For the first time in what seems like many weeks, United are at home this Saturday lunchtime, for a game of huge significance to the top positions in the Premier League. Our visitors are Tottenham Hotspur, currently one of the in-form sides in England, and a team that I feel sure will feature in the race for the league title again this season.
The North London club are having a very good time at the moment, having achieved a very creditable 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last week before demolishing United’s arch-rivals Liverpool 4-1 at their temporary Wembley home on Sunday, a game watched by a new Premier League record crowd of nearly 81,000 people. That result saw Spurs draw level on points with United, the Red Devils now in 2nd position on goal difference alone.
Therefore it isn’t exaggerating in any way to label this game as ‘huge’ to both clubs’ seasons. United come into it after a desperately disappointing 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield Town last weekend, a result which saw the visitors leave West Yorkshire with exactly what their efforts deserved: nothing. Jose Mourinho won’t be alone in expecting a LOT more focus and determination from the men in red shirts tomorrow afternoon, and frankly anything less than 110% from United will surely see them condemned to their first home defeat of the season, as Tottenham are in scintillating form. The good news for United coming into this game is that leading striker Harry Kane has picked up a slight hamstring strain and will miss the game entirely, which should make life a bit easier for our defence.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-1-3-2)
GK: David de Gea – David took a knock in the debacle at Huddersfield last Saturday, but as ever was blameless for the incompetence that took place in front of him, and hopefully will be in fine form against Tottenham.
RB: Antonio Valencia – the Ecuadorian is one of the most consistent performers in the country, and hopefully will get the chance to demonstrate his ability to support our attacks tomorrow as well.
LB: Daley Blind – Blind played well on Tuesday evening at Swansea, and is a solid choice who can also get forward on the left to good effect.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Phil Jones– hopefully both are fit to return after recent injury setbacks. Phil was badly missed after he had to leave the game early at the John Smith’s Stadium last week, and Eric is just a top-class centre-half. Both will be delighted to hear the news of Harry Kane’s withdrawal with a hamstring strain, but Fernando Llorente is a dangerous forward in his own right, and they will have plenty to keep them occupied with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen roaming around.
DM: Nemanja Matic–The giant Serb has been our most consistent player of the season so far, and will have a busy day trying to make sure Christian Eriksen can’t influence the game too much for Tottenham.
RM: Juan Mata – Mata is another who had a poor game at Huddersfield but looked much better at Swansea. Will need to be aware of his responsibility to help Valencia out when the visitors have the ball, but Juan has the ability to really hurt Spurs with the ball, and I’d love to see the little man do just that tomorrow.
CM: Ander Herrera- I’d play Ander in a more advanced role, both to try and counter Eric Dier’s time and space to bring the ball forward unhindered for Tottenham, and also to give an extra threat to our attacks with his ability to make a forward pass and make late runs into the area. The little Basque player could do with putting in a good performance, as the return of Paul Pogba grows more imminent and Herrera will probably be the one to ‘make way’ unless he proves he deserves to start every week….
LM: Marcus Rashford – Marcus came off the bench at Huddersfield and was one of very few players in red shirts to leave the pitch with any credit, scoring a nice header from Lukaku’s right-wing cross to give United hope of making the recovery for a draw they ultimately couldn’t manage. Kieran Trippier won’t relish coming up against our kid, who will hopefully give him an afternoon he’ll want to forget in a hurry.
CFs: Romelu Lukaku & Anthony Martial – Jose gave the big Belgian the last 25 minutes at the Liberty Stadium the other night just to keep him fresh and hungry for this game. He has had virtually nothing to feed on now for two weeks, and is bound to be desperate to make Hugo Lloris’ net bulge a few times tomorrow, and you wouldn’t bet against him doing just that. I’d throw our enigmatic French kid up there alongside him. We need to press Tottenham high, hard and quickly; to me, their defenders are often given far too much time and space to play out from the back and start their attacks- two up front may give them pause for thought!
BENCH: Romero, McTominay, Mkhitaryan, Smalling, Young, Lingard, Tuanzebe.
The importance of this game cannot be over-emphasised. As strange as it may sound to say it with United sitting comfortably in the top 4 positions in the Premier League, failure to beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford could leave us sitting 8 points behind cross-town rivals Manchester City by the end of tomorrow evening, which whilst far from insurmountable, would put tremendous pressure on the team to attain victories in the weeks ahead.
We have a very difficult trip to Stamford Bridge coming up next weekend, and it would be nice to go into that game with City still in sight, rather than ‘over the horizon’. Aside from that, the performances that we all enjoyed so much during August and September, bringing a ‘feel good’ factor to everyone around the Club, need to be unearthed again, and there won’t be any bigger test of this United side’s true ‘worth’ than Tottenham, a superb club with a top manager in Mauricio Pochettino and some fantastic players. It should be a great game.