United and Spurs EX­PECTED TO THROW PUNCHES AT WEM­B­LEY

Big test for care­taker Sol­sk­jaer as Red Devils take on the Lil­ly­whites

CityPress - - Sport - DAVID MINCHELA s [email protected]­press.co.za

Manch­ester United care­taker man­ager Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer has em­u­lated the leg­endary Sir Matt Busby in record­ing five vic­to­ries in a row at the start of his ca­reer. But to­day presents his big­gest test as the Red Devils take on high-fly­ing Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium.

For Spurs’ boss Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino the en­counter could prove to be an au­di­tion for the job at Old Traf­ford next sea­son, al­though the Ar­gen­tine con­tin­ues to com­mit his long-term fu­ture to the Lil­ly­whites.

In ad­di­tion, the game could be a sig­nif­i­cant defin­ing point in United’s race to try to make ground on a top four po­si­tion, whereas a vic­tory might keep alive Spurs’ hopes of chal­leng­ing for the Premier League ti­tle.

The home team are six points be­hind lead­ers Liver­pool and United are a halfa-dozen be­hind Chelsea who oc­cupy the fourth spot.

With that said, the vis­i­tors are play­ing with an in­cred­i­ble swag­ger and Pogba’s re­cent form in­di­cates the sullen malaise of the José Mour­inho reign is dead and buried.

Pogba has had more goal in­volve­ments (seven) in four league matches than he did in 14 un­der the Por­tuguese. His four goals eclipse his three with Mour­inho.

The France World Cup win­ner is av­er­ag­ing more shots per 90 min­utes (four com­pared with three), his fin­ish­ing ac­cu­racy is up to 25% from 7.5%, whereas, his in­volve­ment in gen­eral play is greatly in­creased to 88 passes from 64.2.

It means the more com­bat­ive Harry Winks, Moussa Sis­soko or Eric Dier could be key in clos­ing down Pogba in the mid­dle of the park. Dier has just re­turned from an ap­pen­dix surgery in De­cem­ber and Jan Ver­tonghen also re­turns from in­jury.

None­the­less, Spurs are a fear­less at­tack­ing side hav­ing scored 21 times in their last seven EPL clashes, which in­cludes six vic­to­ries.

How­ever, Man United are a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to the one that de­fended in num­bers and lit­er­ally parked the bus un­der the sulky Mour­inho.

Sol­sk­jaer re­port­edly spends close to 80% of his train­ing ses­sions fo­cused on at­tack­ing play, with the re­main­der look­ing at the op­po­si­tion.

Al­though he will be wary of Spurs’ high-press­ing game and light­ning at­tack­ing play from turnovers, as demon­strated in the side’s 3-1 de­struc­tion of Chelsea in Novem­ber, United are likely to throw some punches of their own.

Aside from the re­ju­ve­na­tion of Pogba, Mar­cus Rash­ford has been a for­ward re­born in more of a cen­tral at­tack­ing role. Three goals in four ap­pear­ances sug­gest the 21-year-old is red-hot at the mo­ment.

Mean­while, Romelu Lukaku’s ra­zor­sharp in­stincts in the penalty area are seem­ingly back on track as the Bel­giam star has hit the back of the net in his last three ap­pear­ances.

On the flip side, Phil Jones and Vic­tor Lin­delöf are likely to be given the task of try­ing to stop the world-class Harry Kane in at­tack. Mar­cos Rojo and Chris Smalling are strug­gling with in­jury and Eric Bailly is banned.

Kane is in the race for the Golden Boot with 14 strikes, with Arse­nal’s Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang, and Liver­pool’s Mo­hamed Salah has 13.

In to­day’s ear­lier kick­off, strug­gling Ever­ton take on an equally brit­tle Bournemouth at Good­i­son Park. The Tof­fees have lost four of their last five league matches, mean­ing more ques­tions are be­ing asked about the true pedi­gree of the much-her­alded Marco Silva.

The Cher­ries are also en­dur­ing a poor patch in the EPL hav­ing lost seven of their last 10. The clash cer­tainly seems like a mid-ta­ble six-pointer for both out­fits. – TEAMtalk Me­dia

PHOTO: NICK POTTS / PA IMAGES

ON SONG Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s Son He­ung-min fights for pos­ses­sion against Chelsea’s An­dreas Chris­tensen

PHOTO: RICHARD SELL­ERS / EMPICS SPORT

FAST AND FU­RI­OUS Man United’s Paul Pogba, bat­tling New­cas­tle United’s Chris­tian Atsu, is a key player in the clash against Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur

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