Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night is perhaps the earliest ‘must win’ game the Red Devils have ever played.
After an opening day victory over Leicester, United suffered an embarrassing 3-2 defeat away to Brighton the following weekend, and depressing stories about the club have filled the back pages pretty much every day since.
The biggest question mark lies over the defence, with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof putting in a woeful performance last Sunday. Their shocking errors cost their team the points and José Mourinho has a big decision to make over whether to back them once more for the Spurs game.
To further raise the stakes, World Cup top scorer Harry Kane has broken his infamous August goal-scoring curse and will look to add to his tally at Old Trafford. Alongside Dele Alli, the pair have made a promising start to this Premier League campaign and won’t be overawed by the prospect of facing United away.
United beat Spurs in this fixture last season, with Anthony Martial coming off the bench to score the winner, but after his performance against Brighton, it’s unlikely he will get any minutes on Monday. Mourinho has made his feelings on the player clear before now, voicing his displeasure over the Frenchman leaving the pre-season tour for the birth of his child and failing to inform the club he wouldn’t be returning, and his hour at the Amex Stadium did little to convince the manager he has been wrong to regularly leave him out of the team.
Instead, United may well go with an attacking three of Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku. Sanchez upset the fans this week when an advertising campaign for his fashion range was posted the day after the club’s first defeat of the season. It’s unlikely the Chilean had anything to do with it, rather the team that manages his social media accounts, but the post was promptly deleted following a backlash from the fans.
Profit over prizes?
In an era where the club is valued at £3 billion on the stock exchange yet fail to pay £60 million for the much-needed Premier League proven defender Toby Alderweireld, the timing of Sanchez’s self-promotion couldn’t have been worse. United supporters are understandably fed up with the club’s preference for profit over silverware, where a new sponsorship deal is more likely than a new signing, and that frustration will be heard around Old Trafford if the team don’t get a good result.
One player they will rely on to to improve their fortunes is Lukaku who got off the mark in his first start last weekend. However, he should have scored earlier to put United ahead, but showing signs of his rustiness he dragged a good opportunity wide of the post. If United are to beat Spurs, he will need to be more clinical.
While Lingard may also not quite be match-fit yet, following his late return to training after the World Cup, he is a player that Mourinho trusts and turns to in times of need. While he tried hard, he did little to change the game after coming off the bench against Brighton for his first action of the season.
Juan Mata is another option, who also failed to impress in the last game, as well as Marcus Rashford (although Mourinho tends to prefer him on the left in a spot Sanchez will likely occupy) after returning from injury.
The biggest talking point, as it has been for several weeks following his efforts to bring home the World Cup for France, is Paul Pogba. The United academy graduate has captained the club in both of their games so far in Antonio Valencia’s absence, but has had mixed fortunes. He was dominant in the opening game against Leicester, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot, but looked out of sorts in the second match. The captain enough still did enough to make Twelve’s team of the week though.
“The attitude we had was not like we wanted to beat them, they had more hunger than us,” Pogba said after the game. “I put myself first, my attitude wasn’t right enough, we keep trying and pushing, and it is going to be a big lesson for us.”
The Brazilian duo of Fred and Andreas Pereira played alongside Pogba in the first two games, with the former impressing more than the latter. Pereira was hooked at half time against Brighton as Mourinho looked to change things up, to no avail.
Fred completed more passes than anyone on the pitch at the Amex with an impressive 92% accuracy, which was a repeat of his precision passing against Leicester. Yet as a three, they’ve yet to find the rhythm that would suggest they are ready to dominate opposition midfields.
Nemanja Matic has returned to training this week following his injury during the pre-season tour and may well feature on Monday, even if not from the start. United fans will hope that his looming presence may inspire the previously selected midfielders to raise their game. Marouane Fellaini, who came on for the final half-hour against Brighton, is another option that Mourinho may turn to.
After a fairly depressing week for United, a win over Spurs would certainly lighten the mood of the fans. They have seen their team win their last four home games against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, as well as beating them at Wembley in last season’s FA Cup semi-final, and will be hoping that their record continues.
Yet Spurs are soaring while United are spluttering. This will be a game for the manager and players to show what they are made of.
Prediction: United 2-2 Spurs