Manchester United bounced back from the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal with a one-sided win over Tottenham Hotspur to stay on course for a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League.
The Reds were 3-0 up by half-time at Old Trafford after fine goals by Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney. And although there were no further strikes in the second half, Louis van Gaal’s men saw out the game comfortably to once again move a point behind third-placed Arsenal in the table.
Aside from a minor early scare, when David De Gea was forced to scramble a wayward Phil Jones backpass behind for a corner, United were utterly in control in the first half.
Fellaini put himself about impressively in an advanced midfield role all afternoon and it was hardly a surprise when he found himself with the opportunity to give United the lead in the ninth minute.
Daley Blind found Carrick in midfield and he played a superb through-ball into the path of the Belgian, who finished expertly with his left foot low into the corner, for his fifth goal of the season.
And the Reds were soon two goals to the good, with Fellaini involved again. His header from a corner was cleared by Nacer Chadli as far as Carrick, who neatly guided his own header into the same bottom-right corner in which Fellaini’s strike had nestled 10 minutes earlier. It was Carrick’s first goal in over a year, on his first Reds start since February.
United were dominating the midfield exchanges and almost went three up when Fellaini ran onto another through-ball, this time from Ashley Young, and crossed towards Juan Mata, but Danny Rose’s slide was enough to put the Spaniard off and the ball evaded them both.
But the third goal did arrive soon after and it was a wonderful solo effort by Rooney, who picked up the ball in a deep position and drove towards goal, beating Nabil Bentaleb and Eric Dier before slotting in his fourth goal in as many games. The skipper proceeded to embark on a boxing-themed celebration inspired by a video featuring him and ex-Reds defender Phil Bardsley that had appeared online before the game.
Rooney was looking in the mood and twice went close to adding to his tally before the interval, first volleying Fellaini’s cross narrowly wide and then flashing a shot wide.
United began the second period on the front foot and Bentaleb did well to block a goal-bound Blind shot, before Spurs had their first real opening of the game as Ryan Mason made room for himself on the edge of the box, but could only drag his shot wide.
Ander Herrera hit a half-volley into the side-netting from an acute angle, before driving a powerful effort narrowly wide as the home side hunted a fourth goal.
With 13 minutes left, van Gaal handed a Barclays Premier League debut to Andreas Pereira in place of Mata, who had made his first start since early February. Pereira’s only previous first-team appearance was against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup in August.
Fellaini and then Carrick left the field, like Mata, to rapturous applause as Radamel Falcao and Rafael respectively were introduced for the closing stages.
Spurs striker Harry Kane, who had been quiet all game, finally had his team’s first shot on target with a minute left, but De Gea saved with his feet to preserve his clean sheet, as United moved six points clear of the visitors and five points ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool, who visit Swansea City on Monday night.