José Mourinho’s men are finally back home (after playing all of their games in October away from home so far) this weekend, as they face a huge test in Tottenham Hotspur. A comfortable & professional performance saw United ease into the next round of the Carabao Cup in midweek and fringe players showed their quality whereas it wasn’t as successful for Spurs. It’s a chance now to show what the big players can do at Old Trafford in what could be a season-defining match against Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Following a shaky start and the fact that their new home for this season, Wembley, has not given them great fortune (other than last weekend against Liverpool), Tottenham have once again found their feet. Arguably the most exciting team in the Premier League right now, Spurs play with a distinct style that has one key component: work. Numerous players have commented on just how hard Pochettino trains his men and it shows in whatever system he plays. Whether they player with Christian Eriksen & Dele Alli either side of Harry Kane (who is thought to be ruled out of the match which is a huge blow for Spurs), or Heung-Min Son joins the attack as Alli drops deeper.
Their defence of Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sánchez, and Jan Vertonghen (all formerly of Ajax) is consistently difficult to penetrate as United rumoured transfer target Eric Dier struggles to find a place. The wing-backs of Kieran Tripper, usually assisting Harry Kane, & Danny Rose, who is fit again, gives Pochettino’s side unmatched energy. Another rumoured United transfer target in Serge Aurier has covered for Rose since injury but the English defender is back. Underrated midfield man Moussa Dembélé will not have his usual partner Victor Wanyama with him for the match, and winger Erik Lamela remains sidelined.
Deadline day signing Fernando Llorente is expected to start and act as a talisman but offers an aerial threat rather than Kane’s sharp-shooting. That makes both teams injury-hit for the match and it’s clear no one will want to lose more than anything. Young sensation Harry Winks may be given a start in the middle of the park due to those injuries. It’s hard to forget how well the Lilywhites did against Los Blancos last week in the Champions League (who they play again this week) after their huge slip-up in the Carabao Cup against West Ham. Another trophy out of Tottenham’s grasp means they will go a decade without silverware this season, but more pressure will be on them to challenge for the Premier League; along with a certain other team. The away form shown by Spurs thus far has been excellent but Old Trafford is persistently a tough place for them to go.
United haven’t had the best of times as of late, and it’s shown in the team’s confidence. Mourinho is aiming to get back on track with a win. Playing a 3-man defence in midweek before playing a team with a 3-man defence at the weekend is often a key strategy from the boss. It’s likely that he will keep a 3-man back line in order to counter Spurs’ system. David De Gea is set to return in goal. Axel Tuanzebe’s assured performance in midweek could make him a wildcard to start despite the return of both Eric Bailly & Phil Jones to the squad. There’s a conundrum at left-back with Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, and Ashley Young all in contention whilst in the midfield it’s more clear with Ander Herrera & Nemanja Matić set to start. The cup heroics once again from Jesse Lingard put him in serious question as whether he could get a start in front of either Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, the out of form Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or Marcus Rashford – who stay may be carrying a knock.
Up front, no one will surely displace Romelu Lukaku but there could be a surprise due to the young forwards’ performance. The injury list is still rife with first team players including Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paulo Pogba, and Marcos Rojo; all of which are returning to the squad soon. It may take some time for United to re-kindle their old form with so many doubts considering their heavy schedule and an international break prior to the new year. The Reds have done well at times against a press and will need to do the same this weekend if they have any hopes of success. The referee for the match will be John Moss.
It should be a tactical masterclass of a match; although neither side will be risking much. A win for whoever would be a huge result in the grand scheme of things and could set the scales for the rest of the season. Mourinho & Pochettino are constantly compared in terms of who is better the maverick of a pragmatic manager – therefore let’s see who wins this battle in such a volatile title war.