Manchester United had faced a moderately easy start to the season, facing six out of the bottom seven sides in their opening eight league games.
Liverpool apart, the fixture list had provided a welcoming return to Premier League action for the Red Devils. Now the real test began against Tottenham Hotspur.
Even without Harry Kane, Spurs provided a dangerous threat at Old Trafford, so United had to be on guard for the numerous dangers that Mauricio Pochettino’s team possessed.
The claim that Romelu Lukaku hadn’t performed against the biggest sides looked like it had a scent of truth in it at Anfield, the Belgian striker too isolated to make any real impact. And when his chance came along, Lukaku could only hit his shot straight at Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Against Spurs there was a fear that Jose Mourinho would install a rigid system again, starving Lukaku of oxygen at the top of the pitch to guarantee a more solid defence at the other.
But a 3-5-2 allowed Lukaku to form a partnership with Marcus Rashford, and although the two initially struggled against the power and presence of Spurs’ back three, they managed to break free of the shackles in the second half, Lukaku especially influencing the game later on.
The Belgian powerhouse won more aerial duels, four, than any other United player. Throughout the last half an hour he proved to be a nuisance to Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Eric Dier.
As space opened up for United in midfield, Nemanja Matic controlling the area like an air traffic controller, the away side opened up, and on 72 minutes it showed when Matic fed Lukaku through the channel, the Belgian seeing his curling effort saved by the fingertips of Hugo Lloris.
By this time United had found their rhythm, and with Spurs facing an avalanche of pressure, Lukaku came agonisingly close again six minutes later, brushing aside Alderweireld in the air to head against the upright of the post.
As the clock ticked down it looked desperate for United, but just two minutes later Lukaku influenced the game again and on this occasion, it counted, after the striker’s flick-on header from a David De Gea goal kick looped over Spurs’ defence, finding Anthony Martial whose scruffy shot nestled in the back of the net.
United had deserved the lead with an energetic and powerful second-half display, in a formation which allowed Lukaku to showcase his talent against the bigger sides.
Lukaku has had a hand in ten goals in the league this season (seven goals, three assists) but claims that he cannot perform against title challengers will continue. Well, we won’t have long to find out again. It’s Chelsea away next.