Two top-four contenders take to Wembley’s hallowed turf on Sunday with neither side looking to lose
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, Sunday 13 January, 4.15pm, Sky Sports Premier League/HD (CH 512/502)
Manchester United fans have been seeking answers all season. Answers to questions like: Whose idea was it to appoint José Mourinho? What on Earth is going on in the boardroom? How did Marouane Fellaini become the big guy off the bench to get the club out of trouble? And is it anything to do with his new haircut?
But the biggest question of all about Mourinho’s job security was answered in December when the Portugese boss was given the elbow after two and a half years in charge. Defeat against arch rivals Liverpool, coupled with their worst tally in the top flight after 17 games since 1990-91, proved too much.
On the flip side, Tottenham have quietly gone about their business this season. Amid the distraction of still playing home games at Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino’s men made their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign and look set for a fouth successive top-four finish.
Victory over United effectively eliminates their Red rivals from those coveted Champions League spots, but defeat – a result they’ve not suffered in this fixture since 2012 – could reignite an unthinkable march for United’s new caretaker boss.
Time to big-up the build-up with some of those big questions…
Is Wembley a happy hunting ground for United?
Ish. Under former boss Mourinho, they’ve won on three out of five visits, including an FA Cup semi-final triumph over Spurs last April. Crucially, however, they lost the subsequent final and conceded after just 11 seconds in this corresponding fixture last term. Meanwhile, Daniel Rose believes the stadium isn’t doing the home side any favours. “It’s just not nice anymore,” he said after a paltry 33,012 turned up for a match in December. “The atmosphere’s a bit flat.”
How will United line up?
It’s all to play for. A new gaffer means new thinking and this could benefit Mourinho’s favourite benchwarmer (and, um, World Cup winner), Paul Pogba. The reverse fixture saw midfielder Ander Herrera employed in a three-man defence and Romelu Lukaku leading the line on his own. Alexis Sánchez has two in three against his old North London rivals, but the chance of a successful return to fitness looks increasingly bleak for the unrecognisable Chilean. Somewhat surprisingly, considering the consistency of their starting XI, Tottenham have used more players than any other Premier League club so far.
Do Spurs still have a shot at the title?
Probably not, as realistically, Liverpool and Manchester City have made that a two-horse race since December, and both clubs have already won at Wembley this season. The focus for Spurs should be on finishing above closest contenders Chelsea and Arsenal, and potentially a first piece of silverware since 2008. Winning this game would continue to breed confidence on the domestic and European trophy hunt.
Who normally comes out on top?
Depends on whether you go by history or recent form. This will be the 54th Premier League meeting between the sides. Games at Spurs have been heavily dominated by United (12 wins, six defeats and eight draws), with a 14-season unbeaten run coming to an end in 2014. Since then, Tottenham have won three on the trot in convincing fashion on each occasion. They’ll also be buoyed by their three-goal winning performance at Old Trafford back in August.
So what does this all mean?
United’s second half of the season can’t go much worse than the first. A win here offers renewed belief before they play Brighton, Burnley, Leicester and Fulham in a bid to build momentum ahead of hosting Liverpool on 23 February. For Spurs, it’s the first of four home fixtures in their next five games as they plan to depart Wembley on a high. Bring it on.
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