Manchester United delivered a hugely valuable performance for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as they beat Tottenham 3-0 in London on Saturday.
A run of one point from four Premier League games, culminating in that embarrassing 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool last week, had left the Red Devils manager knowing a bad result at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could have left his position untenable.
Solskjaer responded with a change to his system, starting with a back three and partnering Edinson Cavani with Cristiano Ronaldo, who broke the deadlock with a fine finish shortly before half-time.
The front pairing showed their value midway through the second half when Ronaldo set up Cavani to score his first Premier League goal of the season, with substitute Marcus Rashford slotting home a late third to pile the misery on Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo.
After something of an anxious start in which a blocked Cavani shot in the box was the best of the openings, Son Heung-min wasted a great chance when he poked the ball over the crossbar after taking down Lucas Moura’s ball.
Cavani glanced a header from 12 yards wide of Hugo Lloris’ right-hand post before Cristian Romero bundled the ball in from Eric Dier’s flick-on at a Spurs corner, although the assistant referee’s flag was correctly – if belatedly – raised.
There was no question of disallowing Ronaldo’s opener, though, the Portugal star timing his movement to perfection to meet Bruno Fernandes’ precise delivery and volley low beyond Lloris.
A spectacular second for Ronaldo after the restart was ruled out for offside, as Spurs showed some renewed attacking endeavour without managing to threaten David de Gea’s goal.
United were happy to wait for their opportunities and duly took the next when it arrived. After Fernandes robbed Oliver Skipp in midfield, Ronaldo’s clever turn and precise pass sent Cavani through, and his strike partner provided a delicate finish past Lloris.
Nemanja Matic, brought on to strengthen United’s grip on the game, provided the telling throughball that sent Rashford into the box where he calmly finished his second goal in three league appearances.
What does it mean? Solskjaer earns a reprieve – for now
United’s win lifted them back up to fifth in the Premier League, only three points behind Manchester City, who were earlier shocked at home by Crystal Palace.
Solskjaer is likely to be back in the firing line should his side lose the derby next week when the champions visit Old Trafford, but his job certainly appears safe for the time being.
Spurs, with five wins and five defeats from 10 games, are two points further back in eighth.
Deadly duo keeps Solskjaer alive
There was certainly far more stability about United with their change in system, but another real plus point was the partnership between Ronaldo and Cavani.
Their finishing was immaculate and the interplay for Cavani’s goal superb, while the extra body further forward helped to negate the need for the high-risk pressing that left United so exposed against Liverpool.
Trouble builds for Nuno
There were loud boos from the home fans when Lucas was substituted for Steven Bergwijn nine minutes into the second half, which said plenty about the difficult position in which Nuno finds himself.
A third defeat without scoring in four games means pressure is mounting on the Portuguese as Spurs head into what looks to be a kinder run of fixtures.
United head to Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday before next Saturday’s home derby with City. Spurs face Vitesse in the Europa Conference League on Thursday and then head to Everton next Sunday.