas Moura put Tottenham up by three goals:
If Tottenham’s prior two goals had been the first blows of United’s spanking, then the third was when Lucas pulled down United’s pants, went and got the belt, and really went to work. The Brazilian had so much to do in that spot. He was essentially all by himself in a three-on-one break, with the other Spurs attackers deciding against sprinting up there to help him, most likely playing it safe in case Lucas lost the ball and the Red Devils mounted another attack. And yet rather than play tentatively, Lucas went directly at center back Chris Smalling and absolutely destroyed him.
That big touch Lucas took that wound up sitting Smalling on his ass stands out because it was so cocky, so risky, and ultimately so humiliating. The best center backs in the world gobble that touch up with ease and send the arrogant forward who made it trotting down the pitch wondering why he was so foolish. Actually, the best center backs in the world probably wouldn’t even have to deal with such a move; they’d be positioned in a way that would make it clear the attacker had no chance of spinning them, and the forward would probably be too afraid of testing the defender like that to even risk it in the first place.
Lucas, though, wasn’t up against one of the world’s best center backs and, though he’s not one of the world’s best forwards in his own right, he bet that his own abilities so outstripped Smalling’s that he could do a thing an opponent would never do to, say, either member of his own team’s center back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, and blaze right past him. Lucas plays for Tottenham, the smallest of the Premier League’s big clubs, while Smalling plays for its biggest, and still Lucas looked up at the heart of Manchester United’s defense, saw Smalling, said “Fuck that, I can take this guy,” and did exactly that before bashing the ball into the back of the net.
And that’s more or less what Tottenham did to United in the match. As with Lucas’s aforementioned goal—the second one he scored that day, and his third of the season—there was a bit of fortune to the result. In Lucas’s case, it looked like Smalling actually did get a toe to the ball during his sliding tackle, but the ensuing redirection of the ball bounced softly off Lucas’s foot as he skipped over the Englishman, allowing him to still finish. For Spurs’ victory as a whole, United actually dominated much of the game’s first half, and if Romelu Lukaku had laced up his shooting boots, United easily could’ve been up by a couple goals before Tottenham got even a whiff of David De Gea’s cologne.
However, the kind of efficiency that is often a trademark of Mourinho’s teams went against his group yesterday. Tottenham took their chances when they got them, and their halftime adjustments and the two goals they scored in quick succession completely changed the tenor of the game. Even in the first half, Spurs never looked intimidated. Manchester United might be “Manchester United,” one of the biggest sports entities in the entire world, playing in their famously imposing home stadium, managed by one of the greatest coaches of all time, but Tottenham played with the confidence and swagger and determination of a team that knows it’s simply better than its opponent, and proved it by winning.
That’s probably the most striking thing about the match, how it solidified once again that Tottenham are just flat-out better than United. Spurs haven’t spent four trillion dollars on players over the past few years the way United have—in fact Tottenham didn’t buy a single player in the recently closed summer transfer window—and they don’t have United’s pedigree or stature or economic power, but they do have better players all over the field and on the bench, a better manager, and a playing style that better maximizes the abilities of their superior players. (Mourinho actually deserves kudos for the innovative system he approached the game with, and if his players had finished better, he probably would’ve strutted into that press conference gloating about how he’s still got it rather than furiously waggling three fingers around in the air and prattling on about respect.) Lucas charging straight at Smalling wasn’t the result of some outsized sense of his own abilities or dumb luck, just as Tottenham’s performance in their first victory at Old Trafford in five seasons was no fluke. Lucas and Tottenham are better than Smalling and United. And it showed.