While it was always looking like a big task for Tottenham to catch Chelsea after the Blues coupled a relentless pursuit of the league with the head-start they took into the turn of this year, Spurs have again proven their critics wrong. They will of course face the daunting task of challenging next season from an unkind ground after Wembley hosted their poor Champions League performances at the beginning of this season. This match though promises to be a celebration of the end of an era and a win will see them secure a fourteenth successive home victory in the league and remain undefeated at the Lane during the whole of this campaign.
United too have recently had their unbeaten league run come to an end in their previous game, as Arsenal proved twenty-six was a step too far for United. Unlike Spurs, United have only won 13 of their last 26 games which is hardly the form of a team with title ambitions, something that Jose Mourinho was only too happy to announce upon his arrival last summer. With United pinning all of their hopes on their now imminent Europa League final, United are not considered to have very much chance of winning this game, but perhaps this is exactly what Mourinho wants as being the underdogs with something to fight against is a common trait that he enjoys.
LAST TIME OUT
West Ham 1 – 0 TOTTENHAM
A below-par performance from Spurs took what they deserved from the London Stadium as their title dreams came crashing down in the East-end. Both teams started with an intent and purpose that lead to some meaty challenges across the pitch but it was a controlled aggression from both teams and well within the laws of the game. As the first half wore on, Spurs slowly began to regain more possession in the central area but chances were coming few and far between for the visitors with Harry Kane having an unusually quiet game. West Ham meanwhile were looking a threat when they had the ball and Cheikhou Kouyate had a goal-bound effort cleared from the line just before the half-hour mark. Tottenham again failed to set the game alight after the interval as a lack of tempo in their game gave West Ham the upper hand. A 63rd minute ball into the Spurs penalty area from Aaron Cresswell was to prove the decisive moment, Tottenham’s defenders failed to clear before Manuel Lanzini was able to slam the loose ball into the net from close range. With West Ham dictating the game, Spurs again failed to open up their opponents and one goal proved enough to derail their title hopes for another year.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1 – 1 Celta Vigo (agg 2 – 1)
It was by no means a classic as the game erupted in moments of frustration and antagonism rather than brilliance despite the technical ability that was on display from both United and Celta Vigo, a Spanish side who have beaten both Barcelona and Real in La Liga this season. With little early action to set pulses racing, Marouane Fellaini gave United something to cheer in the 17th minute when he powered a header passed the Celta keeper to give his side command of the tie. With few chances of note in the first half, Celta started much stronger in the second although United too had Chances through Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Fellaini but with 5 minutes remaining it was Facundo Roncaglia who scored from a corner to set up a nerve-jangling finale. Within two minutes of the goal, a melee broke out in the centre of the pitch which resulted in both Roncaglia and Eric Bailly being sent off as almost every player from each side became involved. With Ander Herrera then scoring, only to see his effort disallowed for a foul by Paul Pogba in the build-up, United hung on to claim their place against Ajax at Stockholm.
Tottenham continue to be without long-term absentees, Danny Rose (ankle) Erik Lamela (hip) and Harry Winks (ankle) otherwise a full squad is expected to be at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal.
Manchester United Lineup
Mourinho is likely to again shuffle his pack due to the build-up of games, however United will definitely be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee) Marcus Rojo (knee) Timothy Fosu-Mensah (shoulder) and Luke Shaw (foot) are all ruled out of contention this weekend with Marouane Fellaini also missing out due to the second of his three game suspension with Ashley Young (hamstring) also a doubt to start.
No quick fixes
By continuing to show improvements over the side who finished third in last year’s Premier League chase, Mauricio Pochettino has shown he has the ability to nurture talent into genuine title contenders and not just discover raw young talents. With many of the players in the Spurs side developing their game under his guidance, the big money summer arrivals of Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen are conspicuous by their absence from the current first team. Tottenham are likely to invest again this summer and it will be telling to find out whether they can acquire players who are able to fit to Pochettino’s strict system or whether they will be like Son Heung-min and require time to adapt into their new surroundings as Pochettino slowly gets them to bloom.
Alli vs Pogba
He who controls the centre of the pitch, controls the game. Maybe not exactly 100% true, but this contest could go a long way to deciding which way the game is decided. Dele Alli’s rise in the game has been meteoric and he still looks like a player in development which is a scary proposition for all other sides in next year’s Premier League. Paul Pogba meanwhile arrived last summer to much fanfare and talk of money ruining the integrity of the game, however he has slowly settled into life back in the Premiership and if it wasn’t for his absurd price, he would be a player starting to collect more credit than he currently enjoys.
It does Mata
Juan Mata will again be ready for action to aid United’s cause after fears that he would miss the rest of this season. It is this attitude which Mourinho expects his players to adopt and perhaps this is something that Mata is all-too-aware of following his time under the manager during their spell at Chelsea. While other players within the squad have caught the wrath of their managers tongue for not showing a similar approach to training and match-day selection, it is on the pitch that really counts for his team and this mentality which will be much-needed as they face a Tottenham side eager to gain an upper hand over their old foe.