Tottenham miss Kane as Anthony Martial claims big win for Mourinho
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Tottenham suffer in Kane absence as Martial strikes
Tottenham suffered in the absence of the injured Harry Kane as Manchester United edged a tight contest at Old Trafford with Anthony Martial's late strike for Jose Mourinho's team.
Martial, a second-half replacement for Marcus Rashford, scored his sixth goal in 13 appearances for United by latching on to a Romelu Lukaku flick-on before scuffing a left-foot shot beyond Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
The goal secured the victory for United and moved them clear of Spurs in second place, behind league leaders Manchester City.
But in a game of fine margins, Tottenham's failure to take any of their first-half chances allowed United to stay in the game long enough for Martial to claim another goal after being introduced from the bench.
Lukaku, who had endured a quiet game until heading against the post on 79 minutes, made the goal for Martial by heading on David De Gea's long clearance.
Tottenham had been the more impressive and organised team, with Mauricio Pochettino choosing to start with Son Heung-Min up front ahead of Fernando Llorente in place of hamstring victim Kane.
But despite the early dominance, Spurs could not find the finishing touch that Kane has provided this season. And the rampant nature of last week's 4-1 Wembley win against Liverpool was replaced by a failure to convert their opportunities against a more durable United outfit.
But while United claimed the win, which moves them into pole position as City's closest challengers, it remains to be seen whether they can close the gap on Pep Guardiola's team and overhaul them for top spot ahead of the first derby of the season on Dec 10.
2. United still lack spark in midfield
Manchester United are now beginning to seriously suffer from the injury-enforced absence of Paul Pogba, with Mourinho's midfield lacking any kind of spark or invention. It was a problem during the 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield two weeks ago and a key factor in last week's 2-1 defeat against Huddersfield. Even in the Champions League win against Benfica in Lisbon, United struggled to carve open the Portuguese outfit with creativity in midfield. United's problem is rooted in their midfield options with Pogba sidelined. Michael Carrick, at 36, cannot be seen as the solution, but the United captain is also injured, while Marouane Fellaini is anything but a creative midfielder.
So in their absence, Mourinho has the likes of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and an out-of-form Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Juan Mata, the closest thing that United have to a flair player in midfield, was once again overlooked by Mourinho, with the Spaniard named on the substitutes' bench.
Tottenham, in contrast, had Harry Winks and Christian Eriksen in the starting lineup, with Mousa Dembele used from the bench by Pochettino. Spurs also had Dele Alli willing to make attacking runs into the penalty area.
But United were more about destroying than creating and it led to the forwards being starved of service and opportunity. United lack a "fantasy" player in midfield -- a David Silva or Philippe Coutinho -- and run out of ideas too quickly when attempting to break opponents down.
Pogba has now been missing since mid-September and United need him back as quickly as possible.
3. Aurier not yet good enough
Pochettino sold Kyle Walker to Manchester City during the summer due to his belief in the ability of Kieran Trippier, but two months into the season, the England right-back has lost his place to £23m new signing Serge Aurier.
Trippier can justifiably feel hard done by at missing out to Aurier, however, with the former Paris Saint-Germain defender once again showing at Old Trafford that he could become a liability for Spurs.
The 24-year-old fell out of favour at PSG due to off-field incidents as well as form on the pitch and he has already angered Pochettino this season with his sending off for two yellow cards against West Ham.
He may offer pace and adventure down the right, but Aurier takes too many chances defensively and he can be far too reckless when challenging for the ball.
In the first half here, Aurier was twice lucky to avoid a booking for heavy and late challenges on Ashley Young and he was embarrassed by the United player in the second half after trying to wrestle him to the ground.
Spurs have unquestionably lost a top class player in Walker, but Trippier proved last season that he is a more than adequate replacement.
He is more consistent and reliable than Aurier, but the new boy seems to be getting the nod over him at the moment.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_