The margin of Manchester United's victory on Saturday might have seemed hard on Tottenham Hotspur, but the home side's ability to nullify Gareth Bale, the visitors' most likely source of an equaliser, in the latter stages actually made this win feel comfortable.
The introduction of Paul Scholes for Dimitar Berbatov ensured there was less space to exploit in the centre with another of the home side's substitutes, Wes Brown, playing his part in driving Bale infield into the muddle. Those latter stages contrasted with much of an open game, with the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric, Berbatov and Nani enjoying the space between both sides' backlines and front. Through the first half it was attack and counter-attack, with creative talents relishing the room that was on offer.
But Tottenham could not maximise the advantage and, after the break, United closed tighter with their lead established. Van der Vaart consequently saw less of the ball with Spurs starved of creativity. Scholes's introduction with 26 minutes to play allowed the hosts to mirror the visitors' 4-5-1 system, a show of respect that congested the midfield and allowed the home side to control the centre more easily. Bale, alone, posed a real threat on the counter-attack but Brown, introduced as United tightened, had clear orders to force the Welshman infield, blocking his opponent's sprint on the outside.
With Scholes now aiding Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in the middle, Bale - discouraged to go on the outside by Brown's clever positioning - was merely driven into a mass of bodies (see diagram) and the visitors' main attacking thrust was blocked. Only once, when the flying Spurs winger - all shades of the great Cliff Jones - raced inside and reversed a clever right-foot shot across goal, did Tottenham threaten to haul themselves level.
Tottenham may have finished the game with two strikers on the pitch, but it was United who were always ready to pounce, intercept and break forward on the counter.
The second goal was unfortunate for Spurs, but it confirmed my suspicion that many commentators and pundits do not know the laws of the game. The referee did not signal either a free-kick or a dead ball as Nani reacted and Heurelho Gomes dozed. It was a fair goal, however harsh it was in the context of the spirit of the game.
This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.