Fortunes for Manchester United and Spurs could not be much more contrasting at the moment, despite the fact they come into this match level on points. Trailing Manchester City by five, however, puts a great onus on this match, which could well determine the main challengers this term.
Manchester United lapsed into Jose Mourinho negativity against Liverpool, squeaked past Benfica and suffered an historic loss to Huddersfield. Spurs, on the other hand, have really hit their straps. A draw at the Santiago Bernabeu was followed by a decimation of Liverpool. The Saturday lunchtime match at Old Trafford will be about pulling out of a trough for United, and elongating a peak for Spurs.
With Manchester City showing no sign of dropping points, a victory here is a necessity if either of these teams are to make a realistic run at the title. The gap to Pep Guardiola’s side must be small enough to at least keep some pressure on, and ensure a slip up is still meaningful.
Mourinho will be pragmatic on Saturday, though. His methods have brought success through his career, and criticism certainly won’t make him change them. The issue is that productivity from his attacking players has plummeted.
Jesse Lingard may get a chance as a result, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s dip in form becoming something more than a blip. Romelu Lukaku is not getting the service that saw him start the season on such a hot streak, and there are few meaner defences in Europe than Spurs' at the present moment.
The former Chelsea manager again criticised his players’ attitude last weekend. If it has the desired effect, even this Spurs team could be blown away. Having scored only three in their last four against Spurs, however, the 14/5 price on United to fail to score is a good one.
United have used a back five at times this campaign. Mourinho may follow that trend and opt to match up with Mauricio Pochettino’s team.
With notable absences of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini for Manchester United, finding a way to clutter the midfield is trickier. Spurs have their own issues in the middle third, but the performance of Dele Alli in a deeper role against Liverpool gives the Lilywhites options.
The key duel will be how Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera can close down any space for Christian Eriksen. The Dane is – again – on a superb run of form, and is Spurs’ main creator. His two-footedness and passing range make him a threat from anywhere on the pitch.
The lightning triumvirate of Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial should all start for the hosts. Lukaku turned assister for Rashford last weekend and the movement of the three are United’s best chance of stretching a Spurs defence that has kept five league clean sheets this season.
Even with the attacking talent on show, 4/5 for under 2.5 goals is a decent pick. Mourinho will likely revert to his big game safety-first norm, perhaps even more so to counteract the fragility shown at Huddersfield. Spurs will be keen to keep the match tight and rely on a moment of magic to give them a lead.
If it comes down to which defence cracks first, Spurs must be favourites. Their expected goals against of 5.29 is second in the league only to Manchester City. Manchester United’s, meanwhile, sits at 8.49.
David de Gea heroics have helped them already this season, but they cannot afford to allow Spurs to create too many clear-cut chances.
United have slid into a rut after their ruthless early season form. Mourinho’s big match record gives them hope, but Spurs are playing with a perfect balance at the moment. This might just be a seminal moment in Pochettino’s tenure.
TIP: Tottenham to win @ 13/5
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*
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