After managing just a point in their last two games, Manchester United will be facing perhaps their biggest test so far this season as they welcome in-form Tottenham Hotspurs to Old Trafford in an encounter that would go a long way in shaping Jose Mourinhoâ€™s first Premier League title quest with the Red Devils. The Special One was handed a shock 2-1 defeat by newly promoted Huddersfield and he would want to recover fast with a win over the visitors who are enjoying a good run of form
Manchester United head into their Premier League showdown with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford looking to avoid extending their winless streak in the top flight to three matches, while Mauricio Pochettino’s team make the trip to the North-West looking to move clear of United in the standings and reduce the gap on leaders Manchester City to two points.
After witnessing his side lose out to Huddersfield Town last weekend, manager Jose Mourinho was quick to criticise the attitude of his players as the club slipped five points adrift of leaders Manchester City, and it leaves United in a position where they dare not drop more points in the top flight at this stage of the season.
United got what they played for at Liverpool – a goalless draw, but the setback at the John Smith’s Stadium has left Mourinho and his players likely having to find a way of claiming a minimum of four points from games against Spurs and Chelsea just to stay in contention with City.
Their poor form comes at a time when the goals have started to dry up for Romelu Lukaku – who has gone 297 minutes without finding the back of the net and when chief creator, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has not set up a goal since the end of August.
They are two statistics which cannot be prolonged, and Mourinho has been left largely reliant on the contributions of Marcus Rashford, who has played a part in five of United’s last eight goals in all competitions.
That said, it has been almost a month since United played at Old Trafford, and the North-West giants have won each of their last seven games at their famous home, dating all the way back to May 11.
United are making headway in the cup competitions, but defeat to Spurs may leave United eight points off the pace today, which might prove too much to overhaul.
At half time against West Ham United on Wednesday night, everything was going swimmingly for Spurs ahead of their trip to The Theatre of Dreams, but now Pochettino must now deal with his side letting slip a two-goal lead to a team bereft of confidence.
Pochettino may point to the fact that the EFL Cup was the lowest of their priorities this season, but that result will sting the Argentine and he now must find a way of helping his players recover for one of the biggest games of their campaign at less than 72 hoursâ€™ notice.
The setback was in stark contrast to the ruthlessness which Spurs showed in their 4-1 demolition against Liverpool last weekend. Harry Kane chipped in with two more goals, but the performance of Son Heung-son showed Pochettino the kind of quality he had been keeping in reserve during most of the first two months of the season.
Son will probably be the player to miss out today despite also providing two assists against West Ham – but the South Korean attacker has shown Pochettino that he has not necessarily got to rely on Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Kane.
Neither player have been at their best this season – Eriksen has not provided an assist since September 13 and Alli is only just starting to show a glimmer of his form from last season – but nevertheless, Spurs have kept on churning out results with an unbeaten run of 11 matches being put together until the defeat on Wednesday evening.
It has also been nearly six months since Spurs lost on the road – a run stretching eight matches and with United looking almost untouchable in front of their own supporters, something will have to give this weekend.
Kane remains a doubt for Spurs after sustaining what appears to be a hamstring niggle during the latter stages of the victory over Liverpool. Today’s match will represent the 187th time in which these two teams have faced each other in a competitive contest, with United winning 88 times in comparison to 50 victories for Spurs.
The last five meetings have been won by the home team, and the record over the last 10 games remains even with Spurs prevailing on four occasions and United emerging victorious three times.
Spurs last won at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day in 2014.
Meanwhile, West Bromwich Albion head into their encounter with leaders, Manchester City having failed to win a match in any competition since August 22 – a period stretching eight matches.
City make the trip to The Hawthorns having failed to score a goal against West Brom’s Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, but Pep Guardiola’s side have won their last seven fixtures in the top flight.
West Brom are arguably only a couple of points off what they would have considered acceptable at the start of the season, but head coach Tony Pulis will acknowledge that the pressure is rising at the West Midlands outfit.
The Baggies registered seven points from their first three league matches but since the start of September, just three points have come from half-a-dozen fixtures and it has led to some calls for the club’s hierarchy to make a change.
On Tuesday night, City failed to score in 120 minutes against a resolute Wolves side but rather than believing that the wheels have started to come off, opposing clubs will probably feel that any complacency in the club’s talented squad has disappeared.
On the face of it, Guardiola struggled to accept that his players could not break down a team from the Championship, but the Spaniard will point to the fact that 39 goals had been scored in the club’s previous 11 games in all competitions.
Each of those matches were also won, and it has left City in a position where they could potentially sit eight points clear of third by this evening, or seven points clear of both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Guardiola will not be looking too far ahead but even at this early stage of the season, rival teams can become intimidated with the task that they have on their hands to try to dislodge City from the summit, and every three points will leave the rest of the pack with more work to do. All eyes with be on Sergio Aguero this weekend as the Argentine looks to become City’s all-time top goalscorer, but the danger man could be Leroy Sane, who has contributed three goals and four assists in his last four Premier League matches.