I’m The Boss: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United (Premier League, 31-01-2018)

United return to Premier League action this evening as they make their first, and possibly only, ever “league” appearance at Wembley Stadium to take on Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur side. The Red Devils come into this difficult fixture in very good form, having yet to concede a goal in 2018; the lads overcame a gritty challenge from League Two side Yeovil Town in the F.A. Cup 4th Round last Friday evening at Huish Park, debutant Alexis Sanchez playing a starring role in the 4-0 victory with two assists.

By contrast, Tottenham have struggled for consistent form lately, with only talismanic striker Harry Kane continually showing his predatory instincts to rescue results for the North London side. In recent weeks, Spurs have dropped points at St. Mary’s against Southampton and been fortunate to stay in the F.A. Cup, Kane grabbing a late equaliser at Welsh side Newport County on Sunday.

Despite their indifferent form, Tottenham Hotspur are sure to be a formidable obstacle to overcome for the traveling Reds, because when they do get their ‘act’ together, Spurs are one of the most difficult sides to contain, with several fantastic technical players in their team who can kill you with one pass: Christian Eriksen immediately springs to mind, a very dangerous player who cannot be given a moment of freedom on the ball.

If we weren’t so far behind our Blue neighbours, I’d gladly take a point from this fixture, but as has been the case all season, we really need to push for all three points, which is a ‘big ask’.

With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (very fluid 4-2-3-1)

GK: David de Gea – the world’s best goalkeeper was given the night off against Yeovil Town, so should be fresh and ready to stop anything that Spurs send in his direction. News that constant suitors Real Madrid are again casting a covetous eye on David is hardly surprising, but again we can but hope he decides Manchester is still to his taste for a while longer.

RB: Antonio Valencia– Tony is a machine, a dependable, trustworthy machine who never lets us or his manager down, and quite honestly I wouldn’t swap him for any other right-back in world football right now.

LB: Luke Shaw- Luke found himself being ‘rested’ as United traveled to Burnley last week, but returned to the side for the F.A. Cup game. Jose has recently praised his performances, and I’d hope the young man gives the Portuguese more reasons to praise him after this evening’s game.

CBs: Phil Jones & Chris Smalling–With Eric Bailly still sidelined, Jose has paired Phil Jones alongside Chris Smalling recently in the Premier League, and I expect that partnership to return after both players were excused for the Yeovil Town game. Jones has been superb this year, but both of these lads will have a tough task keeping Kane and Son Heung-min quiet, which seems to be akin to “mission impossible” right now.

DMs: Nemanja Matic & Ander Herrera– Matic predictably sat out the F.A. Cup game, and hopefully the much-needed break will see the giant Serb in commanding form this evening, because he and Herrera will have plenty of work to do to keep the likes of Dele Alli and Eriksen from having too much influence on proceedings. I’d include Ander Herrera in the starting line-up to enable Paul Pogba to operate further forward in an attacking midfield role.

RM: Alexis Sanchez- It’s perhaps harsh to drop Juan Mata, who has been playing well, to accommodate new boy Sanchez, but you don’t sign a player of Alexis’ ability to sit him on the bench, especially in huge games like this one, and I’d hope our Chilean superstar can be a difference-maker in the second half of the season. He’ll be up against top-class defenders this evening in the shape of Ben Davies, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier, so it’s certainly not an easy Premier League debut for Alexis in a United shirt.

AM (C): Paul Pogba– Our best (outfield) player, and to get the most benefit from his talents I’d play Paul in an advanced role, orchestrating the play around him. He’ll love the space that the big Wembley pitch affords him, and generally speaking, if Pogba plays well, United play well…. Here’s hoping! His influence on our team can’t be over-estimated.

LM: Anthony Martial- The maverick young Frenchman has been in irresistible form recently, and I’m sure Serge Aurier won’t be relishing trying to stop his fellow countryman from making another significant impact this evening. That said, Anthony needs to remember his defensive duties as well, since Aurier loves to bomb forward to support Tottenham attacks, and Luke Shaw can’t be left isolated with both Moussa Sissoko and Aurier to deal with.

CF: Romelu Lukaku– the big man bagged a great goal from a Marcos Rojo centre to wrap up the 4-0 win at Yeovil on Friday evening to continue his current hot scoring streak. You would imagine that his opportunities this evening will be fewer in number, but he will give Vertonghen and Davison Sanchez a real battle out there, that’s guaranteed. As ever, if we can give Romelu decent service, he will make Spurs pay the price for slack defending.

BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Rojo, Lingard, Fellaini, Mata, Young.

To be honest, were Manchester City not 12 points in front of us, I would probably have gone for a more conservative line-up at Wembley (as Jose Mourinho very well may do) and been happy to tale a point from this fixture. However, they are, and if we are to retain even the faintest of hopes of giving City a late fright in the Premier League then we need to try to win every single fixture remaining, so I’ve opted to go with an attacking line-up here.

It is harsh to drop both Mata and Jesse Lingard to the bench, given their recent form, but I feel we are a more ‘rounded’ side with Sanchez on the right and Martial on the left, flanking Pogba through the centre. If I needed to freshen things up after an hour, I’d bring Lingard on for Martial, and switch Sanchez to the left side. If we fall behind and need to go on the offensive, Jose could switch to an orthodox 4-4-2, with Sanchez up top alongside Lukaku, Lingard or Mata coming on down the right side for Herrera.

This will be one of the most demanding fixtures that we have remaining. Tottenham Hotspur have been Premier League runners-up for the last two seasons for a reason: they are a very, very good side. Harry Kane is perhaps the outstanding striker on the planet right now, and any chances afforded him, Eriksen or Son will probably be punished ruthlessly. Spurs proved with their results against Real Madrid in their Champions League Group that they are a side not to take lightly, and I expect Jose to have heeded that warning. If we emerge from Wembley with three points I will be absolutely delighted!