The pick of the games in the current midweek cluster sees Tottenham hosting Manchester United on Wednesday evening. The two sides have been enjoying very similar seasons so far, but the visitors have the advantage in the table with a stranglehold on a Champions League place, while their hosts are battling to break back into the top four again.
The game is not just one that will give the winning side three points as it could see either team consolidate their position or, in the case of Tottenham, see the Champions League places move further from their reach.
While it has been a fairly good season for Tottenham, it has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. The London side are currently a mammoth 20 points short of Manchester City at the top, while they are two behind Liverpool in the final Champions League place. Considering many tipped Tottenham to be battling near to the top of the league this season, their current campaign has been a disappointing one.
They will see their game against Manchester United as one that can rejuvenate their season, while it will maintain the pressure on those above them. In the match itself, Tottenham will likely target Manchester United in a number of areas.
Spurs will know that the visitors will arrive with a gameplan that likely sees them sit deep and look to counter. While this has worked in the past, there have also been examples of Jose Mourinho’s plans falling through. Against Liverpool, United had to settle for a 0-0 draw in an insipid contest in which they barely threatened. Tottenham will look to channel a similar style to the one that saw Liverpool dominate, thus stifling their opponents.
Interestingly, the figure of Romelu Lukaku will be one that is focussed upon in the game as he has been very poor against the so-called ‘bigger teams’. His scoring record has been lacklustre and he has spurned a number of big chances to pick up points for his team. His lack of real pace or ability to link-up play as well as many other strikers has hurt his side recently, but perhaps the tactics of his new manager, in which he is sometimes an isolated figure, has been hurting him most. If Tottenham can get him frustrated early on, then a large part of the battle may have already been won.
The mercurial Harry Kane will of course be their most important player, with the striker enjoying another fine season. Unlike Lukaku, Kane has been good against the top sides and his goalscoring record shows that he relishes the challenge. United will have to cut the service to the striker by stunting Tottenham’s creative midfield, something that is far easier said than done.
Could this game make or break Tottenham’s season?
Away from the match itself, it is becoming increasingly important for Tottenham to stop dropping points. Arsenal have been guilty of losing momentum too often and they are currently five points behind Liverpool. Omitting their loss to Swansea, Liverpool have been outstanding recently, while the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all looked very good, meaning that if the gap between Spurs and the top four widens, then it could be one they cannot bridge.
Of course, the Premier League is an incredibly unpredictable place, with the league’s bottom side in Swansea defeating Liverpool who were able to bring Manchester City’s incredible run to an end the week before. Clearly anything can happen, but Mauricio Pochettino will not want to leave their fate in the hands of other teams.
In the last two seasons, Tottenham have been steadily improving to the point where they finished second last year. Many thought that they would take the logical step up to first this season, but they, like every other side in the league, has been blown away by Manchester City. With the Premier League title ruled out, a Champions League place for next year will still be seen as a solid campaign, but, with such a talented squad, anything less will surely be seen as a huge failure.
While Jose Mourinho’s side will be incredibly disappointed to be so far behind Manchester City at this point, it has still been a largely successful campaign for United. They are currently second in the league, they are still in the FA Cup, while they dominated their Champions League group and are still in with a chance of winning the competition. Considering they were only able to clinch Champions League football via the Europa League last year after finishing some way out of the top four, it has been positive to say the least.
Against Tottenham, Mourinho will surely look to follow his tried and tested plan once again. United will remain compact and organised with the majority of their attacks coming on the break. In the middle, Paul Pogba will be very important as his creativity is a major outlet for his team, while Alexis Sanchez will want to mark his Premier League debut with a big performance.
Their biggest task is to stifle the scoring ability of Harry Kane, with the English star lethal when given a chance. Nemanja Matic will likely be utilised to double up on Kane with another of the defenders, with the Serbian a superb defensive option in the middle.
The likes of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen can be disrupted in order to stunt their influence on the game, while Mourinho will have to find a way to give Lukaku support up front, with the striker struggling in the past to lead the line after becoming so isolated.
United can show their strength with another win
Away from the pitch, United will know that claiming a Champions League berth for next season will be seen as a success. For too long the former-champions have lingered away from Europe’s top competition, and with the recent investment that the squad has seen, the least they must clinch is Champions League football.
Unlike Tottenham, dropping points will not be something that is terminal to their season. A defeat could see Chelsea onto the same amount of points as United, while Liverpool would still be three points behind even if they win. Of course, it is not ideal, but Mourinho has lead his side into a situation where a top four place is looking increasingly likely.
The performance of Sanchez will be a big talking point in the game, with the Chilean adding a world-class element to the wing. He seemed frustrated at Arsenal recently, and perhaps the consistency and winning mentality of his new employers will see him hit new heights, but his arrival is another example of the massive investment that the side has been improved by. Pogba, Matic, Lukaku and Sanchez all command huge wages and, as previously mentioned, they must return the faith that has been put in them by guiding United to a successful season.
This game has become so much more than just three points for Spurs, as it could be the difference between dragging themselves back into the top four and losing more ground on the sides above them.
For Manchester United, this match is one in which Mourinho can show the other teams in the league that, like City, United will want to go out and win every game, even if a draw would be one that keeps the side in a very strong place in the league.