Manchester United travel again this week to London for the weekend’s Premier League fixture against Tottenham Hotspur. United, in second, put daylight between themselves and Leicester City in the league with victory over Brighton last weekend. Third-place Leicester face fourth-place West Ham on Sunday. Tottenham, meanwhile, dropped points at Newcastle and, were results not to go their way, could find themselves in eighth on Monday night. Spurs defeating United on Sunday, however, would put them right back in top four contention.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s United are back from Spain with a 2-0 away win in Granada. United were fortunate to double their lead at the end in the Europa League first-leg quarter-final but were largely untroubled by the Spanish side. Granada, who had to negotiate three qualifying rounds before the group stage and knocked out Napoli and Solskjær’s former side Molde in two-legged ties, will be bitterly disappointed coming to Old Trafford next week needing at least two goals. United picked up five bookings to Granada’s two despite being harassed throughout the match and conceding fewer fouls. As a result, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, and Harry Maguire will all be suspended for the second leg. Should United progress, a semi-final against Roma or Ajax will take place either side of a league encounter with Liverpool.
José Mourinho’s Tottenham have had a humbling fall from grace this season since the 6-1 dismantling of United at Old Trafford back in October. Along with plummeting down the league table, Spurs crashed out of the Europa League in spectacular fashion against Dinamo Zagreb last month and, as such, have had a full week’s rest to prepare for United’s visit this weekend. Mourinho will be disappointed to have lost ground on Chelsea and West Ham in their bid for Champions League football next season, but defeat to Solskjær’s United would be a double-blow in league position and pride.
Solskjær: "We got conned into a red card [Martial on Lamela], and that's something that we have to be aware of. We can't react like this because we know in games there’ll be situations where we’ll be wound up." #mulive— utdreport (@utdreport) April 9, 2021
The former United manager will be desperate for a win against his replacement and current man in charge. Victory for Solskjær would provide further evidence of United’s improvement this season setting up the remaining weeks of their campaign.
David de Gea started for United in Andalusia on Thursday cementing the swift and slightly surreal change in fortunes for United’s ‘two no. 1s.’ De Gea, United’s ever-present goalkeeper, has been relieved of domestic duties and demoted to Thursday nights in the Europa League, while Henderson is expected to start again at the weekend.
There is no going back from Solskjær’s decision without a messy rearrangement and Henderson’s performances are now under as much, if not more, intense scrutiny as De Gea’s. De Gea didn’t have a great deal to do in Granada but what he did was solid, carried out with an air of attitude and defiance. De Gea will not be going anywhere quietly.
The timing of this juxtaposition may, later on, create an odd situation where playing at the weekend is most coveted by the two United goalkeepers but midweek might be where it’s at for the rest of the season in terms of prestige. However, United’s potential Roma/Ajax semi-final happens around the Liverpool game where United will want to inflict damage on their bitter rival’s hopes of a top four finish while improving their own. Should United reach the Europa League final and De Gea find himself on the bench for that, too, it would be a sour end to his distinguished United career. Pencil in a start for De Gea in United’s last home game of the season against Fulham with fans, then.
For Henderson, there are eight more matches earmarked to make the position his own.
Solskjær clearly has big plans for Luke Shaw on Sunday, having taken off the dynamic left-back at half-time for the returning Alex Telles in Andalusia. Shaw continues to be a vital element of United’s creativity in attack, and United’s standout player this season will be keen to give his former boss and tormentor a very difficult time on the pitch in return.
During a quietly good game in Spain, McTominay’s booking makes him unavailable for the second leg next week – increasing his chances of starting on Sunday. Both McTominay and Fred have partnered well with Paul Pogba in United’s central midfield during the previous two games.
Against the top teams, Solskjær has deployed Pogba wide on the left on numerous occasions this season and may do so again at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Continued evidence, most recently in the 3-1 defeat to Leicester, suggests Solskjær should, instead, either change the formation or forget this strategy entirely. Unless the manager’s hand is forced with no suitable forwards – a possibility at the moment – Pogba should be in central midfield or left of centre, where he can best influence the match.
Solskjær’s curveball is only serving to disrupt his own team’s flow. McTominay should, on balance, get the nod over Fred to partner Pogba in the middle. But the return of McFred like a repeating cheap cheeseburger is, predictably, more likely.
Marcus Rashford defied his, at times, delicate demeanour popping up with a wonderful run, touch, and finish for United’s opener in Granada. We are assured that Rashford is fit despite what our eyes are telling us, and we can expect to see him start again in London two days after the team returned to Manchester.
When the boy from Wythenshawe gets his long-overdue haircut next week – god bless him – perhaps Rashford could also be afforded a couple of days off, too.
Mason Greenwood scored last weekend against Brighton almost immediately after taking over striker duties from an abject Edinson Cavani. Greenwood, typically for him this season, then had a subdued game in midweek before making way for Donny van de Beek’s standard last five minutes. Van de Beek might look across the dugout on Sunday and wonder whether Mourinho was any worse to Luke Shaw. Anyway, Greenwood will be getting plenty of opportunities to lead the line for United in the remaining games this season, and a goal in a big game would be a huge boost to his confidence.
“I’m very sure that we will get a good Edinson for the rest of the season,” Solskjaer said in Friday’s press conference, talking up the Uruguayan. Based on recent showings, United will be banking on their teenager instead.