Manchester United’s Ander Herrera sinks Tottenham in FA Cup semi-final

Dele Alli gave Tottenham the lead but goals from Alexis Sánchez and Herrera gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory in the FA Cup semi-final

Once again Manchester United have the chance to end an unconvincing season with a flash of the finest silver. Winners of this competition under Louis van Gaal in 2016, and of the Europa League and League Cup under José Mourinho last year, they secured a place in another final after condemning Tottenham and their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, to yet another campaign without a crowning achievement.

Given their history in this competition and others Tottenham came into the game with not so much a monkey on their back as an entire posse of primates. Their run of FA Cup semi-final failures has now been extended to eight, no significant trophies for a decade and just the two League Cups since they last snuck into the final and won this title, against Nottingham Forest in 1991. It represents a lengthy period if not quite in the wilderness then at least in a chilly hinterland.

But in a heated atmosphere it was Spurs who warmed up most swiftly, Harry Kane having their first shot within 30 seconds and Son Heung-min’s clever turn putting the United defence in real trouble for the first time in the second minute. From the start United struggled to cope with the pace and intensity of their game, and when they found a path back into the contest it was only after Tottenham had themselves pointed the way. Mousa Dembélé, one of several key players who ultimately disappointed for Spurs, gave the ball away deep inside his own half, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sánchez combined to impose brutal, beautiful punishment and from there the pattern of the game changed.

David de Gea  Did not make one of his trademark -wonder saves but neither was he at fault for Tottenham’s goal after 11 minutes. A steady display 6

Antonio Valencia Struggled to tame Son and was -arguably lucky not to be sent off for an ankle-high lunge on Alli in the first half 5

Chris Smalling Tasked with keeping Harry Kane at bay and did a good job. Diligent as well as willing to throw himself in front of shots from the England striker 7

Phil Jones Made an excellent interception that -prevented Tottenham going 2-0 ahead and overall was an aggressive, -dedicated presence in central defence 7 

Ashley Young  Went missing in the build-up to Tottenham’s goal, allowing Eriksen the freedom of the left wing to deliver the telling cross, but otherwise fine 6 

Ander Herrera Scored the winning goal with a first-time, sweeping finish and generally grew into the game after an unsteady start 7

Nemanja Matic A typically, unfussy display from the Serbian from the base of United’s -midfield. Kept Dembélé’s marauding runs to a minimum 7

Paul Pogba Made up for his lack of defensive work in the build-up to Tottenham’s goal with superb cross for United’s -equaliser. Generally performed well 7 

Jesse Lingard  Penetrative presence from the outset and made a subtle but important contribution to United’s winner, moving the ball on to Herrera 7

Romelu Lukaku Worked tirelessly and aggressively as United’s lone forward without causing Tottenham any problems. Mourinho will have been pleased with his effort 6

Alexis Sánchez Secured United’s equaliser with a -brilliantly-placed header – his fifth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley – and played a role in the winner 7

There could have been another twist had Antonio Valencia been more harshly punished for a two-footed lunge on Dele Alli three minutes later, but Anthony Taylor considered the offence worthy only of a caution.

That was after Spurs, having dominated the early exchanges, had taken the lead with a goal of humiliating simplicity. Ashley Young committed himself to pressing the ball deep inside the Tottenham half and Davinson Sánchez hit it long into the space the United left-back should have been covering. It was space Christian Eriksen had all to himself and with Pogba trailing behind him he had time to measure his cross, which Alli turned in.

There could, in the minutes that followed, have been more. Son’s looping cross was just too long for Kane, and a low ball by the South Korean seemed destined to be converted by Alli until Phil Jones hooked it clear. Kane set up Eriksen for a shot that bounced across goal and wide, and Son’s effort hit Valencia.

Michel Vorm, who has kept goal for Spurs throughout their cup run, had been woefully underemployed until Kieran Trippier, with the ball on the right flank, turned down the chance to clear and instead passed to Dembélé, who might have turned the ball into touch but tried to jink past Pogba and failed. The Frenchman spun and delivered a delicious centre that dipped on to Sánchez’s head for the equaliser.

Michel Vorm  Maintained his status as Tottenham’s FA Cup goalkeeper and, bar a shaky kick early on, was generally fine. Could not do much about the goals 6

Kieran Trippier  Misplaced a pass that contributed to United’s first goal and could have done more to stop Sánchez in the build-up to their second. Not at his best 5

Davinson Sánchez One of six changes Mauricio Pochettino made to his team, coming in for Toby Alderweireld, and was generally assured at the heart of the Spurs defence 6

Jan Vertonghen As assured as his centre-back partner, although he was arguably was caught a little flat-footed for United’s opening goal 6

Ben Davies  Could have done more to prevent Herrera’s goal given the ball went through his legs before ending up in the back of the net. Otherwise competent enough 6

Eric Dier Struck the post with a low drive in the first-half and was generally steady. But, overall, failed to impose himself. Booked late on 6

Mousa Dembélé  Was easily outmuscled by Pogba in the build-up to United’s equaliser. From there, tried to drive Tottenham on but failed to make a telling impact 5

Christian Eriksen Did not deserve to be on the losing side. Created Tottenham’s goal with an -excellent delivery and impressed with his distribution and movement 8

Dele Alli  Opened the scoring with a sliding, far-post finish and continued to be a danger to the United defence before fading in the second half 7

Son Heung-min  Caused Valencia all sorts of -problems early on with his movement and energy. Maintained his endeavour but -increasingly struggled to harm United 6

Harry Kane A strikingly subdued display by the forward. Rarely caused United any problems, either with his hold-up play or movement. His return from injury may have come too soon 5

That moment gave United the encouragement to match their rivals’ intensity and the remainder of the first half was considerably more even, ending with fine long-range shots from both sides. Pogba’s curler in the final minute was tipped wide and Eric Dier’s drive in stoppage time deflected off Chris Smalling and thumped the base of David de Gea’s right-hand post.

Smalling also got himself in the way of Tottenham’s first notable shot of the second half, deflecting Kane’s effort wide. That this took place nearly 14 minutes after the interval reflects a period of diminished pace and precision. But now it was United who were more often winning second balls and coming first in marginal races, Spurs being pressured into errors. Ander Herrera epitomised their improved work ethic in scoring their second goal, sprinting the length of the field and arriving on the edge of Tottenham’s penalty area with perfect timing. Sánchez’s pass from the left flicked off Romelu Lukaku’s studs, was left by Jesse Lingard and the Spaniard’s low drive flashed past Vorm.

Having survived their poor start, United flourished to eventually give a display of authority. Pogba impressed again, claiming an assist and hitting a couple of delicious long passes to Lukaku. Sánchez displayed the effervescence that marked his finer performances for Arsenal. Spurs, increasingly frustrated, played at times as if their primary target was not United’s goal but Lingard’s ankles. With Kane peripheral for long periods there was only one significant chance as they chased the game, when Victor Wanyama headed Érik Lamela’s free-kick harmlessly high in the 89th minute.

Instead United, having taken a comical amount of time over a couple of substitutions, might have extended their advantage in the resulting stoppage time. First Lukaku released Marcus Rashford only for Dier to dispossess him inside the penalty area, and then Vorm raced out of his area to block a pass to Lukaku – with his back rather than, as many United fans suspected, his hands. But if this victory was never destined to be comfortable, it was in the end convincing.


Simon Burnton at Wembley

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