MANCHESTER UNITED host Tottenham on Wednesday as Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) analyses the encounter.
Manchester United v Tottenham | Wednesday 4th December 2019, 19:30 | Amazon Prime
Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford to manage for the first time since he was sacked almost a year ago and there’s no doubting that the 56 year-old would love to get one over his former employers by taking three points back to North London.
The Portuguese manager is no stranger to facing familiar foes, his record when coming up against his old club for the first time with his new team reading two wins and one loss, with Chelsea beating Porto 3-1 in late 2004 and Inter then recording a 2-1 win over Chelsea in 2010 on the way to Champions League glory.
Whilst some of the charisma may have disappeared from Mourinho’s character in recent years, the break from the game appears to have done him good and the Tottenham players have so far reacted well to his arrival at the club. As we all know though, whether the success is sustainable in the long-term is a whole different question.
Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking, on the face of it, seemed very harsh at the time and maybe still does now when considering the job that the Argentine had done on a much more limited budget compared to his direct rivals in the race for the top four positions. A Champions League final and fourth-placed finish last season was not enough to stop Daniel Levy pulling the trigger with Spurs’ away form in 2019 ultimately proving costly.
There is a sense that Tottenham’s players, some of whom will have undoubtably felt they had achieved all they could at the club following that 2-0 loss to Liverpool in June’s final, needed something to change at the club to spark them into life and the arrival of a name as big as Mourinho may persuade one or two dissenting heads to think again about wanting to move on.
Away day issues
The aforementioned away form looks slightly better given Spurs’ last two results on their travels but the marker for future success will not be beating a significantly weaker Red Star team or a low-on-confidence West Ham side, but will instead be measured by Tottenham’s ability to get results at grounds such as Old Trafford which they did so convincingly last season in an 3-0 August success.
The defensive structure, so often the team’s best asset under Pochettino, is the area that Mourinho will need to quickly address away from their shiny new stadium. Tottenham’s away Expected Goals Against (xGA) return is over double that which they’ve recorded in N17, 13.02 compared to 5.69 – a cause for real concern.
Since the 2-1 win at Fulham on 20th January, Spurs have registered only four wins in 21 away games and should they wish to qualify for the Champions League again for 2020/21, they simply have to improve that record.
Spurs certainly look stronger on the team news front heading into this match, Mourinho having enough depth in the squad to able to rotate in the 3-2 win over Bournemouth but I would expect Danny Rose, Luca Moura and Harry Winks to return to the line-up on Wednesday.
Spurs to enjoy possession dominance
The latter has been one a few shining lights in this team, with an over 90% pass completion and average of 55 passes per-game. He should orchestrate play in the middle of the park and when looking at how weak United are in that area of the pitch of the moment due to injuries and the lack of replacements for the likes of Fellaini and Herrera, I can see Tottenham winning the midfield battle and controlling proceedings.
Even if Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay (both touch and go to make the squad for this game) are ready to come back into the fold, they are unlikely to be match fit and including them in the team with a lack of sharpness could be just as detrimental as playing the hideously out of form Andreas Pereira.
Given my leaning towards Tottenham being the better side with the ball, the prices on Toby Alderweireld passes come into play. Despite the change in manager, Spurs will still want to play out from the back and the Belgian to complete 55 or more passes is Evens with SkyBet. The same bet is 4/9 elsewhere so represents some value.
The centre-half has an average of over 70 passes per game in the Premier League and recorded 76 in Spurs’ most recent game versus Bournemouth, even managing to get up to a whopping 113 in a game against Watford back in October. Whilst United won’t be quite as deep as those two teams, I think their best chance of winning the game is allowing Spurs to have possession and utilising Rashford, Martial and James’s pace on the counter so Spurs should complete plenty of passes.
Tottenham can avoid defeat
With the Manchester Derby to come on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to manage his team rotation carefully as another couple of poor results may leave the reluctant Ed Woodward with no choice but to cut his losses and replace the former United striker whilst there are still some quality names available.
The Norwegian is under increasing pressure from the Red Devil fanbase who are bemused as to how the team are set-up and the results on the pitch almost mirror the lack of organisation in the boardroom. Winning less than half your games in charge is certainly never going to be enough to satisfy United’s high expectations and it’s surely a matter of time before the exit door is swung open.
With both teams having scored in 11 out of the these team’s last 12 respective fixtures and both sets of defences lacking confidence, I want to get the same outcome on side here. Team it with Spurs double chance and odds of 27/20 are available at WilliamHill on their ‘BuildYourBet’ feature and that will be my second selection.
I can see the away side coming away with at least a point should the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son continue their brilliant form.
Rejuvenated Alli to make a mark
Alli has been a star since moving to playing in his favoured number 10 role in the recently revised 4-2-3-1 formation, scoring three times and laying on two assists in his last five games and linking up brilliantly with his attacking teammates in the process.
With eight shots in his last three matches, including five in the Bournemouth win in this more advanced position, the 11/10 on the Milton Keynes born man to have two or more total shots at SkyBet appeals.
Alli should continue to thrive with the freedom of the role Mourinho has given him and despite Alli’s Twitter comments from years back resurfacing on Mourinho’s ‘arrogance’, the two men seem to have established a positive relationship already.
If Tottenham get the first goal of the game, which they have done in their last five Premier League games and five of their seven away games in the campaign, it could be a long evening for the United supporters to endure and a sweet return to the Theatre of Dreams for Jose and co.
Manchester United v Tottenham – Toby Alderweireld to complete 55+ passes (1/1 SkyBet)
Manchester United v Tottenham – Tottenham Double Chance and Both Teams To Score (27/20 William Hill)
Manchester United v Tottenham – Dele Alli to have 2 or more shots (11/10 SkyBet)