Over recent weeks, Mauricio Pochettino has relentlessly played down the importance of the FA Cup to the overarching ambitions of his Tottenham Hotspur team, and as the last prospect of a trophy this season duly expired it seemed his players had taken him at his word.
This was the eighth consecutive FA Cup semi-final that Spurs have lost and while Pochettino can only take responsibility for the last two, there were echoes of the defeat to Chelsea last year when they took the lead before being reeled in by an opponent who knows how to win big games. Jose Mourinho’s side are far from the force their manager sometimes prefers to imagine them, yet there is a tenacity about his team that reflects his own cussedness when it comes to the trophies.
Having transformed Spurs into regular Champions League contenders, and with fourth place this season well within his grasp, Pochettino’s achievements are considerable but they will not be measured in silver until next year at the earliest. After the game he was relentlessly optimistic, claiming that he needed more time, and then hinting that the minimal net spend Spurs have invested in their squad will always make it difficult to compete with the big guns.
“The most difficult thing in football is to be realistic because no-one wants to be realistic,” Pochettino lamented, and he is right of course but while Mourinho has spent much more money on his side it is not as if United are unbeatable. They have struck some indifferent form of their own in recent weeks, a team that can change its character from one game to the next, from one half to the next, and yet they always looked like they could control this game once they got ahead.
Spurs were playing a semi-final at what is their current home ground and they came out the better of the two sides, taking the lead within ten minutes through Dele Alli. They had the game’s most creative and elegant player in Christian Eriksen and yet the defining image of the tie was Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, pumped up on a defiant defensive performance against Harry Kane, willing one another on to hold out for the last few minutes of the match.
In that respect they were the image of their unyielding manager, and if Spurs also reflect their man in charge then what does that say about Pochettino? He is a fine coach and a man whose teams consistently punch above their weight, but he is still yet to close the deal when it comes to the cups. There were times in his press conference when he hinted at a different kind of future saying that, “Tottenham needs more time, with me or another [manager] but we need to keep going.”
He has, of course, spent nothing like the money that Mourinho has been allowed to strengthen his United squad, and often with mixed results. Yet Mourinho is one win away from his 21st major career trophy now with the FA Cup final on May 19, and, at 46, Pochettino, still one of the game’s most sought-after coaches, is still yet to win a single one.
His team started so much stronger than United but one always suspected that Mourinho’s players would force their way back into it once they had weathered the storm - and so it proved. They equalised with an Alexis Sanchez goal made by the hitherto lacklustre Pogba and then in the second half they went direct again for the unlikely match-winner Ander Herrera to finish the move.
As well as Smalling and Jones, there was a blunderbuss performance from Romelu Lukaku who was direct and dangerous at the point of United’s attack and once Spurs had fallen behind there was a grim inevitability for Pochettino’s team that they could not claw this lead back.
It was a brute of a first half in which Spurs did their very best to blow United away in the first stage of it and very nearly had two goals to show for their efforts while Mourinho’s team dug their heels and did their best to resist. Kane started brightly with his back to goal and on the touchline Mourinho was raging against the lack of urgency in his team.
The pressure had told early, after just ten minutes, when Davinson Sanchez went for the long pass down the right and Eriksen carried the ball clear of Pogba. The United man barely got out of second gear and Eriksen had time to spot Alli’s run at the back post where he slid in for the first goal.
Spurs had seemed to sense that Pogba was off the pace and although eventually he came into the game there were some bad moments before then. Mousa Dembele chopped back in midfield to get away from his opponent and earlier Kieran Trippier had threaded the ball through the legs of the Frenchman. Perhaps it was with that earlier incident in mind that Pogba singled out Dembele when the Spurs man delayed his pass on the right side on 24 minutes.
It is not often that this silky Belgian footballer is caught in possession but this was one of those moments, waiting too long to release and being put on his backside by Pogba’s challenge. The United man struck a nice ball onto the head of Sanchez in the box who wrong-footed goalkeeper Michel Vorm with his header.
Asked about the form of Sanchez and Pogba, Mourinho said that he could not expect them to be outstanding each time but there were some basic requirements: “I cannot expect them to be perfect very match. What I expect is a certain level they don’t drop below, and that level is the basic things of the game. If you do the basic things and then in some matches your talent appears and makes the difference - that is fine.”
United had looked like they could capsize around 15 minutes when Spurs’ pressure became intense but they had stayed in the game and after that equaliser it was a much more even contest. Antonio Valencia was fortunate that the referee Anthony Taylor judged his two-footed challenge on Alli only worthy of a booking, and the game itself certainly had an edge.
