It felt like opening day to a new season in the build-up to Swansea and oh how well this chapter of the campaign began. After a pulsating and picturesque 5-0 victory against Swansea, Spurs took care of business in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow at Wembley and locked up a birth to the Europa League. Surely its not the competition the club aimed to be competing in in February, but it isn't all that bad. The worst parts about the Europa League are the predictable, yet pesky, group stages and that extra round of thirty-two in the knockout stages. Unfortunately we can't avoid the latter, but Spurs will happily skip the former. For this reason alone the tournament becomes exponentially more palatable. Five teams to beat and Spurs procure a spot in the Champions League for the second straight year and take home European hardware. If the support views the competition through this perspective, then its a tournament to get excited about.
Spurs emphatic victory last Saturday did more than just restore confidence to a wavering side, it turned out to be a particularly advantageous day to pick up points. Both Manchester City and Liverpool lost, with Manchester United dropping two points to Everton. This puts six points between United and fifth placed Tottenham, while also pulling Spurs to within three points of Liverpool and Manchester City who are level in points at third place. Not a bad day at the office for Spurs whatsoever.
Manchester United is a wormhole away from where they thought they'd be at this point in the season. Jose Mourinho's ascendency as manager, along with the marquee signings of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan created a buzz around the side and many picked United to reclaim their swagger in the Premier League. This hasn't been the case. Save their victory over a rotated Manchester City side in the EFL Cup, the Red Devils have failed to defeat a formidable opponent all season. In their four matches against the Premier's League's top four sides, they managed to notch just two points. Further, they haven't won in the Premier League since November 6th.
United are still a handful going forward. Zlatan isn't the same player he was at Milan, Inter, or even PSG, but the dude is an all-time great. He can still get underneath defenders skin and is the purest finisher in world football over the past decade. Juan Mata, after being shunned by Mourinho in London, is having a resurgent campaign, while Anthony Martial is pacy, menacing, and living up to the expectations of that hefty transfer fee from last summer. Of note are the recent chances that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been granted by Mourinho. While he hasn't started his English career off with a bang, the guy is *really* good and has glimpsed the talent he showed at Dortmund in United's last two encounters. I'd rather see him on the bench then in the starting eleven on Sunday, but that seems far from likely.
The attack hasn't really been the problem for the Red Devils though. The underwhelming play of Paul Pogba and a shaky back four that lack legitimate quality are the plague of this United side. If Spurs can corral their unmitigated talent going forward, they have a good shot of getting something out of the match Putting two or three goals past this backline is a real possibility.
Any match at Old Trafford is special, but an opportunity to put nine points between Spurs and United in December is a massive opportunity. There are never any easy games in Manchester, and every United side has quality, and this match will be no different. It will be a battle, but Spurs have a strong chance of taking one, if not three points, at the Theatre of Dreams.
How to Watch
Date/time: Sunday, December 11th, 2016, 2:15 p.m. (UK), 9:15 a.m. ET (USA)
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
Official: Bobby Madley
TV: NBCSN (USA), BBC Radio (UK), TSN1, TSNGO (Canada), Optus Sport (Australia), other listings at livesoccertv.com
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra (USA)
Radio: Audio streamed attottenhamhotspur.com, also often at BBC Radio London, BBC Radio 5 Live, and TalkSport
Toby Alderweireld's twenty-five minutes on Tuesday was cathartic. Our elite Belgium center-back has returned after two months out, and while Poche didn't commit to starting Toby in his latest press conference, he should be included in the match-day eighteen, with a good chance to feature in the starting eleven. Ben Davies also returns from injury. This isn't relevant for Sunday, but is positive for rotational purposes in the crowded Christmas calendar. Erik Lamela is still in Argentina dealing with family issues, but there was no word on whether or not he has recovered from his injury. Finally, Vincent Janssen's ankle injury is expected to keep him out for another ten to fourteen days.
