Tottenham Hotspur have been one of the outstanding teams in Europe of late with a number of superb results seeing them grow as a side to the point where they are now becoming a real force domestically and abroad.
Indeed, they took a much-deserved point from their draw with Real Madrid in Spain in the Champions League as they held the double European champions to a 1-1 draw in front of their own fans. With Borussia Dortmund struggling massively in the group and Spurs and Madrid flying high, the London side will feel that a place in the next round of the competition is very much within touching distance.
In the league, they are now level on points with second-placed Manchester United after they hammered Liverpool in a 4-1 win. While Dejan Lovren gave Spurs a huge helping hand with a dreadful performance, they had to put in a professional performance that suffocated Liverpool’s attacking threat and won them the game.
This weekend though, they face a Manchester United side that are fantastic defensively and will be looking to put three points between themselves and Spurs. While they did fall to a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Huddersfield last weekend, Jose Mourinho will have his men pumped up and well-drilled, with this a game neither can afford to lose as they look to cut the gap between themselves and Manchester City at the top.
With United such a behemoth at home, what can Tottenham do to make sure they leave Old Trafford with all three points?
When the majority of teams arrive at Old Trafford, they will be met by the home side keeping the ball for long periods of probing and possession play that forces gaps to appear, and mistakes are made. However, interestingly, when United went to Liverpool, a fellow top of the table rival, they reverted into a very defensive shape and rarely threatened.
While they were able to stifle Liverpool in the game, they were unable to create any real chances for themselves, with Romelu Lukaku casting an isolated figure up-front. Tottenham are likely to face a similarly defensive United side at the weekend, although Mourinho will probably decide to allow his team to push further up the pitch and play more attacking football as the home fans will not appreciate seeing their side dominated in a 0-0 draw.
For Tottenham then, it is a case of keeping the ball and drawing United onto them. If Mauricio Pochettino’s side can force the host’s midfield into losing its shape, then the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli will be able to work their magic between the lines of defenders and midfielders. This will then spark confusion and panic amongst the opposition, with defenders unsure as to whether they should press the ball or stay in their defensive shape. Either way, this will give Harry Kane room to play in and he is a master of taking his chances.
Tottenham’s own style will be vital then. They move the ball quickly from player to player as they wait for gaps to appear before playing incisive balls through them. Liverpool struggled massively because their outstanding players on the wing were stifled, while Tottenham’s best three players will all look to utilise the extra time on the ball to play more passes and open up space in the centre of the park.
Double up on Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku is undoubtedly a fine finisher and when given a chance, he invariably scores. However, he has major issues when he is unable to get into the game. Unlike Kane, Lukaku does not seem comfortable dropping in to receive the ball as his passing play and touches are not the strongest part of his play. Indeed, when he gets the ball with little support around the centre-circle, he is all too often dispossessed easily by his opponents.
In conjunction with this is the fact that he is not going to get away from Tottenham’s defenders with his blistering pace. While the Belgian is quick, Spurs’ backline is also fast, and they will fancy their chances of pushing further up the pitch and suffocating the space in front of them if Lukaku is the only player left forward.
Lukaku has had these problems before though. For Everton, he had a tendency to disappear in the big games as he was forced to live on scraps. He clearly does not function well like this, and he was non-existent against Liverpool as the hosts isolated him.
Pochettino will likely look to deploy his preferred three centre-backs which will help to deal with his physical threat, while Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are quick and intelligent defenders that will fancy their chances against Lukaku if he becomes isolated. If this does happen, then he will likely become more frustrated as his influence diminishes.
If Mourinho does choose to play a more defensive style then it really hurts his main-striker. Lukaku struggles to lead the line against an entire defence as most strikers would, and the manager will be playing into Pochettino’s hands if he opts for an excessively defensive gameplan that allows Spurs to double up on his striker.
Get Harry Kane the ball
The simplest of all the ways Tottenham can win at the weekend is to get Harry Kane on the ball as much as possible. The striker has been in outstanding form this season and he punished Liverpool twice on Sunday with well-taken goals. Indeed, his success in the bigger games is a stark contrast to Lukaku, who seems to crumble under the pressure.
Despite a toilsome time in August this season, Kane has once again come back firing as he looks like the Premier League’s most dangerous striker:
His eight goals in the league have been what has lead Tottenham up the league table in such convincing fashion as he has continues to improve as a player.
In United’s build-up to the game, the emphasis is likely to be on stopping Kane, while Pochettino will want to see the forward on the ball as much as possible. What is beneficial for Tottenham is the fact that Kane drops in to receive a pass before moving it on as he just enjoys being on the ball. This allows a lot of the pressure on the midfielders to relieved as they can take up more advanced positions or find their striker easily, rather than just hitting hopeful passes that rarely come off.
For Tottenham this weekend, it is a case of continuing the way they have been going in recent weeks. Their attractive brand of football saw Liverpool cast aside last weekend. United will probably feel that they cannot go head-to-head with Spurs in that way, which means they are likely to take a more defensive approach.
United will probably feel that they cannot go head-to-head with Spurs in that way, which means they are likely to take a more defensive approach. While this will see them remain compact, it allows Pochettino to nullify the threat of Lukaku and keep the ball for longer periods.
Even though the two sides are very evenly matched and United have home advantage, the form Tottenham have been in points to an away win if they can implement the above.