What was already a key match for Manchester United grew all the more momentous once José Mourinho took over at Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago. On Wednesday evening, The Special One makes his much-anticipated return to the Old Trafford touchline. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) Manchester United stumble into the Spurs match off the back of a pretty rough week. After drawing at Sheffield United and losing to FC Astana (albeit with a very youthful squad), the Reds scuffled to a 2-2 stalemate on Sunday against Aston Villa. That makes it just four wins in fourteen Premier League matches this season, a lackluster return that puts United ninth in the table.
18 - Manchester United have won just 18 points in the Premier League this season; their fewest after 14 games of a top-flight campaign since 1988-89 (18), when they went on to finish 11th in the table. Stagnant. pic.twitter.com/aZd8DzxeGv— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 1, 2019
(2) Tottenham Hotspur, on the other hand, seem to be thriving under new management. Mauricio Pochettino’s dismissal shocked the football world, although the North London club had been quite poor domestically throughout all of 2019. Things have changed — fast. Spurs are now up to fifth in the Premier League and loving life under this kinder, gentler José. They’ve won three straight, snapping an eleven month winless stretch on the road, and put themselves right back into the top four race.
(3) For United, midfield injuries remain a killer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t making any promises, but he sounds hopeful that at least one of his injured starters — either Paul Pogba or Scott McTominay — could be back Wednesday.
We’ve only got two days, so let’s see. But, hopefully, we can see one of them on the pitch. They are working hard behind the scenes.
(4) Presumably, if only one returns for the Spurs game, it will be McTominay. And, considering the recent performances from Andreas Pereira, it can’t come a moment too soon. With Dele Alli firing on all cylinders again in the #10 spot for Spurs, McTominay would add some much-needed steel to midfield.
(5) Still, Pogba might have a little extra motivation to be in the lineup on Wednesday...
Paul Pogba when he sees United's next game is against Jose Mourinho's Tottenham:pic.twitter.com/6tNPYRZcHg— Football Vines (@FootballVines) December 2, 2019
(6) Dele Alli’s resurgence gets all the press, but Mourinho has made a few other key changes, too. Eric Dier is back in the starting eleven, shielding the backline as the defensive midfielder, and Serge Aurier looks reborn at right-back. In the last three matches, Aurier has been encouraged to push forward all the way up to the attacking line, while the left-back tucks inside to form a makeshift back three while Spurs hold the ball.
(7) Tottenham’s left-back spot, though, has become a problem. Ben Davies injured his ankle last week at West Ham and will likely miss significant time. Danny Rose filled in for the Olympiacos win, but looked far from his best. On Saturday, Mourinho turned to Jan Vertonghen, himself just back from injury and not the biggest fan of playing on the left.
(8) Since Mourinho’s arrival, Spurs have either started or finished matches poorly. Against both West Ham and Bournemouth, they jumped out to 3-0 leads before late goals against the run of play caused nervy endings. In the Olympiacos match, on the other hand, Spurs fell behind 2-0 and needed a furious second-half rally to win 4-2. The new boss will not be impressed with a defense that’s allowed two goals in every match so far.
(9) A big concern for Manchester United is that few people know this Reds squad better than Mourinho. From players’ strengths and weaknesses to preferred tactical profiles, he will feel pretty confident of creating a game-plan to shut down his former charges. United play much better against other big sides, but Mourinho seems uniquely situated to make Wednesday a nightmare for the home team.
(10) After Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, captain Harry Maguire was already looking ahead to Wednesday:
As a team, we are improving, but we want to improve a lot more. To not win games at home is disappointing. We huffed and puffed, but we need to do better and Wednesday [vs. Spurs] gives us a great opportunity to put that right.
(11) Hopefully, the match-going Reds will give José a proper welcome back to Old Trafford. He may not have been everyone’s cup of tea — tactics, personality, etc. — but he did lead the club to a second-place finish (that now looks nigh-miraculous) and two cups. Plus, even with the rough first-half of 2018/19, he finished his United tenure with a winning percentage of over 58%. It might be a while before any of those achievements are repeated at Old Trafford.