This is a hugely-intriguing match.
Tottenham are going about their business quietly and efficiently. They are still in with a chance of winning four trophies this season and, much as they scraped through to the knock-out stage of the Champions League, they still succeeded in getting through.
They have now won 15 of their last 18 matches in all competitions. Their two blips – exceptions rather than rules – being pretty hefty ones: 4-2 at Arsenal and 3-1 at home to Wolves.
Star striker Harry Kane keeps on scoring, too, with 13 in his last 16 matches. In fairness, as mentioned in the midweek piece on this site (Carabao Cup semi-final), Tottenham have any number of players capable of popping up with a goal. They have scored 23 goals in their last seven matches, a run that includes a 6-2 win at Everton and a 7-0 FA Cup win at Tranmere.
As time goes on, they are looking more and more like the finished article. Yes, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld may well be gone at the end of the season and the wisdom of sharing their new ground with an NFL American Football team next season is questionable but, for now, they are rolling along nicely.
Some might disagree but, for me, a side needs to win something in order to cement its status and bring that extra layer of kudos to a player’s career. Whatever level you play at, winning things is very meaningful and has an altogether different taste to finishing top 4, say, in the Premier League.
Once you experience that taste, the world takes on a different look and colour and you begin to understand just what it means to actually win something. Ideally, this will then light the touch-paper to desire for even more success.
Tottenham need to take this step. Matches like this one on Sunday are important signposts in the journey. Do they have the players to lift them over that all-important line?
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) January 9, 2019
The post-Jose Mourinho Man Utd have sung like birds released, winning five in a row since the managerial legend departed.
Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has encouraged his side to play with speed and flair. Key beneficiaries of this seem to be Marcus Rashford (three goals in those five matches) and Paul Pogba (four in his last three United appearances), while Ander Herrera is getting a run in the side, Victor Lindelöf is looking very good in central defence and Romelu Lukaku is beginning to find his feet again (three goals in United’s last three matches).
However, wins over Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading (16 goals scored, two conceded, but only two clean sheets) are a far cry from facing a team of Tottenham’s strength.
Much as winning breeds confidence, Sunday’s game will give us much more of an idea as to where United now stand in this season’s Premier League pecking order.
Tottenham play to a clearly-defined structure and style that combines plenty of energy and pressing with speed of movement when attacking. Also, they are comfortable playing the ball on the ground, making use of the width in the side or getting the ball forward quickly and very directly.
Harry Kane has been given a licence to roam but, as indicated earlier, is still knocking in the goals. Dele Alli and Son Heung-min (available for this match before departing for the Asian Cup) are adept at exploiting the channels and Christian Eriksen is a brilliant playmaker. No wonder a big-money move to Real Madrid is looking likely.
Man Utd have rediscovered their confidence since Jose Mourinho left the club. They now attack with a lot more pace and Paul Pogba is being encouraged to get forward as often as possible.
With Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera forming a layer of protection behind him – and in front of a stronger-looking back four – United are not quite so easy to break down or, for that matter, defend against because of the skill and speed of players like Rashford, Pogba, Lingard and Martial. There are also signs that Romelu Lukaku is getting things together again.
What might be in United’s favour is that Tottenham played four games between December 29th and January 4th while they played three and will have had an extra three days of rest, including a trip to Dubai, in the build-up to the match.
This adds a further dimension of intrigue to things in terms of trying to predict what might happen on Sunday.
Tottenham – Lucas Moura picked up a knee injury against Tranmere in the FA Cup and is being assessed. Eric Dier (recovering from appendicitis) and Victor Wanyama (knee) are doubtful but Erik Lamela is back in full training.
Man Utd – Paul Pogba has recovered from a knock he sustained against Newcastle and was eventually able to join up with the squad in Dubai for some warm-weather training. Alexis Sanchez is also expected to be fit despite suffering what has proven to be a slight hamstring strain against Reading in the FA Cup.
I feel that Tottenham as a side are maturing nicely. Man Utd have been rejuvenated by a change of manager but this will be far and away their biggest test since Solskjær arrived. It should be an enjoyable match.
Playing at home must be an advantage to Tottenham so a 2-1 score in their favour is fancied, although 1-1 or 2-2 kept running through my mind. Tottenham looked a little tired in the second-half against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday, although they still came away with a win.
Tottenham to win: 21/20
Harry Kane, first scorer: 19/5
Harry Kane, anytime scorer: Evens
Tottenham (with draw no bet): 1/2
Correct score: Tottenham 2-1: 15/2