Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United
Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Referee: Stuart Attwell
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Having been run ragged by fierce rivals Liverpool last weekend, Manchester United have a lot to answer for as they face Tottenham Hotspur in North London.
Spurs didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory last weekend either, losing yet another London derby against their own rivals West Ham United. A decent first half of promising build-up play was accompanied by a distinct lack of clear-cut chances. The second half was much worse and the Lilywhites failed to register a shot in this period, despite being 1-0 down for the last twenty minutes of it. A significant lack of final product and plenty of uninspiring performances have already highlighted the fragility of Nuno Espirito Santos’s position.
So the narrow defeat has left Spurs in sixth – a rather flattering position considering the nature of some of Tottenham’s performances this season. Their negative goal difference is more indicative of how poor Spurs have played when they have lost, and how narrow their own victories have been. Against the Hammers, attacking play was largely concentrated in a U-shape around the edge of the box, with a congested West Ham defence keeping any opportunities from progressing past the border of the penalty area. With Manchester United’s horribly unassured defence on display last week, fans will be begging the manager and players to adopt a more proactive approach to scoring goals on Saturday.
While one could argue that Tottenham’s lack of goals has been the main contributor to their current position, the defence could also be subject to scrutiny. Pinning the backline down to one player is difficult at Tottenham, but the continued absence of one young player has got some scratching their heads. Any significant minutes for Joe Rodon have come in the Europa Conference League, and the Welshman has made a decent account of himself on each occasion. Why Nuno is reluctant to look to Rodon to solve any defensive issues is indeed somewhat puzzling.
Watching Manchester United it’s clear to see that defending is their main problem as well. Being the makers of their own downfall has lead to increased frustration among the United fans, but also the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes whose qualities are consistently being undermined by defensive mistakes from their teammates. More of the same this weekend could leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a real predicament.
It’s reasonable to suggest that the Norwegian’s job is well and truly on the line. So much as less than a point against Tottenham could see him out the door before the morning after. However, part of the problem has been diagnosed by fans and pundits as somewhat beyond the manager’s control. The red side of Manchester is oversaturated with world-class individuals who have failed to congeal into a talented collective. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo may have exasperated the situation, with players at the club looking up to the 36-year-old as a beacon of individual excellence.
Still, Manchester United have a brilliant collective of players who don’t need to prove much more than they already have. Bruno Fernandes is almost exclusively the centre of anything promising Manchester United do in attack, and Raphael Varane has been a good signing to bolster the defence (noting that he didn’t play in the rout of last weekend). Whether United need an overhaul of players or management still remains to be seen, but something needs to change.
Spurs have just one injury concern heading into the weekend. Bryan Gil, who has made some sporadic appearances in the Premier League, is a doubt to feature having been substituted against Burnley in midweek with what looked to be a hamstring injury.
Paul Pogba’s straight red against Liverpool means he is ineligible to feature for three matches, starting with the Tottenham game this weekend.
Two other French players could be out of contention this weekend, with Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial both picking up injuries during international duty. They may be recovered in time for Saturday however.
Predicted Starting XIs
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Reguilon, Dier, Romero, Emerson; Skipp, Hojbjerg; Son, Ndombele, Lucas; Kane
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Shaw, Maguire, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka; Fred, McTominay; Rashford, Fernandes, Sancho; Ronaldo
Score Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United
Both sides would gratefully take a point against tough opposition, but the discombobulated nature of performances from each team could lead to a high-scoring spectacle in North London.