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Manchester United vs. Tottenham betting preview: Back Spurs to compound Red Devils’ crisis

March 10, 2022June 10th, 2022

Manchester United’s 3-0 win at Tottenham last October showed form to be a fickle folly and scoffed in the face of logic, writes Stephen Tudor.

There it is, on public record, a deserved three points from an excellent display that is marooned amidst a sea of otherwise terrible results for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils as they succumbed to genuine crisis. Just six days earlier Liverpool went to Old Trafford and ruthlessly reminded their old foe of how far they had fallen. A week before that, Leicester spanked them at the King Power.

Did United’s comprehensive triumph in North London revive their fortunes, or at least restore some conviction? It did not. A week after Ronaldo, Cavani and Rashford found the target, they went all shot-shy again as Solskjaer’s team was brutally outclassed in a Manchester derby. In their subsequent fixture, Watford demolished an already crumbling edifice and the Norwegian was gone.

As for Tottenham, they responded to the heavy home loss swiftly and firmly, sacking Nuno Espirito Santo and bringing in Antonio Conte. And though there have been some bitterly disappointing performances since, and though Spurs remain a somewhat unpredictable beast, from that day forward they have been on a much better path.

The corresponding game to this weekend’s clash at Old Trafford is brought up here because it’s highly relevant, and it’s relevant because it’s no longer relevant, which is a sentence that demands a proper explanation. Which is that if you omit that ridiculous 6-1 hammering in 2020, and an earlier 3-0 win for Tottenham at Old Trafford two years prior – each omitted because they occurred in August with seasons yet to find any structure or narrative – a long-standing tradition has formed in this contest that sees Spurs acting as United’s perfect pick-me-up.

If the Red Devils are in trouble or if they’re feeling the heat of a title race – which admittedly takes us way back – along come Tottenham twice a season, just big enough an adversary to open up and have a go, but always in a nice and tidy fashion, before wilting when the going gets tough. In an Old Trafford office somewhere there’s presumably a glass case with ‘Smash in an emergency’ written on it. Inside is a Spurs badge. “Lads, it’s Tottenham.” Isn’t that what Sir Alex Ferguson once said as the whole summation of a pre-match pep-talk?

Does that thinking still apply this week, with United once again at an exceedingly low ebb? Might we see a repeat of last autumn when they indulged in some much-needed Spursy therapy? In short, no, that aid has been cut off, for the time being for sure and who knows, maybe for good.

It no longer applies because Spurs are looking too well put together right now, or more accurately, they seem to be on the precipice of being well put together. They have scored nine without reply in their last two games, a period of prolificacy not unconnected to Harry Kane rediscovering his considerable strengths. The England forward has scored five in his last four and crucially we have also seen his partnership with Son Heung-min flourish anew. His through-ball for Son at Leeds recently means they have combined for more goals than any other duo in Premier League history.

Alongside this formidable pairing, Dejan Kulusevski has five direct goal involvements in last four games. On the right meanwhile, Matt Doherty has hit on a rich vein of form of late and this matters because for some time that flank was a real issue for Tottenham. All told, Conte’s men will be bang up for this one, in the finest of fettles. It is hard to imagine them wilting when the going gets tough.

If indeed it even reaches that level of difficulty because returning to United, their 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool felt substantial and meaningful but perhaps the dramatic nature of it allowed for a dramatic response. Whereas their present problems feel infinitely more pervasive and frankly what we witnessed in that second half against City last Sunday cannot be rectified in the space of a week on the training ground. If the Liverpool defeat necessitated the fixing of a waterpipe, now they must try to stop the rain.

United have kept only two clean sheets from the nine times they’ve faced a top eight rival this season and twice they have been bettered by four-plus goals. Ronaldo is somewhere in Portugal sulking and ahead of the derby it was widely stated that his absence would be beneficial to Ralf Rangnick’s team, which sums up his impact this term. To slightly modify Homer Simpson’s relationship with alcohol, CR7 has been the cause of, and solution to, most of United’s woes in 2021/22.

Not that his headline-hogging should excuse any of his team-mates who inexcusably downed tools in a Manchester derby, settling for 8% possession in the final 15 minutes when a point was still notionally possible. Roy Keane called their apathy ‘shameful’ and even that heightened criticism feels under-stated so pitiful were they. In the second period their press resembled men feigning to step for the hold button on a lift as someone they didn’t like approached and this should particularly concern Rangnick because what Spurs did really well in their deconstruction of Everton on Monday was bypass the Toffees’ press, quickly, easily and with confidence.

We could go on. Really, we could go on and on when dissecting United’s shortcomings but ultimately what consigns them to intractable trouble is the following home truth: that Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka and the rest will be looking to the bigger players currently for help, but it’s the biggest players who are struggling the most.

All of which offers up a possible reversal of circumstance this weekend. That Antonio Conte might prowl-walk into the away dressing room, stare his players down, and simply declare – ‘Lads, it’s United’.

The Reds’ defence has been prone to mishap this season. odds of +700 is offered up to back an own goal, unintentionally scored by either side.

 

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