Wednesday’s Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United was already going to be an important one even before Spurs made their managerial change. Now that Mauricio Pochettino is out and Jose Mourinho is in, this match is stuffed with even more extra special #narrative. It’s Mourinho’s first return to Old Trafford since his sacking, and the fact that he returned to the league managing Spurs while both sides are ostensibly competing for one Champions League spot makes this match even more spicy.
Much has been written already about United’s struggles this season. United are 9th in the table with 18 points from 14 matches, a decidedly underwhelming point total. Their midfield is struggling to create goals and control matches. Even their offense, chock full of talent, is underperforming — according to Understat, United are nearly 4 under their expected goals of 25. Their forwards — Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Daniel James — have combined to score 13 out of their 19 goals this season, but no one player is in double figures yet.
They’ve put fewer into the net than Spurs, but are second in the league in xGA, allowing only 17 goals past David De Gea this season. That’s a bit of an underperformance too, but they’re better defensively than Spurs.
Most of their losses have come on the road, but United are 3-3-1 at home this season, including a loss to Crystal Palace — Old Trafford is no longer the fortress it once was and Spurs are surging... at least offensively... under Mourinho. Combine that with seven United injuries including Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo, Nemanja Matic, and Scott McTominay, you’d probably give Tottenham the slightest of edges on paper.
But this isn’t just a rivalry game, it’s Mourinho’s United return. He’s likely to receive at minimum a frosty reception at Old Trafford, and it’s likely to end up outwardly hostile. Considering the smoking crater he left behind after his United sacking, you’d probably also think that his return will give many of his former players a little extra motivation tomorrow night.
How will Tottenham line up against Manchester United?
With a couple of Tottenham matches under Jose Mourinho under our belt we can start to gain a few insights into his tactics and what he likes to do. All three of Mourinho’s Tottenham starting lineups have been similar, if not exactly the same — a 4-2-3-1 lineup with Eric Dier at the base of the midfield, and an attack that features Son Heung-Min, Dele, and Harry Kane.
Wednesday’s match at United provides some challenges, however, that could inform how Mourinho will set up his squad at the Theater of Dreams.
For starters, we should first look ahead. While Wednesday’s match is important, the next two may not be as much — Spurs host Burnley at the weekend before traveling to Germany for a dead-rubber Champions League match at Bayern Munich with both teams having already clinched progression out of their groups. Both of these upcoming matches provide opportunities for rest and rotation, with the caveat that there are no easy games in the Premier League any more.
Secondly, there are now reports that Christian Eriksen has again turned down a contract extension with the club, meaning he will almost certainly now be leaving, possibly even in January. With Mourinho saying that he’ll pick his lineups “for the future” that implies that Eriksen will likely be a bench/rotation option for the remainder of his Spurs tenure.
Still, while there are a few players that already have a lot of miles under their belts under Mourinho already — Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele in particular — there are good reasons to think that Mou will ride that hot hand for at least one more match before potentially giving some of them not named Kane a rest.
So I don’t think we’ll see that many changes from the lineup we saw win against Bournemouth. My guess is Kane, Dele, Son, Dier, Ndombele, Alderweireld and Aurier keep their places. We haven’t seen a Janby Alderweirtonghen CB pairing under Mourinho yet, but with Jan healthy and Rose now fully rested, I think we will on Wednesday. Another possibility exists, though — if Aurier needs a break, Mourinho could swap the defensive/offensive fullback pairing, having Rose push forward and bringing in someone like Juan Foyth on the right to sit deeper and play defensive football.
I predict Lucas Moura to come in for Sissoko despite the latter’s outstanding match against Bournemouth. There’s a chance we see Harry Winks in for either Dier or Ndombele, and I’d love love love to see Giovani Lo Celso as well, but that’s probably more likely in a match like against Bayern where it doesn’t really matter (and yes it feels weird to type that).
No matter what happens, Mourinho is going to want offensive weaponry available against his old club, and he’ll also want to tighten up the defense to avoid shipping another two goals against the Red Devils; shipping two to United could end up being much more impactful than it was against West Ham or Bournemouth.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham against Manchester United. What’s yours?