The winner came just after the hour when Lukaku managed to knock on a long ball and almost got to the cut-back that Sanchez played into the area. The ball fell nicely to Herrera who was screened well by Jesse Lingard to beat Vorm with the shot, and Spurs never looked likely to seize back control again.
Mourinho questioning Fergie time
Why is this
No idea why the fudge Wembley Stadium choose to try to drown out the noise of celebrating FA Cup semi-final winning supporters with crap music— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) April 21, 2018
Same old Spurs
United did a job on Tottenham today. Just as Chelsea did last year. Questions to answer for Pochettino and his players.— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) April 21, 2018
MAN UTD REACH THE FA CUP FINAL!
That was a brilliant semi-final! What a game! Man Utd started shakily but responded superbly and grew into the match. Pogba and Sanchez proved their worth, Herrera scored the winner, Jose Mourinho has another chance to add to his incredible trophy cabinet.
90 mins +4
Matic goes down with an 'injury' or cramp. The United fans are singing, Spurs look beaten.
90 mins +3
Vertonghen curls a dangerous ball into the area, it's headed away, Darmian doesn't connect with his clearance.
Lukaku wins the ball and sends Rashford away! He's in behind the defence but the ball is slightly behind him! Spurs recover and manage to steal it off him. They're back in the United half but the play is too slow, Moura tries to speed things up with some one-twos. United have everyone behind the ball.
90 mins +1
Herrera is booked for a tactical foul at the halfway line. Spurs getting everyone forward but there's no invention, United aren't having to worry too much about what's being sent their way.
Five minutes of added time to come.
Alexis Sanchez tugs on Vertonghen's shirt and pulls him to the ground. Lamela has a free-kick to whip in wide left of the box. Wanyama meets it but puts his header miles over.
Spurs are running out of time here!
Still Spurs can't create anything against this deep Man Utd defence. Moura tries a shot from 25 yards but blasts it over. Spurs still passing from the back. They need to get up the pitch! There are still too many players behind the ball as they get into the United final third. There's no movement - it's too static! Like the players are frozen.
Spurs are running out of ideas. Wanyama kicks the ball straight to Rashford from a free-kick, Rashford darts down the wing, lifts the ball over Sanchez's slide tackle but then falls to the ground. He gets a booking for a dive, which seems a little harsh.
A sad looking Son Heung-min is substituted for Lamela. Five minutes left.
Lingard walks slowly off the pitch. The Spurs fans hate it.
Pochettino looks a little defeated on the touchline, Spurs fans watch on anxiously. You just get this feeling that United know how to win these games.
Dier is booked for dragging his studs down the back of Lingard's leg. That's been a recurring theme in Spurs tackling today. The free-kick is curled in, Pogba leans on Dier and Spurs have a free-kick.
And Lingard comes off for Rashford. I have a feeling this substitution may also take a wee while.
Darmian replaces Valencia. United have successfully made about two minutes disappear there, while also taking the sting out of the game. Spurs have 10 minutes to get back into this one!
The ball is headed away at the near post, then Vertonghen skies his volleyed effort.
Rashford and Darmian are about to come on. Valencia is down on the floor with cramp or something similar. A severe case of 'letting the clock run down-itus', a very serious disease prevalent in Mourinho teams.
Dembele comes off for Wanyama. This hasn't been one of his better games. Eriksen comes across to take the free-kick on the right of United's box.
United have Spurs where they want them. They patiently work their way forward, Pogba turns on the spot and lashes a shot with power at goal. Vorm saves, the corner is headed over by Smalling.
Spurs are in the United final third now though. eriksen gets away from Pogba, Son goes right, the cross comes in but Kane is beaten in the air. Valencia dives to try and win a free-kick, doesn't get it, and then grabs Alli to stop him getting away. He's already been booked... that could easily be a second! The referee plays it cool and awards the free-kick.
Eriksen shoots on his left foot and the ball seems to pick up speed as it goes! He hits the side netting! Some Spurs fans think that's gone in and get ironic cheers from the United supporters.
Ashley Young is booked for time wasting. Kane is caught on the ball, Pogba slides Lukaku behind the defence and he shoots... Vorm saves. United look to have all the confidence in possession here, Spurs seem wary of going forward.
It's getting heated now. Alexis Sanchez goes down and claims Dembele caught him in the face on purpose. It looks like Dembele's just used his forearm with a little too much enthusiasm while protecting the ball.
