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Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur Preview: The beauty of belief

Spurs remain shorthanded but have their goals remain alive and well.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Among all of the (necessary and drastic) changes brought to North London by Ange Postecoglou, the most impactful have been the ones less tangible. Culture is hard to quantify and its effects are often subjective, but those who have had the displeasure of following Tottenham Hotspur over the past few years can clearly recognized a changed aura around the club.

Perhaps most chiefly is the restored belief instilled in the players, the idea that greatness can be achieved and that football can be fun. Whether that yields impressive results this season remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the what this club has achieved through the first 20 matches has been both miraculous and hope-bringing.

There have been many moments in Postecoglou’s first five months that encouraged this idea of belief, but for me it all started when Pape Matar Sarr, who played just 218 minutes for Tottenham last season, banged in the opener in August’s 2-0 win over Manchester United. The season has featured both ups and downs since then — including a questionable current run of form — but this early win was the palate cleanser this club desperately needed.

The expectations feel much different this weekend as Spurs travel to Old Trafford. United has just one league win in five and has looked far from convincing all season. Postecoglou is still down multiple starters on international duty and injury recovery, but it just feels like this club is in a good spot, even if the performances have been a tad off as of late. Maybe I am just riding the high of being a long-suffering Michigan fan, but it sure feels great to believe again.

Manchester United (t-7th, 31pts) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (5th, 39pts)

Date: Sunday, January 14
Time: 11:30 am ET, 4:30 pm UK
Location: Old Trafford, Manchester
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)

United won just one Group Stage match on their way to crashing out of the Champions League and have not looked any better domestically. Though the defense is top five in goals allowed, 22 goals scored sits in the bottom five of the league, leading to a position nine points out of fourth place with just seven points earned from seven December fixtures.

Two wins in that stretch were against Aston Villa and Chelsea, and there was a draw against Liverpool as well, so perhaps this side is more likely to show up in bigger matches. However, scoring has been a significant challenge and I would expect a pragmatic approach from Postecoglou on the road to continue those frustrations. The potential return of Cristian Romero (and maybe arrival of Radu Dragusin??) would make the task even tougher for the home side.

Lilywhite Spotlight: The attacking conundrum

Tottenham’s first incoming transfer this January (an early move too!) was Timo Werner, which seemingly came out of nowhere. The former Chelsea attacker has struggled mightily and is unlikely to magically turn it around with his new club, but it does feel like a low-risk move with plenty of upside.

Werner might not feature immediately, but it will be curious to see how Postecoglou chooses to deploy him with Dejan Kulusevski, Richarlison, and Brennan Johnson, especially if James Maddison returns too. None of those options are close to the level of Heung-Min Son, but perhaps Spurs can find the right combination to make up for his absence over the next month.