Ole and Mauricio manage business
It’s not just United job on the line
A consequential meeting, that encompasses both the present and future, awaits when Tottenham welcome Manchester United.
Spurs supremo Mauricio Pochettino will be the centre of attention when his suitors come to the capital. This singular viewpoint, however, does disservice to both clubs.
Spurs are clinging on in the Premier League’s title race, plus come in after a tense midweek victory against Chelsea saw them close on a place in the EFL Cup final.
For United, interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has waltzed through his first five – welcoming – fixtures. Now, after a training camp in Dubai, comes the acid test.
From the moment that United terminated Jose Mourinho’s fractious two-and-a-half-year reign on December 18, one name loomed large.
Pochettino was immediately made favourite for a summer move to reinvigorate English football’s fallen giant. Common consensus since has stated that if the ex-Argentina centre-back wants to make the move, then the job is open.
His ability to coax elite footballers out of the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen has merited attention. Plus, inspiring title bids on a shoe-string budget will impress any board of directors.
The best the iconic Solskjaer could do on his secondment from Molde was to add lashings of entertainment and an injection of club values as 2018/19 fizzed out.
Five wins from five matches, with 16 goals scored and only three conceded, have, however, seen momentum build behind the permanent hiring of the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’.
Win on Sunday and this noise will reach fever pitch.
This puts United’s executive vicechairman, Ed Woodward, in a bind.
A fourth defeat in a row at Spurs – they went behind after 11 seconds a year ago – would put his club’s hopes of making the Champions League back on life support, but strengthens a push for Pochettino.
If this is the case, though, why would he eschew a place at Europe’s top table – and ushering in Spurs’ new stadium – by heading to Manchester? Are United really a better bet for ending his personal trophy drought?
Victory for United could, if results go their way, cut the gap to the top four to just three points. After Mourinho’s unforgivable retreat at Anfield, this deficit stood at 11.
Solskjaer has the United squad playing to its potential and smiling again. Pass this first true examination at Wembley and it becomes increasingly difficult to wave goodbye at season’s end.
Woodward has much to ponder.
Harry Kane v Victor Lindelof
The Premier League’s premier striker is set to meet one of the division’s most-improved centre-backs.
Kane’s controversial penalty in the 1-0 triumph against Chelsea extended his scoring run to six matches, from which he’s notched seven times. Remarkably for a predator who currently sits on 159 strikes in 242 Spurs matches, his header in August’s 3-0 win at Old Trafford was his first in nine attempts against United. Lindelof will be the main bulwark against him hitting the goal trail, once again.
Memories of a suspect debut season have ebbed away after a solid World Cup 2018 and promising club season. His aesthetic style has added class to a suspect backline.
Will this be enough against Kane?
Pochettino – “I was there when he scored [Solskjaer in the 1998/99 Champions League final]. We meet at Wembley, but 20 years ago I was shouting for a goal he scored.
“You cannot be focused on the (United job) rumours. Only to do our job in the best way.”
Solskjaer - “He [Pochettino] has done a very good job ... that speculation [about the United job] is there for a reason because he has done well but it’s not my job to rate managers, my focus is on me and my team.
“You always adapt to an opponent, they are one of the best in the league so we have to be aware of their strengths but I have been brought up … we need to attack teams.”