As most are aware, this is the best start to a season for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League era with a 7-2-1 record through 10 matches. Arsenal sits atop the table, but four points is a negligible gap with so much of the season remaining. From a purely results standpoint, things are going well in North London.
Of those three non-wins, however, two came against Big Six opponents on the road (Chelsea and Arsenal). Wednesday is yet another one of those contests, as Spurs visit Old Trafford. Manchester United took all six points between the clubs last season, first knocking out Nuno Espirito Santo, then riding a back-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick.
United sits fifth in the league, six points below Tottenham but with a match in hand. The visitors are definitely enjoying the better season of the two, but winning on the road is never easy, and both last season’s results and this year’s battles against top sides suggest that this will be another challenge for a very busy Spurs side.
Manchester United (5th, 16pts) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3rd, 23pts)
Date: Wednesday, October 19
Time: 3:15 pm ET, 8:15 pm UK
Location: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Amazon Prime Video (UK)
United is up in fifth, but the performances thus far have been somewhat extreme. Five wins is fifth-best in the league so far, but when it rains, it pours, including breakdowns like a 0-4 loss at Brentford and a 3-6 Manchester Derby defeat (that was really a five-goal gap until the final 10 minutes of the match).
As a result, United’s goal difference (-2) and xGD (-0.6) are both in the red, with neither end of the pitch looking especially ripe. Much attention will be on Christian Eriksen, who missed Sunday’s goalless draw against Newcastle, as the former Spurs midfielder has been an important part of the home side’s operation this season.
The loss of Richarlison and the continued recovery of Dejan Kulusevski might force Antonio Conte’s hand. Not to groan every single match about the formation, but it has become clear that the 3-4-3 is not operating in the way that anyone hopes or expects despite the talent it brings to the pitch, and at this point there is no reasonable expectation that major improvements will come out of the blue.
The injuries to these two attackers make the move to a 3-5-2 fairly straightforward — at least from an outside perspective. Conte started with this setup in the win over Brighton and was forced into it after Richarlison left the win over Everton, and it certainly looked like a more productive and sustainable strategy; at the very least, it has fared no worse than the 3-4-3.
Despite some scoring troubles, United does have the capability to put the ball in the net, so playing it safe in midfield makes the most sense. While it might be tempting for Conte to slot in Lucas Moura or Ivan Perisic to form a front three, starting conservative and having the flexibility to add some attacking power off the bench is the best approach against a top side on the road.