Man In Demand
It was the news everyone had expected and it provided Tottenham fans (and likely players too) with a gobstopper-sized lump in their throat. Jose Mourinho had finally succumbed to the heat and rightly been shit-canned. The Man United board are looking for their new talisman.
It’s no wonder that highest on their wish list was Mauricio Pochettino after four and a half years of ripping up records in North London.
Their last season in the old White Hart Lane was their best ever, not registering a single loss at home in any domestic competition for the first time since 1965.
And with emphatic results over Jurgen Klopp, Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola in the bank, mild-mannered Mauricio has proved his credentials by mixing it with the best in the business.
The 3-0 win over United earlier this season was their biggest win at Old Trafford for 30 years and inflicted on Mourinho his biggest ever home defeat. Heck of a feather to have in one’s cap.
All this has been achieved on a transfer and wage budget dwarfed by their rivals. In the past three seasons, United have burned 33% more on new players whilst Liverpool have splashed 92% more than the £200M spent by the Lillywhites. In terms of excellence on the pitch, working within his means financially and buying into a club ethos, he is comfortably the outstanding candidate for the job.
In Pochettino’s time in London, United have parted company with three full-time managers and taken a chance on two caretakers. Get your hire right and consistency of decision making is more decisive than throwing money at a problem.
For all the hearsay though, United seem further away from bagging Poch than ever, having made his feelings plain and committing to Daniel Levy’s long-term plan unequivocally this week with sincere talk of a 20-year reign.
Ole Ole Ole
All this leaves a vacancy to fill. While Poch has passed each managerial test with flying colours, Solskjaer, just one year his junior, is at the very beginning of his own journey. It’s a voyage fraught with peril and insecurity. Just ask every man who’s failed in Fergie’s shadow.
After five wins on the bounce, the dress rehearsals have gone smoothly but once the curtain goes down after the Sunday matinee, we’ll have a far better idea of the Manc-wegians managerial wit.
Tottenham are a prize scalp these but it wasn’t always that way. When Solskjaer was prizing apart opposition defences as a player, Spurs were merely a speck of dust on United’s neatly pressed suit jacket that needed a swift flick off.
White Hart Lane was always a happy hunting ground for the Red Devils. From 2001-12, Fergie’s United went 26 games without defeat against Spurs. But since the red-faced Scotsman’s departure, the tables have turned - not one of his successors has won at Tottenham.
If the baby-faced assassin is to get his wish and remain in the role, he will need to win games like this. You don’t get credit for whipping the whipping boys. With five games against the rest of the top six to play, a win here to chip away at the whopping 10-point deficit to Spurs would do his chances a world of good.
New Boss Bounce?
What is most striking about the new coach’s takeover is the gear change he’s affected. The immediate improvement seen in several players proves what we suspected all along, Mourinho’s lost it as a motivator and man manager.
Take Pogba’s stats: in 1,330 minutes for the Portugeezer he managed three goals and as many assists this year.
In a fraction of that amount of minutes under Solksjaer, he already has the same number of assists, whilst logging one more goal than under misery guts.
It’s not just Pogba who’s benefitting either. Lukaku looks a changed man netting in his last three whilst Rashford looks like the boy unleashed under Van Gaal with three goals in his last five appearances.
Is this a new boss bounce or has Ole’s know-how sparked something meaningful in his feted forwards?
Back Four Blossoming
Managing that purring United attack is a Spurs’ defence that’s looking back to their best after a World Cup-induced hangover.
Trippier and Rose have notably upped their game of late after slow starts and their battles with Martial and Lingard will be pivotal.
With United’s fluent football thriving and Spurs’ desperation to be counted as contenders, Sunday should be a hoot as two form sides juggernaut into each other at Wembley.
Perhaps it’s a search for silverware that's eluded them for so long but ‘Spurs’ has become a byword for noble failure.
Despite securing a series of their best-placed league finishes in 40 years, playing some delicious stuff and trailing leaders Liverpool by just six points, they’re strangely considered ‘out of the equation’ for the title race.
A quick look back at how they utterly dismantled United at Old Trafford back in August makes that idea seem even barmier. A resounding win here and it’s impossible to claim they’re out of the running with 17 left to play.
Lloris Slowing Down?
It’s been a tough few months for club captain Hugo Lloris. Despite being crowned world champions in Russia, his own credibility took a dent after the howler which gifted Croatia a lifeline. Oh and that driving around hooned malarkey.
The Frenchman’s average of 2.5 errors leading directly to goals per season for Tottenham is bearable with a mere apprentice waiting in the wings. But Paulo Gazzaniga is not just there to occupy the bench.
The 27-year-old, plucked from the same hometown as Pochettino, has been led by his countryman from Spain to the Premier League to north London via Southampton
Poch’s pet has kept a clean sheet in each of his last three appearances and looks increasingly ready to step up. Notably, he had a stormer in the EFL Cup semi-final on Tuesday.
Spurs’ No 1 meanwhile has looked fallible ever his Croatian howler with notable clangers against Barcelona and PSV since.
For now, he seems to have enough credit in the bank but with every fine showing from Gazzaniga, the scrutiny in his semi-regular bloopers will only grow
First Goal Wins
Barring United’s seminal 5-2 and 5-3 Fergie era classics, neither side has ever bounced back from a goal down yet this century.
With both sides in feisty form, a goal fest is on the cards. With any luck, a classic along the lines of this one from 01/02 would do just nicely.
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