Dier has dropped into a defence. Vertonghen is left-back. I can't tell if this is a change of shape or not.
Strange decision by Tottenham to leave out Harry Kane— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) April 21, 2018
Spurs getting ready to make changes. Lucas Moura comes on for... Ben Davies? I wonder if that's a change of shape.
And now United have a bounce to their step. What can Spurs do to get back in this? They've lost the bite they had in the early part of the game.
Pochettino dropped his head into his hands when United scored their. Is this another example of Spurs failing to get over the line?
Lukaku is played in by an unbelievable 60 yard pass from Pogba on his left foot. Amazing. He controls well, moves the ball onto his left foot and smashes a shot into the sidenetting.
HERRERA SCORES! United attack quickly, a long pass finds Sanchez on the left, he twists and turns and sends it across the box. Lukaku's touch is poor, Lingard lays it on to Herrera and he drives it low at goal! Vorm can't get down in time!
Pogba watches Eriksen, tracking his run as Spurs have the ball in the United final third.
Sanchez stands over a free-kick on the left touchline but mis-hits his cross and it's booted out for a throw.
United still going long with goal kicks but Spurs winning the aerial battles for now.
The game feels lukewarm at the moment, a little slow and patient. But Spurs come to life in an instant and Kane has the ball on the edge of the box, puts it on his left foot and wins a corner.
He gets the cleared pass, dribbles past his man but then slips. United counter quickly and get up the pitch.
Pogba switches play, Valencia passes with Herrera and Pogba trying to work space for a cross... it's pulled back across goal and Spurs manage to get it away. And the counter is on now! Jones steams in and hoofs the ball out of play in a classic English centre-back style.
United have a pretty weird defensive shape at the moment. Lukaku is watching the left wing, Sanchez and Lingard are like central strikers and Pogba is near them too.
Dier puts in an excellent slide tackle to stop Lukaku running down the wing.
There's a push in the box from the free-kick and Spurs win possession. United are controlling the passing at the moment, working it around nicely. Sanchez brings the ball inside, Lingard runs into the box and goes down under a wee shove by Vertonghen. It would have been an incredibly harsh penalty... but he does give a nudge. Isn't that technically a foul?
Alli catches Lingard from behind and is booked for it. That looks really sore, he's dragged his studs down the back of Lingard's calf. Lingard's straight back up and runs into space on the left, Vertonghen bounces him to the floor and it's a free-kick.
Ooooooohhhhhhhhh that's a lucky break for Spurs. De Gea kicks long and the bounce deceives D. Sanchez, then Davies doesn't put enough on his header back to Vorm. A. Sanchez nips in and for a second looks to be clean through on goal.
Herrera is sloppy in possession again and passes straight out for a throw-in. Eriksen drops deep and central to get involved with play. Sanchez defends the left wing against Trippier and Spurs are forced back to their own goal.
Spurs go long from the start, Man Utd manage to deal with it this time. No early 11 seconds goal for Tottenham on this occasion.
KICK OFF 2
Spurs start the second half. More of the same please!
Pogba in charge of the midfield
After a shaky start, Pogba has grown into the game and is winning his battles on the left of the United midfield. Mousa Dembele doesn't seem to like it.
A half of two halves
Spurs were completely dominant in the first 20 minutes or so but Man Utd found another gear and worked their way back into the match. They're a very strange team. Sometimes it looks like United are fragile, have no creative ideas and are just waiting to be punished but then out of nowhere they start winning their battles, attack with purpose, pace and power and score.
I wonder what Mourinho will say to them. It seems like Pogba and Herrera are leaving their midfield positions, allowing Eriksen to pull the strings.
Now that's a semi-final! Lovely stuff, thoroughly enjoyable.
45 mins +2
DIER!!!!! OFF THE POST! What a hit that was! Dier has the ball miles out from goal, has loads of space and launches a low drive towards goal. De Gea is rooted to the spot and watches the ball bounce with power back off the post!
45 mins +1
United stay deep as Spurs take the game into their half. Lingard wins a throw-in.
Sanchez is good at Wembley. He's involved again, spins his man and then plays in Lukaku on the right. The striker does his stuttering feet bit and then shoots from distance but is blocked, Sanchez works hard to win the ball again and keep the move going.
Pogba moves inside from the left, hears the crowd shouting 'SHOOOT' and decides that's a decent idea. He curls it to the far post and Vorm has to dive to turn it behind.
Herrera shoots wide from the corner.
Sanchez spots Lingard's run into the channel but puts too much on his ball over the top and gifts possession to Spurs.
