Tottenham Hotspur will entertain Manchester United at Wembley in the last round of January Premier League fixtures at mid-week. 5th-place Spurs are coming off back-to-back 1-1 draws in the league and FA cup against Southampton and Newport, respectively. 2nd-position United, meanwhile, won their last league fixture 1-0 away at Burnley and also smashed Yeovil 4-0 in their FA Cup fixture this past weekend.
The match is a must-win for Spurs as they seek to re-assert themselves in the top 4 conversation. But United, boosted by new signing and former Arsenal man Alexis Sanchez, have won their last 3 fixtures in the league and are in imposing form. Do Pochettino’s men have what it takes to swipe 3 points off of Mourinho’s squad? Let’s take a look.
Personnel advantage: United
Spurs are enduring a rough patch when it comes to player fitness; key defensive man Toby Alderweireld has been missing for months while Danny Rose also remains on the sidelines. In their absence, the defense has looked suspect, and has almost conceded as many goals at this stage as they did during all of last season (22 now vs. 26 total in 2016-2017). Victor Wanyama’s return to match fitness has been welcome, but he’s clearly not 100% on pace based on his performance against Newport at the weekend. On the transfer front, Spurs look to have all but wrapped-up a deal for PSG’s Lucas Moura. However, it’s unlikely the midfielder signs quickly enough this week to be involved against United.
Mourinho, on the other hand, moved quickly in the transfer market to secure Alexis Sanchez and bolster his already stacked attacking line-up. Sanchez joins a squad in which the likes of Lingard, Martial, and Lukaku were already doing quite well in the goals department, and will only add to their offensive punch. Midfielder Paul Pogba is in excellent form of late as well, providing a strong defensive platform from which United can spring attacks. Their back line hasn’t struggled like Spurs’ has either; in fact, they’ve not conceded a single goal in the league since December.
Who wants it more? Spurs should
United are the only team even pretending to chase City at the top of the league this season, but at 12 points back that already looks a lost cause. Still, Mourinho isn’t one to throw in the towel and I’d expect his side to approach Wednesday’s tie with a business-as-usual, must-win mindset. If we’re talking about who likely needs the points more, though, the answer has to be Spurs. They’re knee-deep in a tight top 4 race with Arsenal, Liverpool, and even Chelsea at the moment, yet are only ahead of one of those teams going into Wednesday’s action. Chelsea and Arsenal have comparatively easy mid-week fixtures, while Liverpool don’t play again until Spurs travel to Anfield on Sunday.
Put simply, it’d be a huge boost both from a mathematical and morale perspective for Spurs to go to Anfield with 3 points banked from their home fixture this week. Their next week-and-a-half in the league will be grueling, and a loss to United at the start of that period could very well sap confidence at a time when it’s needed most. Consider also that on the other side of this gauntlet of Premier League fixtures, Juventus await in the Champions League knock-out rounds. Poch would certainly like to face the Old Lady on good form rather than after several demoralizing defeats.
Verdict: It’s going to be tight
Despite some less-than-convincing recent performances from Spurs, I don’t expect them to be blown out here. When we play the big boys, we typically either win or lose on fine margins; our thrashing of Liverpool and drubbing at the hands of City this season are the exceptions, not the rule. As with pretty much all of their matches, Spurs’ fate will be down to how ruthless Kane and Son can be in front of goal. The former rescued his side late on against Newport to force an FA cup replay, and is in his usual deadly form in the league as well. Son, for his part, is the only Spurs player besides Kane who looks like influencing a match each time he plays.
I wish I was confident enough to predict a resounding Spurs win, but this one is just too close for me based on the current form of both teams. It smacks of a 1-0 or 2-1 scoreline, with either side well capable of edging it. For the sake of actually putting a stake in the ground—and because this is, of course, a Tottenham blog—I’ll go with a narrow and nervy 2-1 to Spurs.