The final day of White Hart Lane as we know it is almost here. Sunday will bring a 118-year existence of Tottenham Hotspur’s grounds to an end. At stake is a chance to solidify second place in the Premier League and to finish the 2016-17 campaign undefeated at The Lane. While Spurs probably won’t win the title, it doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of this club over the past nine months. Standing in the way of an unbeaten season at home are Manchester United, who will be coming into north London on just a couple days rest. I sat down with Brent over at The Busby Babe to talk about United’s season, what lies ahead for the Red Devils, if Luke Shaw will be fired out of a cannon, and Mourinho’s struggles on the road.
CFC: Looking at United's net expenditure, the headline signings that the club has made, and the appointment of the self-acclaimed Special One, could you tell me how in the hell the Red Devils are in sixth?
TBB: Short answer: sh*t finishing. There have been countless matches this season that United should have won, but dropped points because of a failure to finish chances. Ibrahimović's goals have definitely been vital, but even he was guilty of missing his fair share of sitters. Anthony Martial is having a difficult second season, and as was Marcus Rashford up until recently - understandable given their ages. Henrikh Mkhitaryan took ages to even get into the team, and has been inconsistent. So aside from Ibrahimović and the always effective Juan Mata, there just haven't been enough goals in the team.
Building upon that, let's focus on the current world record transfer player, Paul Pogba. How has his season gone?
Pogba has had an uneven season, but I'm reasonably pleased with his contribution. Rival fans are quick to point to his price tag, and even some of our fans get into hysterics when he makes a mistake or fails to put his stamp on a game. But he's still only 24, in a new team that is inferior to the one that he left, and - before getting injured recently - had played an unreasonable number of minutes after a busy summer. It's easier to highlight his missteps because he's the only player in our midfield that actually tries to make things happen - is always looking forward, and never hides. He's been frustrating at times, but the ability is absolutely there. He'll be the best player in this league in a year or two.
If United pull off a double with the EFL Cup and Europa League titles, even if they finish in sixth place, will supporters generally be happy about the season?
I'd say so. Cup wins are cup wins. I'm firmly in the Fourth Place Is Not A Trophy camp, so I can't be bothered whether we finish third or seventh. The only benefit of a higher league position is Champions League qualification, and we have a much better chance of securing that through winning the Europa League. The league performance has been a disappointment - no way around that. But with a cup double, and enough signs that Mourinho is building something worthwhile, I'd call this season a qualified success. It's much easier to be philosophical after three season of Moyes and van Gaal.
Which £100m player will United sign this summer and blatantly misuse/break/become Mou's target for insults next season along with any other expected targets?
100% chance Antoine Griezmann is playing left wing-back away at Stamford Bridge next season. Also can't rule out Kylian Mbappé being dropped from the matchday squad against West Brom for failing to track back in the previous game.
Speaking of targets, could you name the specific rail line that Luke Shaw will be run out on this summer along with anyone else you think is exiting the club?
That depends. Which line has the highest load bearing capacity? His latest injury may actually be a reprieve, as it's unlikely he can be moved on now. He's as talented as any left-back in the league, and Mourinho's treatment of him has been been bizarre at times. That said, surely all these managers can't be wrong about his application. A new left-back is almost definitely coming in, but Shaw was now starting to gain Mourinho's trust, so he has the chance to still fight for his place next year.
As for other departures, Rooney is a goner (three years too late, mind). I can't see Ibrahimović signing a new deal, Chris Smalling is pointless to keep around (and Phil Jones not far behind), Ashley Young may seek regular football elsewhere (ditto for Daley Blind). Michael Carrick still hasn't signed a new contract, and Matteo Darmian - an atrocious footballer - should be off too. A few fringe youngsters will be sold off too, including Adnan Januzaj.
Also, just to let you know: Eric Dier isn't for sale. Neither is Harry, Dele, Christian, Kyle, Danny, etc. Can we interest you in a lightly used Moussa Sissoko for about £40m?
Not for sale?! You don't say! Well, I guess that settles it. We'll just take the 200% wage increase that we can offer any one of these players and shove it. :-)
Like most United fans I know, I quite like Spurs, and to an extent, it would be a shame to see this team broken up before they get a chance to win something. But have you seen the state of United's midfield, especially without Pogba? Sorry - that Dier bid is coming. I also note you didn't mention Toby Alderweireld, who is actually the first player I'd want from Spurs at the moment. (Writer’s note: Duh, he isn’t for sale either.)
Moussa Sissoko. What were you thinking?! He's not even the best Mous(s)a at the club, FFS.
You mentioned earlier that Rooney is 100% gone, right?
No question. Fingers crossed Everton talk themselves into an emotional and ill-advised reunion. If not, China or America beckon. He is completely finished at this level. One of the most underrated contributions of Mourinho this season has been his complete sidelining of Rooney - something that the last two clowns failed to do, despite getting a headstart from Ferguson.
Looking ahead to Sunday's match, Football365 brought up a problem (kudos to travers329 for the link!) that Mourinho has in matches against the current Top Six away from home: His teams don't score. In fact, the last time a Mourinho-led club scored away from home against the current Top Six was in January 2015, a lonely penalty shot from Eden Hazard.
Do you think there's a 100% chance he just sets up for a draw? Maybe 99.99% chance? Why do you think this is the case in recent memory?
Mourinho has approached important away matches in the same way for years. The clear first priority is to keep it tight, the second is to capitalize on chances (usually on the counter-attack). We've usually managed the first, but rarely the second. As a spoiled United fan, it's annoying, but we knew what we were getting with Mourinho. And when it works, it really is impressive. I'm less bothered with the lack of attacking ambition in big away matches (at least in this first season), than I am with the failure to be more positive at home. It's those draws at home that killed us in the league more than anything else.
What's the over/under in the "Players I've ever heard of" category in the United XI? 7? 8? What's the expected lineup?
Assuming that by the time this is published we haven't spectacularly crashed out of the Europa League, don't expect to see the likes of Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, or even Marcus Rashford (a teenager is now our most important attacker). The Europa League final will be the difference between a decent season and a really crap one, so it would be lunacy to risk injury to key players. That said, we still have two more league games after this one, and if Crystal Palace are safe from relegation on the final day, those might be better opportunities to play the kids.
I hope Pochettino has a game plan for facing Scott McTominay and Matthew Olosunde. The good news is that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones need minutes, so there should be goals for Spurs in this one.
How about a prediction?
Chelsea will have won the league by Sunday, so this will be a dead rubber match. With a weakened side I'm certainly not expecting a United win. Spurs will want a nice send off for White Hart Lane, but I also expect that heads will have dropped after the league is gone. Let's get a wild 4-4 draw, for old time's sake.