Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford just twelve months since the Portuguese manager was sacked as Manchester United manager, as he looks to pile the pressure on his replacement Ole Gunnar Solksjaer with a fourth straight victory since taking charge of Spurs.
A 3-2 win against Bournemouth on Saturday lifted Tottenham up to fifth in the league, and the resurgent Spurs have seen a welcome return to form for Dele Alli since Mauricio Pochettino’s departure.
The picture in Manchester is a contrasting one, as Solksjaer looks to avoid a fourth game without victory following a disappointing result at home against Aston Villa, where Dean Smith’s side returned to the Midlands happy with a point.
The added edge of Mourinho’s return makes this the stand out fixture on Wednesday, and there are some interesting tactical points worth noting.
An injury crisis for Manchester United has left them short of options across the midfield, and the lack of depth in this position is really starting to show for Solksjaer’s side. Without the influential Frenchman Paul Pogba, creativity has often been an issue, and with Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata consistently under-performing and breakthrough midfielder Scott McTominay a doubt, it will be interesting to see how United will adapt to get any sort of control, and attacking threat on the game. Jesse Lingard netted his first goal of the season in the Europa League, before appearing off the bench against Aston Villa, so he may be given a chance to impress.
It would be no surprise to see Solksjaer opt to sit deep and look to exploit Spurs on the counter, particularly with the pace at his disposal of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James, who will be able to target Spurs’ full backs, and help alleviate the lack of creative edge in central midfield.
Despite picking up in their performances in recent weeks, the Spurs full backs have shown weaknesses throughout the season, and Bournemouth highlighted this with their second goal on Saturday, with a combination of Moussa Sissoko being beaten too easily, and an out of position Serge Aurier allowing the ball to be delivered for a Harry Wilson strike. Olympiacos were also able to expose the frail backline, with their opener coming courtesy of a mistake from Danny Rose, whilst their second, as well as West Ham’s were from corners.
Danny Rose was replaced by Jan Vertonghen at left back on Saturday, and this meant that the overloads that Spurs looked to create came down the right with Aurier, allowing Vertonghen to tuck in and play a more reserved role. With youngster Brandon Williams, or veteran Ashley Young, potentially able to be targeted on the United left, it does offer a threat for Spurs going forward. Aurier has shown himself to be a useful attacking threat under Mourinho, and his willingness, and ability, to cross could see Kane try and isolate Lindelof in the air, and is coupled with Alli’s ability in the air, could see an avenue Spurs look to target.
Rashford will be up against Aurier, and it sets up an intriguing battle, with the in-form striker often left up top to exploit the high playing full backs on the break. However, with Davinson Sanchez at the back, Spurs are well covered to guard against the pace, and furthermore, when Aurier does push forward, its no surprise to see Vertonghen slot in from left back to form a back three, and will set Tottenham up well to dominate the ball. James will have space on the right wing to exploit against Vertonghen, and this itself sets up an interesting battle, and could bring into play the bookings markets with the Welsh winger having the ability to take on the Dutch full back.
Further United defensive weaknesses were highlighted in their 2-2 draw to Aston Villa, with Andreas Pereira standing out in midfield for his struggles from a defensive perspective. Beaten far too easily by Jack Grealish for the opener, and asleep for Villa’s disallowed second, it highlights an area which Mourinho’s side can target if Pereira is forced to play in the deeper role once again.
He was expected to offer his full back extra cover allowing the wingers to play higher for United, however his defensive vulnerabilities allowed Villa to create chances down that flank, and it wouldn’t a surprise to see this take place once again. Heung-Min Son’s ability to drive on the ball from this left flank will create issues, and the exposure of Aaron Wan-Bissaka will potentially bring into interest the tackles markets, which haven’t been priced at time of writing.
The midfield troubles look hard to overlook for United, and the in form Spurs side are impressing going forward in recent weeks, as Mourinho himself has got the London side counter attacking at pace, as well as utilising the revitalised Alli, particularly with his movement causing problems and getting beyond Harry Kane against Bournemouth’s static backline on Saturday, and this will certainly be an area of concern for Solksjaer heading into this game.
Tanguy N’Dombele impressed alongside Eric Dier in midfield, offering control on the ball, completing 54 of 60 passes, and he will need to show similar ball retention if they are to dictate the play and allow Dier to fulfil his defensive duties with less impetus on him moving forward, and offering the extra cover on the right flank with Aurier’s positioning.
As aforementioned Harry Kane will be confident of causing problems of the United backline in the air, and if they are to drop deep and allow space outside the box, it will be bring into play the creative talents of Alli and Son. Sissoko was able to drift centrally against Bournemouth due to Aurier’s positioning, whilst Son and Alli were given a license to roam, and this resulted in an excellent return to form for Alli. With two goals, and an influential Son creating four chances, it represents a more fluid shape from Spurs, and will help to see the best of Alli, who’s confidence on the ball was epitomised by his seven successful take ons. This willingness to run at the United backline could certainly cause issues, similar to that of Grealish on Sunday.
Spurs’ opener against Bournemouth came courtesy of their willingness to move beyond Kane, further reinforcing the thought that United will opt for a deeper line, and this increases the importance that Alli and Son could exert on the game, particularly when given the space in front of the United backline on Wednesday night. It could see a role for Christian Eriksen or Giovani Lo Celso as Spurs search for the break through, however the creative form of both Son and Alli does suggest Mourinho will opt for the same front four as Saturday, with Sissoko offering extra defensive cover for Aurier.
It should be an enthralling encounter, and leaves a few angles of interest.
Given United’s struggles under Solksjaer, particularly to create chances, Spurs are immediately the stand out option for this match. Available at 2.65 (MarathonBet), Mourinho’s side have shown a rampant return to form in front of goal, and are well equipped to break down this struggling backline once again. Spurs’ xG in Mourinho’s two league games makes for strong reading (2.21 v West Ham, 2.93 v Bournemouth), and coupled with the goals United have been leaking at the back, it is hard to turn down Spurs to beat the struggling Mancunian side.
A delve into the corner markets takes an interest, and particularly with a reliance of crosses from Aurier in recent weeks, plus the pace of Son causing problems on the opposite flank, it should see Tottenham rack up the corners in a game where they should be on the front foot. Available at 1.80 (Bet365), Tottenham to have over 4.5 Corners takes appeal, particularly when averaging 5.36 per game this season, and with seven accumulate against West Ham, and all be it four against Bournemouth, the tactics still suggest that to go over 4.5 is very likely.