Son runs down the left and all of a sudden a chance has opened up! Eriksen drifts into a central position and chips him into the United box, Son wins a corner, De Gea catches it.
Man Utd can counter here! They have men over! But Herrera holds on to Vertonghen and it's a free-kick.
The pace of the game has slowed down a little, somewhat inevitably. Man Utd don't seem to be able to keep the ball past the halfway line though.
Kane spots De Gea off his line and goes for the Beckham Strike (c) but doesn't get enough on his effort. That would have been something else if he'd managed that!
SON IS IN BEHIND! But he's offside. And misses the chance. He'd run beyond the defence onto a chipped pass but it wouldn't have counted anyway.
Pogba trips Son wide right of the United box and Spurs have another chance to whip the ball into the box. Eriksen comes over to take it... and doesn't beat the first man. The defence punts the ball into the Spurs half.
Eriksen is lining this one up as a shot but it's miles out... it's a trap! The ball goes low to Trippier on the right, is crossed to the back post and Lukaku dribbles his way out of defence and faces up to four Spurs defenders on his own. That boy can play. Spurs manage to crowd him out and regain possession.
This game is far more open than I thought it would be. The balance of the match keeps shifting too - Spurs dominated the opening 15 minutes, Man Utd are now right back in it. That might have tilted back towards Spurs now, they win a free-kick 30 yards away from the United goal. Herrera kicks Kane's ankle.
Sir Alex is here to watch.
Pogba keeps drifting out to the left side of the pitch and is having a decent game after that tame start. Lukaku drops deep to shield the ball and link the build up play. He does so brilliantly.
Lukaku peels out to the right, curls the cross into the penalty area and Lingard is there! He gets underneath the cross and heads over the bar, and wide.
United have the momentum now. Son is booked for a late swipe on Sanchez from behind, sending the forward flying as he tries to start a counter-attack.
Valencia is booked for a two footed lunge on Alli. He's lucky that's not red - the replay looks... not good.
Sanchez heads across the goal and the ball drops in the corner of the net! Great goal! That was all about Pogba though, he was strong, read Dembele's turn, bounced him off the ball and the delivery from wide is as good as any you'll see. It's hit with power, curl and placed onto Sanchez's head.
Young's delivery is decent but Spurs are more than equal to it and get it away. Lingard has to go all the way back to the goalkeeper.
Pogba tries to chest a long kick from the goalkeeper down, connects, gives the ball away and then snaps at the referee that he should have had a free-kick. At least he's fired up, when he gets into the game he can be absolutely superb, Mourinho will be happy that he's getting frustrated. Untied have a free-kick wide right, Sanchez crosses in, Spurs get it away but United keep up the pressure in the second phase.
Pogba wins the ball back brilliantly, looks up and crosses to the back post! SANCHEZ IS THERE!
Eriksen's movement is causing problems. Sometimes Spurs are a 4-3-3, sometimes a 4-2-3-1 and it all depends on how Eriksen is feeling at that particular moment. The defence and midfield don't seem to know whose job it is to close him down.
Pogba wins a free-kick 35 yards from goal. Young will chip this into the area.
Mourinho looks very, very annoyed. This hasn't gone how he'd have liked it too. Spurs are attacking in waves and waves of quick, decisive play and United aren't winning the battles. Pogba's doing his usual, Sanchez hasn't done anything, Young is being caught out of position, Herrera has barely featured.
All Spurs. They come forward again, Kane finds space between the centre-backs (HOW?!) and Alli pokes the ball to his feet. He turns and tees up Eriksen... who shoots wide of the far post. United need to get into this game, they're being battered at the moment.
Spurs have total control of the midfield here and they're looking to take advantage of United's weaker left side. Pogba, Sanchez and Young are all that side.
Son is on the Spurs left now and whips a low ball to the near post. Alli is there! But Jones puts in an unbelievable tackle to block him! That's superb!
CHANCE FOR KANE! Ooooooohhhh that is close. The United defence is split open again as Son curls a ball to the back post and Kane just can't reach it for a tap in and certain goal. Spurs look great here.
Well well well. How will United react to that set back? Pogba tries to do a little skill in the Spurs final third but gives it away and then gets schooled by Sanchez straight after. Mourinho will be going mad on the sidelines.
Spurs take the lead! Young is caught completely out of position, Pogba hasn't covered the space and Eriksen has the entire right wing to himself. He gets to the box and whips a brilliant, hard pass to the back post. Dele Alli comes steaming in to tap in. Great goal!
