Man United and Spurs in scram­ble to stay in touch

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The threat of a long, dark win­ter hangs over Jose Mour­inho’s Manch­ester United as they pre­pare to welcome Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur to Old Traf­ford in the Pre­mier League to­day.

Without a home win in four league games, United trail fifth-place Tot­ten­ham by six points and will be left with a chasm to bridge just to se­cure a Cham­pi­ons League place if they lose.

Their prepa­ra­tions have been dis­turbed by Thurs­day’s Europa League trip to Ukraine, where they beat Zo­rya Luhansk 20 to se­cure a last 32 slot, but Paul Pogba says it can­not serve as an ex­cuse.

“When you’re play­ing those com­pe­ti­tions, you’re play­ing ev­ery three days,” the France mid­fielder told MUTV. “We have the team to change and be ready. We have to be ready for those games. When you pre­pare in pre-sea­son, it’s to play those games ev­ery three days.

“We know how hard it is to play against Tot­ten­ham. We’re play­ing at home, where we didn’t win for four games, with four draws, so we just want to win this game and get to the top of the league.”

Although its trans­port im­pli­ca­tions have pro­vided un­wel­come com­pli­ca­tions for Mour­inho, the Europa League has given United some rare mo­ments of pos­i­tiv­ity in re­cent weeks.

It has been par­tic­u­larly kind to Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, who tem­po­rar­ily dis­ap­peared from view fol­low­ing his close-sea­son switch from Borus­sia Dort­mund. The Ar­me­nian play­maker shone in the 4-0 win over Feyeno­ord and opened his ac­count for the club with a fine goal on Thurs­day, hav­ing in­spired United to a 4-1 League Cup win over West Ham United in be­tween.

With United hav­ing scored just seven goals in their last eight league games a run that has yielded a soli­tary win-he seems in­creas­ingly in­te­gral to Mour­inho’s hopes of sal­vaging the sea­son.

“We know how good he is,” Pogba said. “You just have to be con­fi­dent and now he’s play­ing more, he has more games in his legs. “He is just get­ting go­ing.”

MOUR­INHO ‘STILL SPE­CIAL’

Hav­ing re­cently en­dured a se­quence of one vic­tory in 10 matches in all com­pe­ti­tions, Tot­ten­ham can sym­pa­thise with United’s strug­gles.

Their sticky patch ended their Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign be­fore it had re­ally be­gun and saw them slip seven points be­low lead­ers Chelsea in the ti­tle race. But they will travel north en­er­gised by two hand­some vic­to­ries, hav­ing crushed Swansea City 5-0 last week­end be­fore sinking CSKA Moscow 3-1 in mid-week to join United in the Europa League.

The stun­ning form of Mour­inho’s for­mer club Chelsea un­der An­to­nio Conte has only deep­ened the gloom sur­round­ing the Por­tuguese, but Spurs man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino re­mains an ar­dent ad­mirer.

“For me, he is the Spe­cial One and will al­ways be the Spe­cial One,” said Po­chet­tino, who saw his side out­class United 3-0 at White Hart Lane when the teams last met in April. “For me, he was a ref­er­ence when I started my ca­reer at Es­panyol. He was al­ways very kind to me and opened his door. “I al­ways as­sess my col­leagues and try to be ob­jec­tive. I re­ally be­lieve he is one of the best.

“Some­times you strug­gle a bit. It’s not easy to ar­rive at a new club, set up ideas and phi­los­o­phy, but for me he was, is and will be one of the best man­agers in foot­ball his­tory.” Po­chet­tino will once again be without winger Erik Lamela, who re­mains in Ar­gentina at­tend­ing to his hos­pi­talised brother, while striker Vin­cent Janssen has an an­kle in­jury. But de­fen­sive lynch­pin Toby Alder­weireld is in line to make his first start in eight weeks fol­low­ing a knee prob­lem, hav­ing come off the bench against CSKA at Wem­b­ley on Wed­nes­day.

United are also ex­pected to welcome back a key cen­tral de­fender af­ter Eric Bailly made his re­turn from a knee in­jury in Ukraine. Bailly’s cen­tre-back part­ner Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw re­main out, but Michael Car­rick and An­to­nio Va­len­cia could fea­ture af­ter be­ing rested for the trip to Odessa. — AFP

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