Manchester United had Cristiano Ronaldo to thank once again as his hat-trick was enough to see off a stubborn Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.
The 3-2 scoreline was a fair reflection on a game that ebbed and flowed in parts, dragging in others, and a magical moment from the great man on 12 minutes lit up what had been a tentative start to proceedings, as neither side really went chasing when out of possession.
Ralf Rangnick was brave enough to play the United legend from the start after a hip flexor problem had ruled him out of the derby day embarrassment at the hands of Manchester City last time out, and the Portuguese’s inclusion was justified as he fired a corker beyond Hugo Lloris from range after excellent work in the midfield by Fred to set him up.
Antonio Conte thought his side had levelled as Ben Davies of all people slotted past David de Gea at the near post after excellent link-up down the left by Heung-Min Son and Sergio Reguilon allowed him to steal a march on the trailing Jadon Sancho, but the flag was raised as United escaped.
It wasn’t for long, though, as Spurs penetrated the right side after an initial Eric Dier attempt from the edge of the area, and Dejan Kulusevski’s cross was adjudged to have been handled by Alex Telles as Jon Moss pointed to the spot.
Talismanic striker Harry Kane duly converted the equaliser as De Gea guessed right, but Spurs had the goal they deserved as they piled the pressure on their hosts, who had shrivelled back into their shells slightly after that initial Ronaldo opener.
But it was that man yet again, Ronaldo, who had Old Trafford bouncing once more, netting merely two minutes later, as Reguilon was caught napping on the far side, playing Jadon Sancho onside from a Nemanja Matic clipped through ball, and Sancho laid a gorgeous opportunity on a plate for Ronaldo, who slotted beyond the helpless Hugo Lloris.
Spurs didn’t half have their chances, as Son slid a shot just wide of the target on the hour after good build-up between Kulusevski and Kane, and Dier saw his header cleared off the line by Diogo Dalot as Conte’s side struggled to convert the opportunities presented to them by a less-than convincing United defensive unit.
However, Harry Maguire’s misery this season was compounded yet again as he turned beyond his own goalkeeper, poking a Sergio Reguilon cross into his own net to pile on the defensive mishaps for Rangnick and Man United, as Spurs took advantage of their hosts presenting them with opportunities to pile on the pressure.
But who else, than Ronaldo, the hero of the night once again for United, as ‘Viva Ronaldo’ rang around Old Trafford, as he rose highest with eight minutes to go, and his towering header from an Alex Telles corner stole the points for Rangnick and his men.
They were defensively frail, but Rangnick won’t care about that, though, as his side picks up a much-needed three points in a pivotal moment of the race for the top four, but there is work to do in midweek against Atletico Madrid, and more pertinently, in the Premier League if they are to hunt down Arsenal, who have four games in hand.