LONDON — Given the circumstances that Tottenham find themselves in, a point gained at home to Manchester United hardly seems a salve. Chairman Daniel Levy would appear to be persona non grata at the stadium that was supposed to be his defining contribution to Spurs’ history. European football of any kind is in the balance, as is the future of Harry Kane. Who would even manage him if he stayed is up in the air, as is what sort of structure any new head coach would fit into.
And yet the team that seemed to write off their season in the first 20 minutes at Newcastle at least showed a response to the adversity they had placed themselves in. Two goals down to Manchester United at the break, Spurs delivered something approximating what their supporters have been crying out for all season, cut and thrust down the flanks, energy on the break and goals, enough to earn themselves a 2-2 draw that takes them back into fifth.
Life was breathed back into a stadium that had seemed on the verge of mutiny at an interval bafflingly soundtracked by the Stones Roses’ “Fools Gold.” One of Manchester’s most beloved musical exports might have been signing for Levy with the line, “I’m standing alone, I’m watching you all, I’m seeing you sinking.” Tottenham were subsiding. Fans were in no doubt who was to blame.
A hundred or so supporters had gathered outside the ground an hour before kickoff, at their backs half a dozen banners laying out the ways in which Levy had failed his club. ENIC DNA, passers-by were told, was not the “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football that the chairman had so memorably labeled it as in 2021’s conciliatory note to supporters. Instead, it was the European Super League and Lady Gaga. If that is indeed the case then perhaps Spurs fans should cut Levy some slack. After all, to keep with the Lady Gaga theme, he was born this way.
If Levy had hoped that it may be only the furious fringe that turned on him tonight, he was eventually disabused of that notion. In designing the single-tier South Stand, Tottenham had hoped to make a thousand voices sound 10 times as loud. What a spectacular success it has been. You could have believed a million were crying “Levy Out” as they saw Manchester United fly towards them under next to no pressure.
Interim head coach take-two Ryan Mason had ditched the back four that had been so ruthlessly ripped apart at St James’ Park. All that the three-man defense in which Spurs have been playing for most of this season and last brought was different chasms for United to attack. On the front foot, Pedro Porro looks a player of real menace but it was all too easy for the visitors to attack the space he vacated. Indeed it was from there that Jadon Sancho struck in the seventh minute.
United’s execution was impressive but only in the fashion of a training ground move that really clicked. Under minimal pressure, Victor Lindelof had time to pick his pass into midfield and Marcus Rashford, who skipped beyond Oliver Skipp before slipping the ball left to Sancho. Three Tottenham defenders contrived to do nothing more but leave him an opening through which to bend th
e ball beyond Fraser Forster.
In a sign of progress from the Cristian Stellini interregnum, Tottenham at least attacked this game with purpose even if they were woefully short on precision early on. Too often Richarlison or Ivan Perisic would dart down the left flank and make the wrong decision, cutting back to no one when a shot was on, going for glory when teammates were joining them in support. Such wobbly decision-making would cost Tottenham dearly as their best period of pressure in the opening 45 minutes concluded with United taking a two- goal lead.
Harry Kane dropped into midfield, bringing Aaron Wan-Bissaka with him and clipping a first-time reverse ball into space for Perisic to attack. He should have done better with a shot fired straight at David de Gea but that really was not the problem. A panicked Lindelof seemed to have accepted that a Spurs corner was United’s best form of escape and yet Perisic hared after the ball, sliding down at the corner flag to keep it in play. Seconds later Raphael Varane whipped the ball off him, Bruno Fernandes hit the ball into space and Rashford was away, driving past the awe-struck Eric Dier and thumping home his 29th goal of this exceptional season.
That really ought to have been that. Even when Pedro Porro halved the deficit, punishing United for failing to deal with another cross from the left with an outside of the boot, the visitors could dart into the Tottenham box at will. Fernandes found enough space to roll the ball past Clement Lenglet, beat Dier and Forster to it and thump an effort against the bar.
At the other end, however, United found themselves overwhelmed by a team playing with width and numbers so rarely seen this season. As the game opened up, Mason shrewdly brought on Dejan Kulusevski rather than the actor who has been playing the Swede in such an underwhelming fashion over the last few weeks. Crosses were coming at the Lindelof-Luke Shaw backline from all sorts of angles, Kane in particular at his creative best.
It took Heung-min Son a few chances to convert but after scuffing his lines he delivered the equalizer Spurs merited, flicking Kane’s cross over a despairing De Gea. There was time to go for the winner against a shellshocked United, two more points Tottenham really needed, but perhaps Mason has spent too long around Conte and Stellini. The hosts dropped deep to grumbles of frustration from their supporters but were never really tested by a United attack that needs to evolve more feathers to their bow beyond transition play.
That is a concern for next season, which Erik ten Hag can plan in conjunction with June’s FA Cup Final. This Premier League campaign is now just a matter of third or fourth. There is no chance for Spurs to ease off as they scrap for a Europa League spot. After so much destruction since Conte took a torch to his relationship with the club last month, this was a much-needed building block.