With Manchester United’s season seemingly headed nowhere and Tottenham Hotspur struggling to keep up with the title challengers, Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford would hardly prove to be a redundant exercise. It gives both managers a chance to revive a season filled with constant disappointments and attempt to bring it back on track.
For Manchester United, the idea of home advantage has become a distant memory. A memory lost in September, which was the last time they won a league game at home beating defending champions Leicester City 4-1. But it doesn’t paint the whole picture for Manchester United, who have been seeing a string of fine results in the Cups, having qualified for the semifinals of the EFL Cup and through to the knockout stages of the Europa League. But Cup form hasn’t yet translated into the league yet, where goals have come at a premium. Manchester United, in 14 league games, have scored just 19 goals, nearly half of that of traditional rivals Liverpool who have scored 35. Despite Mourinho managing to find a midfield system with veteran Michael Carrick as an anchor, goals continue to dry up for Manchester United with no creative outcome.
One major hope going into the game is the form of players. Although youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have shown indifferent forms this season, others around them are showing their quality. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back to scoring goals after a momentary lull, Juan Mata is looking to play his best football under Jose Mourinho and Wayne Rooney is letting his football do the talking despite his off the field issues. Moreover Henrikh Mkhitaryan is making most of the chances he gets to prove his worth to Mourinho.
For Spurs on the other hand, it has been tougher to replicate last season’s feat, though they have lost just once this year and shown the same grit that saw them challenge for the title albeit a dramatic late collapse. Harry Kane is scoring again and proving himself to be one of the best strikers in the league currently. And with a new contract in the bag, Kane would hope to show Manchester United what they are missing out on.
One sharp difference in this year’s Spurs team is the fact that the responsibility of goal scoring hasn’t burdened Kane alone. His injury layoff saw South Korean international Heung-Min Son step up and take charge, and has been having his best season under Mauricio Pochettino since his arrival in 2015. He even won the Premier League Player of the Month for September. Others have also stepped up their game this year. Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama have been colossal in midfield and youngster Harry Winks has also risen well to the opportunity.
But the key factor that has kept Spurs running has been their defence. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have been excellent with the former continuing where he left off last year and proving to be one of the best centre-backs in the league. Spurs defence and style of play under Pochettino could itself decide the outcome in the clash between the two. But lack of consistency continues to dampen the North Londoners’ campaign. Manchester United would be hoping that Ibrahimovic would cause much trouble to an otherwise stable backline.
All in all, the game could head either way, though historically fortune has favoured the 13-time Premier League champions who have won nearly half the games in league clashes between the two. Recent history has certainly overcome Manchester United, and teams like Tottenham Hotspur are looking enviously at a crown the Red Devils have worn for years. While they have fallen behind their rivals in the last couple of years, Sunday’s clash could help Manchester United get closer to where they used to be.