Manchester United return to Premier League action on Sunday when they face Tottenham Hotspur at their new stadium three days after beating Granada 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg in Spain. Spurs exited the competition in the last round, so will have had the best part of a week’s rest ahead of this match meaning that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be at a disadvantage with Jose Mourinho’s squad having extra resting time following United’s return to Manchester in the early hours of Friday morning. United beat Brighton and Hove Albion in the league last week, giving them a four-point cushion over third-placed Leicester City.
Spurs sit in sixth place in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of United, which is some distance considering the Spurs supporters still talk about them beating United 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season – it did not get them far, did it? If Chelsea do not get the upper hand over Crystal Palace, Spurs could be looking to break into the top five and with West Ham United facing Leicester City, a win could give United more breathing space with the Hammers seeking to remain in the top four, which they achieved because of Chelsea losing to West Bromwich Albion last week and them beating Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.
How United have faired against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
United and Spurs have met 57 times in the history of the Premier League, this weekend being the 58th time the two club have met in the English top flight. United have won 35 of the encounters with the two teams drawing 12 times and Spurs beating United just ten times. United have scored 95 times with Spurs scoring 56. United have been awarded eight penalties, scoring all of them with Spurs winning one and scoring it. United have kept 27 clean sheets against Spurs with the North London club keeping eight. United players have been booked 98 times with four red cards. Spurs players have been booked 92 times with one red card.
Earlier in the season, United and Spurs met at Old Trafford in the Premier League which resulted in a 6-1 victory for the North London club. Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in the second minute but Tanguy Ndombele equalised two minutes later, there was a brace for both Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane with Serge Aurier scoring the other. In this fixture last season, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was a 1-1 draw which was also the first fixture played during the first coronavirus lockdown. Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring in the 27th minute with Paul Pogba winning an 81st minute penalty, scored by Bruno Fernandes.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The Spanish goalkeeper returned against Granada in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg on Thursday but was not really challenged by the team from his home nation. It was good to see him back after Dean Henderson started the last seven matches, which has given David De Gea something to achieve to get back into the number one spot with the rumours suggesting that Henderson is the clubs number one goalkeeper now. By as Solskjaer says, the media reports and what goes on at the club tend to be two different things, which is probably the case for more things, not just football.
This match against Spurs, with Manchester City losing to Leeds United, is another important match for United and they must win, not just to overcome the demons of the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season, but to gain some ground in the league this season. Some will say that United are only second because some teams have fallen behind as they don’t want to praise Solskjaer as agendas are better than admitting that they were wrong. United have turned a corner and have been getting better, despite some results this season and a period where United seemed to be stagnant and complacent. De Gea’s return could be good for United.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence has done well this season in the Premier League and have conceded 33 goals so far this season, having conceded 36 last season, which was an improvement on the 54 conceded in the 2018/19 season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should both keep their places in the fullback positions against Spurs, although I would like to see Wan-Bissaka play a more attacking game, improving on his defensive abilities, which have been rather basic at stages this season. Shaw is continuing to build on good spells this season, which have shown that United were right to stick with him during the tough times.
Victor Lindelof played a brilliant long-ball over the top to Marcus Rashford against Granada to open the scoring for the club in a game that was a bit slow to start. It shows that United have creative players all over the pitch and despite Lindelof being criticised at times for poor decisions, he also has some good ones. Perhaps he is not bad at all? Harry Maguire will be a big player in this match – he will want to undo the damage caused by Spurs at the start of the season, which does not seem to have done much good for the North London club after 30 matches have been played, especially with Jose Mourinho reportedly on the brink, which is media hype.
Midfield: Fred, Paul Pogba
The midfield is an area that needs to be right in order to get United playing well. In the 4-2-3-1 formation, there is usually a pivot in midfield which needs both players at the top of their game, both defensive and offensive. Paul Pogba is a player that will probably keep his place in the team but his partner will need to be the right fit for him. Since he returned from injury, Pogba has scored some important goals but needs to do more on the pitch to get the respect that he is worthy of as a player, but getting rid of his agent will probably get him more respect as a man, as it is clear his agent wants to move him on and Pogba must want the same too.
Fred could be recalled into the team for this match. He has the ability to man-mark and puts a lot of work rate into his game, despite not being an outlet of much creativity or goal threat, his performances are usually something that he is praised for by those who have seen what he can do. However, most recently, his performances have been poor and he will need to stand up in order to be counted against a team like Spurs, who have many good players to devastate United, especially if they to not step up to the place in the midfield. I wonder if a midfield three would be better against Spurs.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
The three players that usually play in this area are responsible for 50 goals and 31 assists so far this season with Bruno Fernandes on 24 goals and 14 assists, Marcus Rashford on 20 goals and 12 assists and Mason Greenwood on six goals and five assists, which is a great return of goals from three players this season. Of course, it will need to get better before the end of the season as United still have a lot of work to do to keep their second-placed position in the Premier League and go all the way in the UEFA Europa League, which is what Solskjaer and his team will want to achieve.
Fernandes is a player that has been overused this season, but he needed to be as there is no other player in the team that offers the same impact. Rashford is in a position whereby his injury has not fully recovered, but if the player said that he was alright to play on and the coaches and the physios at the club said the same, then clearly it is not a problem. Perhaps Rashford will recover at some stage, although with the Euro’s this summer, it does not give him much rest. Greenwood is a player that can give more and perhaps leading the line is not in his bag yet, but it soon will be as he gains more confidence moving forward.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani has been a let down since he returned Fromm injury and his availability this season has been questionable. It is expected that it will return to South American this summer with nothing yet confirmed about the possibility of him remaining at United for another season. United will need to find a new striker sooner rather than later, so this summer will be a big one for the club, if the ambition above the manager is there, which is something that can be argued at times. Cavani has scored just seven goals this season, adding a further two assists. Not great but at least he has offered something.
Cavani is probably the best striker at the club at this time and he has something for the likes of Rashford and Greenwood to learn from. Anthony Martial too but his poor form this season seems to have ended with a knee injury sustained whilst playing for France, which could have seen him play his last club game for United this season. United need to be more prolific up front as goal win matches. There are many players on the pitch that score goals but Cavani should be a player that gets into double figures, needing three more goals between now and the end of the season for that to be the case. He has the time and determination to do just that.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Juan Mata, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek
Solskjaer can name nine substitutes on the bench in the Premier League, using three of those. Granted, he does not make changes all of the time and when he does, it is usually late in the game, unless there is a problem. He might need to start making them tactically to get the best out of his team. There are players that need more minutes on the pitch in order to develop, which will be good for them. I expect Dean Henderson to be back on the bench with De Gea regaining his place in goal on Thursday evening. It could be a good time for De Gea to show United the player he is, which could get United what they want to achieve this season.
In defence, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could all be available should the club need to change things up at the back. It seems unlikely that Eric Bailly will be back in action any time soon, which is just another problem for him during his career at United. In midfield, Juan Mata, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek all have something in their respective lockers to add something, if United need to make a change. There will be a lack of attacking players so Mata, Diallo and James could all operate in this areas with Diallo needing more game time this season after that goal he scored against AC Milan.
Written by John Walker