Second hosts third at Old Trafford this Saturday in a match that neither side can afford to lose. Both are five points behind Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, and with the Citizens in outstanding form, ending the weekend eight points behind all but ends any title bids either side has.
This hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Tottenham down the years. Back-to-back wins in four years ago were their only victories at Old Trafford since 1989. In the three meetings since then, Spurs haven’t managed a goal either.
With Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino both capable of providing a tactical surprise, is this the straightforward home victory it once was?
Last weekend’s shock 1 – 2 defeat at the hands of Huddersfield Town was a wake-up call for those who confidently predicted that the Mourinho era was about to bear fruit.
United laboured in awful conditions in the first half and were undone by direct football. That weakness at the heart of the defence will prey on Mourinho’s mind, particularly the performance of Victor Lindelöf, an expensive acquisition this summer.
Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are set to return to the starting line-up this weekend, as are Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera. It strengthens the spine of the team as well as adding energy to attack and midfield, the areas in which Tottenham are strongest.
There wasn’t much of a hangover; Swansea were easily brushed aside in the 2 – 0 Carabao Cup win this week and while it was a much-changed United side, the mood around the Carrington training complex will have lightened.
The prospect of falling further behind the ‘noisy neighbours’ will spur the Old Trafford faithful and a home record which sees Burton Albion as the only side to breach the home defence this season.
Focus naturally falls on Romelu Lukaku whose barren spell stretched to four games at the Liberty Stadium. It’s worth noting those games were all away from home; this after a run of a nine-game scoring streak, making that sixteen goals for club and country.
The concern for Mourinho is that his side has struggled in front of goal during this time; four goals in those matches and with last weekend’s showing, the Portuguese will demand a significant improvement from the players.
He condemned their attitude as being “worse than in a friendly match” at the John Smith’s Stadium. The midweek win over Swansea won’t have altered that view.
The concern for United remains at left back. Ashley Young offers good attacking support but is vulnerable defensively. In the league, United have yet to be tested. Liverpool, save from the thrashing of Arsenal, are in freefall and the Red Devils visit to Anfield was far from the cinder hot encounter of years gone by. This is the first big match of the season and one where they face a genuine footballing side which is efficient on the counter-attack.
Mourinho’s side are always quick to defend from the front and pressing Tottenham. Further back, the formidable barrier of Matic and Herrera must recycle the ball quickly and effectively, as well as being defensively disciplined. Mourinho will have drilled that into the pair on the training ground this week.
Not that he has many options; Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick are both missing once again, as well as Paul Pogba. The club’s record signing posted updates on his recovery but is still expected to miss several more weeks.
It’s put strain on the squad, yet they have still maintained their record of clean sheets in their last five Premier League matches. If United keep that run going, Mourinho will most likely be a happy man.
If a week is a long time in politics, then three days must feel like a lifetime to Mauricio Pochettino.
Last weekend’s demolition of Liverpool was impressive and the Carabao Cup tie against West Ham United seemed to be heading the same way. 2 – 0 ahead at half-time, they contrived to throw that away and found themselves beaten at home for the second time this season.
Of bigger concern to Pochettino is Harry Kane’s absence from the 2 – 3 defeat to the Hammers. The England captain should be fit for this encounter and with his goalscoring form at present, is almost impossible for Tottenham to be without.
The brace against Liverpool was his first goals for two games but with 18 for club and country, Kane’s importance is underlined. It was a gentle way to return to goalscoring form. Liverpool were abysmal, not just in Dejan Lovren’s generous defending.
Tottenham’s strength is in their defence. Only West Ham breached Spurs on their travels, in the five-goal thriller at the London Stadium in September. The central trio of Vertonghen, Sanchez and Alderweireld is finding its feet but the young Colombian is proving to be an astute acquisition.
Facing Romelu Lukaku is likely to be his toughest test so far, although dealing with the Real Madrid attacking trio of Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco may argue that point.
As with the win over Liverpool, Hugo Lloris played a big role in a good result. While the 4 – 1 scoreline appeared convincing, the French goalkeeper made decisive saves to keep Spurs two goals ahead.
The point in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was a pivotal moment in the Tottenham season. It proved to themselves that they could mix with the elite teams, particularly after their last woeful last Champions League campaign.
In previous seasons, Tottenham has been less comfortable in a back three but Sanchez’s arrival solved that problem.
During the West Ham defeat at Wembley, Dele Alli moved into a deeper role which offered an insight into a potential tactical change Pochettino has up his sleeve.
Matic and Herrera will be tasked with following the freescoring Tottenham midfielder, as well as picking up late runs to make the most of any space which develops in and around the United penalty area.
Spurs are boosted by the returns with Moussa Dembele and Danny Rose against West Ham. The latter may find it too soon for two games in a week. If so, Serge Aurier will need to be stronger defensively than he has been in recent games, with mistakes creeping into his play more frequently since his move from Paris St Germain.
This is the second game in a tremendous run of matches. Real Madrid, two London derbies, including Arsenal, as well as the decisive trip to Dortmund; defeat in any will upset Tottenham’s plans for a successful season.
Victory at Old Trafford would be a solid platform upon which to build a challenge for silverware this season.
FORM (Last six Premier League games)
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 21 home Premier League fixtures.
- Tottenham are on a run of six straight away wins in the Premier League.
- Manchester United were winning HT/FT in 5 of the last 7 home Premier League games.
- Tottenham were winning HT/FT in 5 of their last 6 Premier League away games.
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
|Last six meetings|
It’s a crucial match with neither side able to afford defeat. However, Jose Mourinho is a past master in tactical battles and will set his United side out not to be beaten.
With so many sharp finishers on both sides, the prospects of a goalless draw must be remote yet United have conceded just four goals and Tottenham, six. While we might expect a fascinating match, a festival of goals seems unlikely.
It seems Manchester United has a slight edge in goalscoring possibilities, despite the reality of recent weeks. In a tight game, they have four proven goalscorers in attack with Spurs rely on Alli and Kane. Eriksen chips in but not often enough and rarely with a decisive goal in a big match.