The last time Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester United feels like a lifetime ago and was played under very different conditions. For starters, Nuno Espirito Santo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were both on the sidelines and both under enormous pressure. Ironically, United won the battle, handing Nuno’s Spurs a 3-0 loss, but may have lost the war — Spurs sacked Espirito Santo just after and appointed Antonio Conte before United could get around to firing their own manager.
So it’s different this time, but it’s still a big match. Tottenham heads to Old Trafford for the late match on Saturday in yet another contest that could have massive top four implications. Spurs have been anything but consistent lately but are coming off of a couple of solid (and big) league wins over Leeds and Everton. Saturday provides a different sort of test against a much better opponent.
Much like Spurs, United have been a “club in disarray” this season, opting to part with manager Solskjaer and replacing him (at least for now) with Ralf Rangnick. Results have been somewhat mixed — Ralf seems to have righted the ship somewhat with United winning 13 points out of their first 15, but there have been some cracks in the facade at Old Trafford. United could only manage a scoreless draw against Watford on February 26 and got pounded 4-1 in the Manchester Derby a week ago.
For Tottenham, it’s been a topsy-turvy period under Antonio Conte, with Spurs at times looking like world-beaters and at other times limping to losses against Burnley and Middlesbrough. They’re a little creaky against a high press and definitely thin in midfield, but Conte finally has had an uninterrupted week to work out a game plan against United. That has been a rarity and feels like a luxury now — we’ll see if it pays off.
Manchester United (5th, 47 points) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7th, 45pts)
Date: Saturday, March 12, 2022
Time: 12:30 pm ET, 5:30 pm UK
Location: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
TV: Not televised (USA), Sky Sports (UK)
Stream: Peacock (USA)
Tottenham will be without three players — Oliver Skipp and Japhet Tanganga both are dealing with long term injuries, while Ryan Sessegnon injured his hamstring in the first half of Spurs’ 5-0 win over Everton.
United, meanwhile, welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back from injury, as reported by Ralf Rangnick yesterday, but are without Luke Shaw and Raphael Varane, who both had positive COVID tests midweek. Mason Greenwood is out long term, while Edinson Cavani and Scott McTominay are both questionable.
- Ralf Rangnick has United playing a very intense style of football, and will likely try and press Spurs from the outset. Spurs have shown a weakness to a high press. However, as we’ve also seen, Spurs can exploit teams that press and play with a high back line. United is better than Leeds or Everton, but they may have a similar weakness to counter-attacking football. Harry Maguire in particular has been a little creaky, and Spurs could find some daylight behind United’s back line under the right conditions. And if they do force United to sit deeper, that’s also a net win for Tottenham as it reduces the efficacy of their attack.
- Spurs’ recent spell of success has had a couple of things in common: excellent play from Harry Kane, Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur, and... remarkably... Matt Doherty. United should provide a much stiffer test than either Leeds or Everton, however. Kane in particular has benefitted from the excellent service provided from the other three. He seems to have snapped out of his shooting slump, and if that continues, watch out.
- One key matchup to watch is Cuti Romero vs. Bruno Fernandes — Bruno has been rounding into form after cooling off earlier in the season, but Romero is playing like one of the best defenders in the league. Bruno loves a soft foul in the box and Romero plays with an edge — it could be really fascinating (and, potentially, infuriating) to watch.