This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The appointment of Jose Mourinho in the summer and a huge investment in the Manchester United squad was supposed to be the signal of a return to the good times. £150m in fees and £40m per year in wages? Better things were expected.
And for Tottenham as well. Despite a tortuous summer, they were unbeaten until the uncomfortable reminder of 2015/16 occurred. Thirteen proved unlucky for Spurs, losing 2 – 1 at Stamford Bridge.
Defeat might have come a week earlier. West Ham led 2 – 1 until the final few minutes when a Harry Kane brace turned the match around.
Neither side has been in brilliant form for the past couple of months; between them, the two sides have drawn ten games since the beginning of October. Spurs bounced back from their defeat with a fine 5 – 0 win over Swansea last weekend.
United go into the game having drawn their last three Premier League games 1 – 1 but reached the semi-final of the EFL Cup and the knockout phase of the Europa League. Things aren’t so gloomy.
Tottenham are in the Europa League as well. Not that they wanted to be but at least the ‘Wembley Win’ monkey is final off their back.
Goals have been United’s problem, which with a forward line that includes expensively assembled talent is surprising.
Just 19 goals in 14 Premier League matches tells its own story. It’s the lowest in the top seven and not showing any sign of improving any time soon. Zlatan has three in the last four but only Pogba and Mata have scored for them in the same spell.
Usually, a misfiring forward line is coupled with a parsimonious defence. That’s not necessarily the case with seven other clubs having the same or better figures in the ‘Goals Against’ column.
The win in Ukraine this week, confirming progress in the Europa League was vital with their season rapidly heading into obscurity. Now United are in with a chance to add themselves to the elite list of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Chelsea as having won all three of UEFA’s club competitions.
But it’s the Premier League which matters more. A glimmer of hope came with the point against Arsenal, so soon after the comprehensive victory over Swansea. But it proved to a false dawn with the draws against West Ham and Everton were a return to the exasperating and poor form.
Manager Jose Mourinho has found himself mired in controversy. Arguments with fourth officials, sent to the stands; the combustible Portuguese seemed at first to be distracting from his players failings but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The stress of the situation has enveloped him.
As he admitted earlier in the season; the job is a lot harder than he thought. The question has to be considered whether his struggles in the role are transmitting to the players.
The collapse at the end of last season preyed on manager Mauricio Pochettino’s mind. This season has seen a tougher Tottenham side emerge but in tightening the defensive side of their game, Spurs have lost a lot of attacking verve.
Like United, goals have been a problem, especially away from home. They have scored ten on their travels, the same Mourinho’s men have scored at home. Losing Harry Kane was a problem Spurs struggled to overcome but the England striker is back, bringing some threat to their attack.
At Stamford Bridge, the first glimpses of Christian Eriksen’s abilities were seen this season and Pochettino needs the Dane to come alive. If Spurs can replicate their first half performance in West London, they can cause United a lot of problems.
It will be an interesting tactical battle between the two managers. Pochettino relies heavily on 3 – 4 – 2 – 1 in the big games but Kevin Wimmer is proving to be a weak link in the centre of the defence.
Spurs strength though is in the wing backs: Rose and Walker have been as adventurous as any of their rivals but the concern is the gaps they leave behind them. Chelsea ruthlessly exploited the gaps on the flanks and United have the power to do that as well.
Pochettino has wrestled with finding balances in his XI all season; this match won’t prove any different.
FORM (Last six games)
Manchester United - LDWDDD
Tottenham Hotspur - DDDWLW
- Manchester United have been drawing at half-time and full-time in their last four home matches
- Tottenham failed to win the first 20 Premier League visits to Old Trafford. They won 21 & 22 before losing both matches since.
- Those two home wins are the only ones recorded by United in their last eight meetings with Spurs
- Harry Kane has never scored against Manchester United
- Wayne Rooney has scored more than ten goals against seven Premier League teams. Tottenham are one of them.
CURRENT MATCH ODDS [BEST PRICED ODDS]
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HEAD TO HEAD
Last six meetings
10-04-2016 EPL Tottenham Hotspur 3 : 0 Manchester United
08-08-2015 EPL Manchester United 1 : 0 Tottenham Hotspur
15-03-2015 EPL Manchester United 3 : 0 Tottenham Hotspur
28-12-2014 EPL Tottenham Hotspur 0 : 0 Manchester United
01-01-2014 EPL Manchester United 1 : 2 Tottenham Hotspur
01-12-2013 EPL Tottenham Hotspur 2 : 2 Manchester United
If there was ever a match neither side can afford to lose, this is it. United are six points behind Tottenham and nine behind Manchester City in fourth. Add three to both of those totals and there’s no question of United finishing in the top four.
Even a draw would be a bad result for them. As soon as points gaps get close to or over double figures, there’s little prospect of reeling in the teams above you in the table. We aren’t even halfway through the season and the reality of United’s predicament is startling.
Spurs meanwhile, need to get back on track. The Champions League campaign was a disaster and this was a season when a lot of improvement was expected of them. Another battle for fourth is under way and the Europa League isn’t much of a consolation.
Despite their appalling record at Old Trafford, this is a match Spurs will be optimistic about winning. And with good reason. United’s habit of conceding goals is not a good trait to have and one which the north London club need to win. Harry Kane has to answer the questions asked of him this season and there’s no bigger stage.
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Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account