Resurgent United Face Tottenham in Solskjaer’s First Real Test

0
Ole Solskjaer

Manchester United have won four straight matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and they face their biggest test with their new manager as they take on Tottenham at Wembley Stadium on Sunday

Manchester United interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces his biggest task since taking over from Jose Mourinho when his team faces the man some believe could eventually replace him – Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Spurs, third in the Premier League standings, host sixth-placed United, who trail them by 10 points at Wembley on Sunday in what is easily the toughest challenge for which Solskjaer has had to prepare his team.

Since Mourinho was sacked on December 18, Solskjaer put in charge until the end of the season, has led United to four straight league wins as well as an FA Cup third round victory over Reading.

The fixture list was kind to the Norwegian, however, with United travelling to lowly Cardiff City and Newcastle United and hosting bottom club Huddersfield Town and an out of form Bournemouth.

“Spurs away, Wembley, that’s a proper test,” Solskjaer said this week. We’re looking forward to that one. That will give me more of a reference for where we are against the top boys.”

As soon as Mourinho was sacked, media speculation began to focus on Pochettino as the favourite to take over as permanent manager at the end of the season.

While United have made no public statements of interest in the Argentine, who himself has declined to comment on what he has called “rumours”, there continue to be suggestions that the 46-year-old is the club’s main target.

Solskjaer has been unable to conceal his evident desire to get the job on a permanent basis, however, and it would boost his case significantly if he could lead United to victory on Pochettino’s home turf.

Spurs beat Mourinho’s United 3-0 at Old Trafford in August and the London club have won each of their last three home games against United.

Mourinho suffered one of his biggest home defeats as a manager when his United side lost 3-0 to Tottenham earlier this season, a week after losing 3-2 to Brighton.

The result offered a glimpse of what was to come, with both clubs experiencing consistently polarised form going into the festive schedule.

United had collected their fewest haul of points during a Premier League season upon Mourinho’s dismissal, while Spurs made their best start to a campaign during the modern era.

But United have hit form since Solskjaer was appointed a caretaker manager with five wins on the bounce in all competitions, scoring a remarkable 16 goals and conceding only three times.

Meanwhile, Premier League leaders Liverpool travel to Brighton and Hove Albion today hoping to bounce back from their loss to second-placed Manchester City which cut Jurgen Klopp’s side’s advantage at the top of the table to four points.

Liverpool have some injury worries at the back, however, with Dejan Lovren picking up a hamstring injury in the FA Cup defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, putting him on the sidelines along with central defenders Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

After a three-game losing streak during December, Brighton are now undefeated in their last four matches in all competitions. Those games include an impressive win at Bournemouth in the FA Cup last weekend as well as taking four points from home games with Everton and Arsenal.

Liverpool have lost their last two games. However, to put those results into context, they deserved more at the home of Manchester City where they lost 5-0 last season and a young team went out of the FA Cup on Monday night. Which, to be honest, probably didn’t upset Klopp too much.

The City defeat was Liverpool’s first loss in the league this season. Now they need to get right back up on that horse and get back to winning ways at Brighton. It’s not going to be easy but no-one ever said winning a league title is meant to be a doddle.

Manchester City will be looking to keep up the pressure in the Premier League title race when they host Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.

City breathed new life into the battle for the championship when they defeated Liverpool 2-1 earlier this month, with goals from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane ensuring that the Reds were not able to open up a 10-point lead at the top of the log.

Instead, the Citizens are just four points off top spot heading into the weekend and they will be hoping Brighton and Hove Albion do them a big favour and take points off Liverpool in the teams’ meeting on the South Coast today. The Seagulls have proven tough to beat in their own back yard, and City will hope by the time they play on Monday they have the chance to further eat into the leaders’ advantage.

Wolves, meanwhile, will be hoping to once again underline their ability to cause trouble for the big teams. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side may have suffered a surprise loss at home to Crystal Palace in their last Premier League outing, but either side of that have come highly impressive results: a 3-1 league win at Tottenham Hotspur in late December and Monday night’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup third round.

Wolverhampton have also proven to be fine travellers of late and will fancy their chances of an upset result at the Etihad. Their counter-attacking style is well suited to combat City’s preference to dominate possession and press high up the pitch.

In head-to-head stats, City and Wolves have met in nine Premier League matches. The Citizens have claimed five wins compared to two for the Old Gold, while two games have been drawn. The teams’ most recent meeting was a Premier League clash at Molineux Stadium in August 2018 which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Fourth-placed Chelsea host Newcastle United today while at the bottom of the table, there are two ‘six-pointers’ with bottom club Huddersfield at Cardiff and struggling Fulham at Burnley.