Edinson Cavani and Manchester United crank up pressure on Spurs manager Jose Mourinho

Champions League football looking increasingly unlikely for Tottenham after 3-1 home defeat

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The temptation is to call it revenge. Perhaps, though, it was simply a more accurate reflection of Manchester United and Tottenham’s campaigns and of how, despite October’s historic thrashing, the victors are better off without Jose Mourinho.

If Spurs' 6-1 win at Old Trafford was one of the stories of the season, this was far closer to a 90-minute microcosm of what has ultimately gone right for one and wrong for the other. The scoreline will not echo through the ages but, as over a year, Tottenham squandered a promising position and United, after a slow start, look like ending in credit.

It felt an indictment of Mourinho that the equaliser came from the excellent Fred, a player bought but rarely picked in the Portuguese’s increasingly unhappy reign, and that there was a hugely influential performance by Paul Pogba, one he dropped and scapegoated, even if Edinson Cavani was ultimately the decisive figure.

It was another game where Tottenham lost a lead, another where United came from behind. Spurs have mislaid 18 points from winning positions, United gained 28 from losing situations. They specialise in away wins after trailing.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have progressed whereas Mourinho's have regressed. Tottenham were top in December but a weekend where West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool won renders it increasingly unlikely Spurs will qualify for the Champions League.

“You see the distance to the top four,” said Mourinho. “You know it’s difficult but it’s mathematically possible.” He claimed the credit for the first half and claimed Pogba should have been red-carded for a supposed elbow on Serge Aurier.

“It’s a compliment to me in the way we start matches, the way we are organised,” he said, in an analysis that may not convince some Spurs fans. “My opinion is we didn’t deserve this result at all.”

Defensive deficiencies account for some of Spurs’ problems; Mourinho can bemoan them without recognising his own culpability, but Cavani evaded their back four at will, played a part in two goals and put United ahead when he plunged to head in the substitute Mason Greenwood’s cross.

Cavani even mustered one of the game’s more notable bits of defending, heading against his post while probably preventing Moussa Sissoko from getting an equaliser Tottenham did not merit. Instead, Greenwood rifled in a 96th-minute third for United.

Perhaps it was proof of United’s spirit. Certainly they responded well to disappointment after they had an opener ludicrously chalked off. Pogba provided the incisive pass, Cavani the angled low finish after he sprang the offside trap.

Yet Spurs protested about Scott McTominay’s hand off into Son Heung-min’s face in the build-up was illegal; referee Chris Kavanagh, who had initially given the goal, reviewed the incident on the monitor and changed his mind.

It felt a case of football creating its own problems with artificial interference after accidental contact. The normally smiling Solskjaer looked angry. The normally smiling Son had overreacted.

United were further annoyed when Son duly put Spurs ahead. It was another lovely move, Harry Kane releasing Lucas Moura with a deft first-time pass and the Brazilian selflessly centring when many another would have shot to allow Son to guide his shot in.

Solskjaer had gone with the safety-first midfield partnership of McTominay and Fred. It had dual benefits, releasing Pogba to create further forward while Fred, who often contributes too little in the final third, was doubly catalytic in the equaliser. His was the perceptive pass to release the elusive Cavani. When the striker’s shot was saved, Fred materialised in the six-yard box to score the rebound.

Dean Henderson was preferred to David de Gea and made a De Gea-style save with his feet from Son, a couple of minutes after Fred levelled, before denying Kane, who shot from an acute angle. “We had great occasions to score the second goal,” Mourinho said. “Dean made a couple of very, very good saves.”