The race for the top is getting ever so intense, with just over 12 games to go. Arsenal, Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham United are all fighting for the 4th and last coveted Champions League place, and this weekend we have two direct rivals facing off. Manchester United welcome Tottenham Hotspur at home in a game that could well decide who is to make the top 4 between them.
Man United were embarrassed and thoroughly beaten in their last game, against local rivals Manchester City. The Manchester derby was full of action, but it was City who came out as the deserved winners, beating United 4-1 at the Etihad. The vast gulf between the two teams was visible in those 90 minutes, and United’s misery continued. Their defence has been untenable, and have been rightly criticized for it all season. Their latest defeat meant that the Red Devils are now in 5th place, one point behind 4th placed Arsenal, although the Gunners have 3 games in hand over the Mancunians. Saturday’s game is a must win for Man United to keep their hopes of a top 4 finish alive. They have not won since the 20th of Feb, and are on a 3-game winless run in all competitions. Tottenham Hotspur have their own problems and issues, and Ralf Rangnick and his men will hope to capitalize on those to get some much needed and crucial 3 points at home.
Spurs come into Saturday’s game on a mixed run of form, having won 3 and lost 2 of their last 5 games in all competitions. They were last in action against Everton, where they were clinical and dominating to win 5-0 at home. An own goal from Michael Keane set them on their way, as a brace from Harry Kane and a goal each by Heung-min Son and Sergio Reguilon saw the Lilywhites demolish the Toffees’ defence. That result coupled with some very good results in the last two games have seen Tottenham get closer to the 4th spot. They still have two games in hand over United, and winning on Saturday would see them leapfrog the Red Devils with the two games still in hand.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Date: Saturday, 12th March 2022.
Time: 5.30 pm BST.
Venue: Old Trafford, Greater Manchester.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Assistants: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood.
Fourth official: Craig Pawson.
VAR: Andre Marriner.
Assistant VAR: Nick Hopton
Manchester United were without 4 key players in their defeat to Manchester City, with forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, and the defensive duo of Luke Shaw and Raphael Varane missing out. Shaw and Varane tested positive for COVID-19 while Ronaldo and Cavani missed out with injuries. Luke Shaw will be unavailable for Tottenham’s visit as he continues his recovery, but Varane, Ronaldo and Cavani have been passed fit by Ralf Rangnick and are in contention to start. Cavani has missed the last six games with a groin issue, and it remains to see if he is fit enough to make his way into the starting 11. In other news, midfielder Scott McTominay is struggling with a calf issue and that could force him to sit out Saturday’s game.
For Tottenham Hotspur, Antonio Conte confirmed that wing-back Ryan Sessegnon will face a spell on the sidelines with a muscular injury, and the Englishman now joins defender Japhet Tanganga and midfielder Oliver Skipp on the treatment table for Spurs. However, Conte has a very strong squad to choose from for the weekend’s game, and it will be interesting to see how he lines up his men against the Red Devils.
Tottenham comes into this game having won 3 out of the last 4 league games, keeping two cleansheets and scoring 12 goals along the way. They were brilliant in their away win against league-leaders Manchester City, putting in a strong defensive display and obliterating City on the counter-attack. Since Conte’s arrival, Tottenham have looked more structured and organized, but at times have been suscept to the odd collapse. Their losses against Burnley in the league and Middlesbrough in the FA Cup are evidence of the fact that Antonio Conte still has plenty of work to do to get Spurs back to challenging at the top of the table.
From the very second of his arrival, Conte has set his team up to play in his preferred 3-4-3 formation, sometimes varying it to a 3-4-2-1 as well. While his system did not hit the ground running, Tottenham players are gradually getting to grips with it, and that is showing on the pitch with their ability to hit teams on the counter-attack. A big advantage for Conte’s side will be United’s failure to cope with transitional play. This season has been one of the worst defensive seasons for the Red Devils, and their vulnerability on the counter has seen a lot of clubs take away points from them.
Manchester United will need their wits about them in the backline if they are to win three points at home. Last weekend’s defeat was hugely down to some abysmal defending, as they let City players push them around inside their own half. Raphael Varane was a huge miss and his absence left a big hole at the back. His return will be a huge boost for the Red Devils, but there are still many issues for Ralf Rangnick to sort out. Spurs will hope to exploit United’s defensive woes and get some crucial three points on the road.
The English winger took some time to get used to the rough and tough of Premier League, but now seems set and up to pace. He has been the standout performer in the United team and is undoubtedly their man in the form right now. The £73 million summer signing, has been instrumental in the attack since the January international break. The former Borussia Dortmund man has been in brilliant form, scoring 3 goals and providing 2 assists in 7 games since the beginning of February. He seems to be effective from either wing and has linked up well with Bruno Fernandes in the midfield. Sancho was the standout United player in the 4-1 defeat last week, scoring against his old club with a brilliant goal, and he will be the one to watch out for again if he starts on Saturday. The Spurs full-backs will be wary of letting him have too much time and space on the ball, as he is a big threat if afforded too much space.
The 29-year-old striker has hit form under Antonio Conte, scoring 5 goals and providing an assist in the last 4 games. His performance against Manchester City was arguably one of his best ever, as he tormented the City backline, dropping deep and allowing Son and Kulusevski to run in behind in the space created by him. He then proceeded to pick out the runs with brilliant accuracy, showcasing his ability as one of the most complete strikers in world football. He has since kicked on, scoring goals and putting in good shifts as he leads the Spurs attack. Harry Kane will be gunning to break Wayne Rooney’s record of most away goals in the Premier League as Kane sits on 93 to Rooney’s 94 goals. He will be the spearhead in the Spurs attack, and Man United defence will have to cope with his terrific pace, clinical finishing and his wonderful passes.
Man United predicted XI vs Spurs: David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles; Fred, Paul Pogba; Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tottenham predicted XI vs Man United: Hugo Lloris; Cristian Romero, Eric Dier, Ben Davies; Matt Doherty, Rodrigo Bentancur, Pierre Emilie-Hojbjerg, Sergio Reguilon; Dejan Kulusuveski, Heung-min Son; Harry Kane.