United are attacking with purpose here. Sanchez goes down with an attempt to con a free-kick, Matic swings the ball over from left to the back post on the right and Lukaku peels away from his marker... but heads way over the bar. That's a bad miss.
Great ball! United link passes together, Lingard runs into space and the pass comes down the wing ahead of him. He cuts it back into the area and wins a corner, United keep the second phase alive and work the ball around the Spurs half. They're forced all the way back into their own half.
Young's made a mistake! He takes too long and Eriksen steals the ball from him in the final third. Young manages to recover and engineers a goal kick from the situation.
Trippier has to head behind as the ball is crossed from right to left. Sanchez comes across to take the corner, which is cut out at the near post. Kane tries to play out from the back, Davies doesn't fancy it and pings the ball down the channel. This game has started nicely! Both teams trying to attack and win the ball back as quickly as possible.
Ow. To be fair to Sanchez, he's actually taken a sore one from Trippier there. The full-back runs his studs down the back of the United player's calf.
Spurs are working hard to win possession back high up the pitch! The ball is humped up the pitch by Herrera and Sanchez has to head out for a throw. Man Utd get into the Spurs half.
Spurs slow down but don't kick the ball out of play as Sanchez stays down injured. He's back on his feet now though.
Kane turns his man and gets a shot away within the opening few seconds. Davies comes to take the corner, Pogba gets a foot on it and clears. But Son is able to get in down the left straight after! Spurs have started well here! Valencia has to make a last ditch tackle to block for a corner.
Sanchez takes the ball out from the back but passes straight to Spurs. He's hurt himself too and has gone down clutching his leg.
Here we go!
Here come the players!
Wembley is full, there's heaps of noise and the atmosphere is alive! This could be great.
"I didn't think about it, I just thought what is best for the team. We had a game against Bournemouth to achieve top four which is the compulsory objective of the season.
"The other game started 1-0, I hope this starts 0-0 because obviously they are very good team, to start a game losing 1-0 is much more difficult. Let's see if we can start 0-0 and go from there."
He's referring to the last match between the two when Spurs pumped Man Utd 3-0, scoring almost straight from kick-off.
Phil Neville loves De Gea
"He might be the best signing [Alex Ferguson]'s ever made", says Mr Neville. I think a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney might disagree. I mean, he is good.
Pochettino doesn't think Spurs have a Wembley advantage
"Of course. We expect a different game because it's different competition, it's a final, the approach for both team will be different. We are going to play an amazing final that provides you the possibility of a final, they key will be to fight from the beginning.
"Last year he got injured before the game and cannot play, I think today he deserve to play the semi-final, we are fully confident in him.
"No. First of all because we are in different changing room and I think the stadium 50/50 fans, I think it is not an advantage. I think it's impossible to have an advantage."
Vorm vs Lloris
Lloris hasn't been great recently and Vorm has started every domestic cup game that Spurs have played... but it's still a bit of a surprise that Pochettino has opted to play the second choice goalkeeper for the game today. It shows loyalty on the manager's behalf but when it comes down to actually winning trophies you can see who's the more ruthless. De Gea is in goal for Man Utd.
Ominous stat for Spurs fans
Spurs have lost their last seven semi-finals...
I previewed the match earlier in the week with this look at the tactical battles that both sides will need to win to reach the final. Have a wee look if you like.
Inside the changing room
Spurs starting lineup
No surprises from Spurs other than that Son starts ahead of Erik Lamela. Pochettino is going for this one.
Oh Lloris is on the bench! That is a bit of a shock.
Man Utd starting lineup
Pogba starts! I didn't expect that. Mourinho's words must have fired certain individuals up for this.
A busy Wembley Way
Good evening everyone! I hope you've been enjoying the sun wherever you are but get ready because it's about to get HOT up in here! It's the FA Cup, it's a semi-final, it's Man Utd vs Spurs! What a game we could have on our hands here.
And when I say that, I mean a dogged, dirty, fouls-everywhere, neither wants to lose type of game, low on goals, high in intensity but without the kind of lovely football you'd want to see. Perhaps it'll be one of the greatest matches eyes have ever witnessed - we just don't know, such is the joy of football.
Team news will be with us shortly, at which point we'll be able to see which players Jose Mourinho was talking about when he said certain individuals wouldn't make it for this game because they were so poor against West Brom. Spurs should be at full strength and their usual 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid and since this is Wembley, have a massive advantage. It's basically a home game for them.
Stay with us for analysis, updates and all the action.