The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur

These two sides played out a disappointing goalless draw over the Christmas period – but goals are expected this time around. Michael Cox looks at Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical decisions, while Alan Thompson assesses the best trades…

Manchester United v Tottenham
Sunday, 16:00,
Live on Sky Sports 1

Match Odds: Manchester United 1.9520/21, Tottenham 4.47/2, The Draw 3.814/5.

Manchester United might be above Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table but, while it’s still difficult to work out what Louis van Gaal is trying to achieve, Mauricio Pochettino‘s gameplan is much more obvious. Expect Tottenham to play proactively at Old Trafford on Sunday and give Van Gaal’s side – who are odds-on favourites – a fright.

Van Gaal’s formation is, yet again, up for question. The three-man defence seems to have been consigned to the dustbin, and the question is now about the midfield format. The trio of Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini started in the 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal on Monday night, and while they started reasonably well, Van Gaal decided he needed to introduce Michael Carrick alongside Blind to get a grip on the centre of the pitch. Carrick might get another start here against his old side. Spurs attempt to dominate the central area through heavy pressing, however, which Carrick can struggle against.

Van Gaal could bring back Radamel Falcao and Juan Mata – who didn’t even get off the bench on Monday night – and the latter will hope to start in the absence of the suspended Angel Di Maria.

Mata doesn’t seem to fit into Van Gaal’s style particularly well, but he’s surely still a better bet than Adnan Januzaj on the right. Wayne Rooney, deployed in midfield regularly over the past couple of months, has been in fine goalscoring form upfront and should continue in his favoured position.

If Van Gaal’s starting XI is as unpredictable as ever, few Premier League sides have as settled a starting XI as Spurs. Expect few surprises in defence, holding midfield or upfront, and the only question mark is how Pochettino plays in the attacking midfield zone.

Christian Eriksen will probably start centrally with Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli either side, although there’s a chance Andros Townsend could start on the right. Alternatively, Eriksen could move left with Mousa Dembele coming into midfield if Pochettino wants to beef up the spine of his side – Dembele often plays well at Old Trafford.

The most interesting battle on the pitch will be the clash between two technical ex-Ajax players. Blind and Eriksen were once teammates in an Eredivisie-winning side, but will be trying to outwit one another and dominate the centre of the pitch. The teams play in different ways – Van Gaal wants the good passing tempo to start from deep from Blind, whereas Spurs win the ball high up the pitch and rely on Eriksen to provide incision in the final third. Whoever gets the better of this clash will be crucial in determining which side dominates the match.

Spurs’ other major threat is obviously Harry Kane, who will probably look to play on the shoulder of the Manchester United defence and make runs in behind. Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo have performed well in recent weeks, and yet you always sense there’s a mistake waiting to happen from either of them, and Kane is the type of willing, hungry striker that could force them into errors.

Chadli will hope to exploit Antonio Valencia‘s poor defensive ability, while Lamela – or Townsend – will fancy their chances of outwitting Luke Shaw, who struggled badly against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Monday evening.

Manchester United don’t appear to have the same wing threat – Ashley Young has been playing well but Kyle Walker has the pace to cope. The same would be true of Danny Rose against Januzaj – Mata might cause more problems by drifting infield.

Manchester United still aren’t convincing, and yet they’ve won eight of their last nine Premier League games at Old Trafford – and have scored at least twice in seven of those matches too. Rooney’s on form, and there’s a good chance of him scoring again here.

Yet it’s tough to imagine Spurs not scoring, with their heavy pressing style likely to dominate the midfield, and United appearing extremely flimsy in the defeat to Arsenal. Both teams to score looks a good bet.

Recommended Bet
Back Both Teams to Score at 1.758/11

The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson

Tottenham travel to Old Trafford on Sunday knowing a win will put them on equal points with United. Having previously not won there in the Premier League they have now won on their last two visits and are unbeaten against the Red Devils in their last five league meetings.

Spurs have struggled to keep clean sheets, especially away from home, with only one shutout in their last 12 away days. But equally they have only failed to score once on the road this season, in a 0-3 reverse at Chelsea, and have scored an average of 1.62 goals per game. Only Chelsea and Manchester City have scored more frequently than Tottenham on the road.

Manchester United are now in a sequence of games that I believe will take them out of the running for a top four finish. After this game they face Liverpool away and Aston Villa at home then they have the derby against City before travelling to Chelsea and Everton.

They have already drifted a little bit after their defeat in the FA Cup against Arsenal from 2.04 to 2.18 for a top four finish but that is still a good lay price for me.

Manchester United are on a great run in the league with just two defeats in their last 18 but I think their fortunes are about to change soon and it could start here. I will be laying Manchester United at 1.97 and I will also be backing over 2.5 goals in play should it reach 2.3.