Everything that you need to know ahead of Friday’s long-awaited match:
(1) This week kicks off a brave new world of Premier League football. After three months on the sidelines due to a global pandemic, Manchester United return to action on Friday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It marks the club’s first visit to London’s new sporting cathedral — albeit one that will be played in front of empty stands.
(2) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about these unusual circumstances and how Friday’s match, in many ways, feels like a season opener:
It does feel like a new season, but then again, the first two games against Tottenham and Sheffield United are vital for the league standings, the table. And it’s a short season. It’s only nine games, so can we get as many points and good performances as possible. If we do get a good spell now, we could end up with some trophies and something to cheer about.
(3) Quick refresher on where we stand: Manchester United sit four points above Tottenham Hotspur in the race for fifth place in the Premier League. The last time these two sides played was in early December when the Reds edged out Spurs 2-1 at Old Trafford. Marcus Rashford scored both goals for United that day, including the second-half winner from the penalty spot.
(4) The Reds are unbeaten in eleven matches, although it’s anyone’s guess whether that momentum can be carried over to Friday after three months off. This group has been pretty good coming off long breaks — including a 4-0 win over Chelsea on opening day and another 2-0 result at Stamford Bridge after February’s winter break.
(5) Both sides will benefit on the injury front. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are back for United, while Tottenham’s injury crisis (which would have left them huge underdogs if this match had been played as scheduled in March) has mostly ended. Harry Kane (hamstring), Son Heung-Min (fractured arm), and Steven Bergwijn (ankle) are all expected to play on Friday after initially thought lost for the season in March.
Last season, Paul Pogba contributed 18 of #mufc's 47 goals under Ole Gunnar Solskjær — an impressive 38.3% as a midfielder.— ً (@utdrobbo) June 15, 2020
This season, Marcus Rashford contributed 18 of #mufc's 36 goals prior to his injury — a staggering 50.0%.
Their importance cannot be understated. pic.twitter.com/2gc4TJm8l0
(6) It’s not all good news for Spurs, though. Japhet Tanganga, who has emerged as one of the most promising young defenders in the Premier League, might miss out with a back injury. He’s been José Mourinho’s strongest defender in recent games and would severely destabilize Tottenham’s backline if not available. Dele Alli is also suspended for the match.
(7) For Manchester United, Friday might give supporters their first glimpse of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes together in midfield. It just probably won’t come at the start. Solskjaer will reportedly keep Pogba out of the starting eleven this week, preferring to ease in his star after months out of action.
(8) Troubling news out of London: Like most clubs, Tottenham Hotspur played a friendly last week to improve match fitness ahead of the season’s restart. Unfortunately, after the 2-1 loss to Norwich City, Spurs learned that one of the opposing players had tested positive for COVID-19. The club insists that no Spurs players were infected or exposed, but it’s probably too soon to say for sure.
(9) Mourinho on playing this crucial home match without fans in the stands:
We have to adapt to this new reality, which is what we tried to do [against Norwich], to have a feeling of playing with an empty stadium. That's the way it is.
We have to think that the points are there to fight for and with fans, without fans, the points are there. The points are on the pitch and ourselves and United have to fight for them.
(10) Rule change: Due to these unprecedented circumstances, each team will be allowed to name nine substitutes to the bench and make five changes during the match. For United, in particular, this opens the door to both players on the fringes of the first team (Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, etc.) and academy stars (Jimmy Garner, Teden Mengi) looking to make their mark.
(11) One to watch: Giovani Lo Celso. The Argentinian joined Spurs on an initial loan from Real Betis in August, before the North London club made it permanent in January. Lo Celso has proven a revelation since getting a regular run in the side under Mourinho and now appears to be one of the most dynamic young midfielders in the Premier League.