This is the most healthy the squad has been in a long time and for this reason the back five will look refreshingly familiar. Hugo will start in goal, Danny Rose at left-back, Kyle Walker at right-back, with Toby and Jan marshaling the center of defense. These five players are so clearly ahead of their back-ups, and among the greatest players at their position in the Premier League, that you can't help but feel confident against any opponent when they are sent out together.
I believe that Poche will choose a 4-2-3-1 formation and with this choice, and with Toby Alderweireld's inclusion, it pits Wanyama and Dier against each other for the defensive midfield spot. Alderweireld and Moose just haven't been healthy or eligible to play together all that much this season, so this conundrum of who should start hasn't come up that much. Poche needs to go back to what was so dominant last year. Moose has regained fitness and form and he needs the more natural defensive presence that Dier exudes to make him even better. Wanyama will be relegated to the bench for the first time in a long time and Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé will partner in the center of midfield together.
The front four seem more than predictable too. Harry Winks has been great, but he isn't displacing Dele or Moose in general, but certainly not when both players are performing well. Christian Eriksen has hit his critics with a baseball bat to the back of the head with his recent play, so he will retain his starting spot out left, with Harry Kane up top. Son is the only one in danger of not starting and it is a slight danger at that. Poche could feasibly rotate and reward Nkoudou with a start or even appease the embarrassed Sissoko and play him. This is not happening, but its the most likely surprise change to the lineup Spurs would see. Regardless, Sonny will start the match on the right flank.
Erik Lamela, when healthy, might have something to say about this, but Spurs might be trotting out their best eleven on Sunday.
Even with a downtrodden psyche, nearly every single CFC writer picked Spurs to beat Swansea. Menno and Salmon Chase came closest to a correct score by predicting that Tottenham would put up four against the Swans. Skipjack and Bryan A both predicted Swansea wins and this hurts for different reasons. Skipjack lost a crucial point at the top of the table in the title race, while Bryan A's miss grants him sole possession of last place. Hooray.
|Earl of Shoop
Dustin Menno: Old Trafford isn't exactly the easiest place to play, but it's no longer the anti-Tottenham fortress that it once was. Toby's back, Kane is 100%, Dier is in midfield again, and all is right with the world. 2-1 Spurs.
Matthew Pachniuk: The front three of Ibra, Mkhitaryan, and Martial terrifies me and its hard to see them not being terribly dangerous throughout. You know who isn't terrified of this trio though; Janby Alderweirthonghen. Yes, Toby Alderweireld is back, Kane is bagging goals regularly, and Dele is heating up. Add this to the reunion of the best back four in the Premier League and I think Spurs will get the job done. It will be far from easy though. 2-1 Spurs.
Jake Meador: What is this feeling I have as I think about the weekend? Is it... optimism? Is it... actually being excited to see Spurs play? It is! It is!
2-0 to Spurs and more LOLs at Mourinho's expense.
Brian Meyers: 1-1 on goals from Kane and Zlatan.
Ben Daniels: A fully fit Spurs is one of the best teams in the league. 3-0 Spurs.
GN Punk: Spurs are playing well! Manchester United's feet may still be frozen after playing in Ukraine on Thursday, too. Old Trafford has also been somewhat kind to us in the last few seasons. I think the boys get the job done. Also, Poch gives Jose a pedigree instead of a handshake at the end. 2-1 Spurs.
Alex Greenberg: Toby's back and so are we. Harry Kane scores the winner and reveals an undershirt that says "Tottenham 'Til I Die". But somehow the S** still finds a way to write ridiculous rumors. 3-1 Spurs.
Pardeep Cattry: Toby's back and United are...well...bad. Might not be the easiest game, but Spurs will still walk away victorious. 2-1 Spurs.
Earl of Shoop: Manchester United are such a weird side. So much talent, but man they just aren't great. Off the back of our big win over Swansea we'll continue to make them look not great - even without Erik Lamela (plz come back). Spurs 2-1 (Zlatan beats Hugo with a bicycle kick from the top of the opposite box, natch)
Salmon Chase: TBD
Brian Mechanick: Things can't stay this good. Zlatan gets his, but so does Eriksen. 1-1 Draw
Bryan A: TBD
Luke Zimmerman: TBD