Manchester United beating Tottenham could be good news for Spurs

Mauricio Pochettino and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Mauricio Pochettino is widely tipped to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's permanent replacement at Manchester United.

Tottenham would have had to look very hard for a silver lining in the clouds over Wembley as Manchester United inflicted a defeat that casts fresh doubt on their Premier League title credentials.

Spurs will not simply fade away after coming up against an insurmountable one-man barrier in the shape of United goalkeeper David de Gea - but this loss makes it even harder for them to keep pace with leaders Liverpool and Manchester City.

And yet, amid the dejection, the shaft of light might emerge from the afterglow of United's win and the latest success in their remarkable resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Mauricio Pochettino was the name on everyone's lips when Jose Mourinho paid his bill and checked out of The Lowry Hotel following his sacking by United in mid-December, the Argentine long linked with Old Trafford even before "The Special One" bit the dust after defeat at Liverpool.

Solskjaer was a surprise choice to keep the seat warm. It has given United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and his power brokers thinking time after an ill-judged decision-making process that had seen Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and initially the hapless David Moyes succeed Sir Alex Ferguson and United fall behind those they would naturally regard as their rivals.

The 45-year-old Norwegian was effectively taken on loan from Molde in his homeland with a previous record of Premier League failure when he led Cardiff City into the Championship. It was a decision to bring management temporarily back in house with their former striker, tap into United's former values and revive a squad that seemed to be leading a life of abject misery under Mourinho.

There must still be serious reservations at this early stage about whether Solskjaer will be handed the reins long-term but wins like this, built on a positive tactical platform from a resurgent team before a truly exceptional display of goalkeeping from David de Gea, will strengthen his case.

And he went on to the Wembley turf at the final whistle to take the acclaim from thousands of United fans who chanted his name regularly and thunderously throughout a sixth successive win.

This was his most exacting examination so far. None of his previous wins were anything other than expected, although nothing was certain given the shabby state United were in when Mourinho was sacked.

Solskjaer earned pass marks for positivity and a game plan that utilised the pace and mobility of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial rather than the physicality of Romelu Lukaku.

The second half may have relied on De Gea but the foundations for victory were assembled by that pro-active outlook that saw Rashford give United a half-time advantage.

Marcus Rashford
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford scored the winner during the first half at Wembley

So might this continued renaissance under Solskjaer at least mean this loss gives Spurs increased hope United will look elsewhere rather than in the direction of north London?

It was always an arrogant assumption that Pochettino, who has forged a good working relationship with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and enjoys control of football matters, would simply drop everything at a beckoning finger from Old Trafford.

Spurs will (eventually) move into a magnificent new stadium and Pochettino has developed incredibly close bonds with his players over the course of his time at the club.

If United did make their move and are willing to pay the reported £40m it would take to buy out the remainder of the five-year contract the Argentine signed in May 2018, who is to say Levy would just wave them through or Pochettino would automatically accept?

It would undoubtedly, however, come as a great relief to Spurs if Solskjaer did so well that United looked closer to home and did the sort of deal with Molde that would be little more than a formality.

Real Madrid may yet have a say in that but there is no doubt Spurs currently have a vested interest in Solskjaer doing so well that his bandwagon, currently moving at a rather stately pace, gathers unstoppable momentum.

It is small consolation that this would be a consideration after such a disappointing result in what was billed in some quarters as a face-off between Pochettino and Solskjaer - although not by the two central characters in the sub-plot.

Pochettino is pivotal to everything Spurs want to achieve as they prepare to move into their new home and he may feel he still has important work to do as he continues to seek that elusive first trophy since his appointment in May 2014.

And how they needed some optimism to cling to after the pain of defeat was exacerbated by the sight of captain Harry Kane, their most important and influential figure, limping heavily as he made his way towards the dressing room at the final whistle accompanied by a physiotherapist.

The diagnosis was a twisted ankle that left a frustrated and clearly concerned Pochettino to admit: "I am worried. This could be a big problem for us."

It is the injury Pochettino and Spurs fear most. The squad is talented and adaptable, as they have proved before, but the idea of life without Kane, however temporarily, is an unpalatable one.

And with another prolific marksman, Heung-Min Son, now departing for the United Arab Emirates to represent South Korea in the Asian Cup, the cupboard suddenly threatens to look bare.

Fernando Llorente does not carry any serious weight of goals while Vincent Janssen is, literally it seems, the forgotten man.

Pochettino and Spurs may suddenly face a dilemma in the remaining weeks of the transfer window if Kane's next health bulletin is a pessimistic one.

They will have been clutching at straws as they left Wembley on Sunday night - the fact Solskjaer's latest success at their expense may yet strengthen his case to become permanent Manchester United might have been the best they could do.