Man United stay on course for FA Cup glory as Alexis Sanchez delivers on the big stage
LONDON -- Three thoughts from Wembley on Manchester United's 2-1 win over Tottenham in their FA Cup semi-final.
1. Herrera keeps United on course for silverware
It has been a strange season for Manchester United -- miles off the pace in the Premier League title race and dumped out of the Champions League by Sevilla in the round of 16, but Ander Herrera's second-half winner at Wembley ensured that Jose Mourinho's team can end the campaign with silverware in the FA Cup.
Despite taking an early lead through Dele Alli in this FA Cup semifinal, Spurs once again stumbled at the penultimate hurdle with Herrera's strike and Alexis Sanchez's first-half header consigning Tottenham to an eighth successive defeat at this stage of the cup.
Spurs dominated until Sanchez levelled the scores on 24 minutes, but from that point onwards, there was only going to be one winner and that was United.
Mourinho's men still have to finish the job against either Chelsea or Southampton in the final next month, but FA Cup glory is now within touching distance for United.
And a win at Wembley in the final would turn a disappointing season into a successful one and maintain Mourinho's record of delivering major trophies.
The United manager insists that the campaign will be judged a success, regardless of what happens in the cup, because his team has all but secured a top-four finish and is on course for second.
But while Spurs continue to grow into an exciting team, they have still won nothing under Mauricio Pochettino.
Yet United, a team in transition, can now win their fourth major trophy in three seasons if they win the FA Cup.
2. Sanchez finally shows he can be United's man for the big occasion
Alexis Sanchez has taken a while to settle in at Manchester United after his January move from Arsenal, and there have been times in recent weeks when he has resembled a fish out of water at Old Trafford.
Before this game, the 29-year-old had scored just two goals in 13 appearances, with his introduction into the team by Jose Mourinho arguably stifling the progress of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. His presence has also coincided with Paul Pogba's dip in form.
But Sanchez was signed by United to be a game-changer on the big occasion, and he certainly delivered against Spurs at Wembley.
That United are now preparing to face either Chelsea or Southampton in next month's FA Cup final is largely down to the contribution of the Sanchez in this game.
With United on the ropes after Dele Alli's 11th-minute opener, Sanchez hauled his team back into the game with a stunning header from a beautiful Pogba cross just 13 minutes later.
It extended the Chilean's incredible record at Wembley to eight goals in eight games at the stadium, and five in five FA Cup ties here, but his performance was about much more than the equaliser.
He chased every loose ball, pressured Spurs defenders and set the tone for his teammates.
His muddied shorts highlighted the work he put in and the efforts he went to to make a difference.
And he did so again on 61 minutes when his tenacity created the opening from which Ander Herrera scored to put United 2-1 ahead.
Sanchez will have an extended break this summer because of Chile's failure to qualify for the World Cup, and United can only benefit if his rest enables him to produce more performances like this next season.
3. Kane looking sluggish after injury
Harry Kane went into this semifinal having scored two goals in his past three games -- including that goal at Stoke City -- but while the numbers suggest that the Tottenham forward is in decent form, the reality is that he is nowhere near his best.
The ankle injury sustained by Kane last month which kept him sidelined for three weeks looked set to keep him out for longer, and his performances since returning have hinted at the possibility that he came back too soon.
Although he scored in midweek against Brighton, Kane was taken off late in the game by Mauricio Pochettino -- a rare move by the Spurs manager -- and he could have made the same switch against United.
Kane has scored 41 goals in 48 games for club and country this season, but he never looked like adding to that tally on this occasion.
And having given Chris Smalling and Phil Jones a torrid time during the 2-0 Premier League win against United at Wembley in January, Kane was stifled by the two defenders this time.
Every striker suffers a dip in form, and it was inevitable that Kane's goal rush would slow at some stage this season.
But Spurs needed him to be fit and firing for this game, and he wasn't.
England will also need Kane to be at his best in the World Cup. Although he has almost two months to get himself into prime condition for Russia, his dismal Euro 2016, when he was jaded after a long campaign, will be a concern to Gareth Southgate.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_