Spurs to test United’s re­vival

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

LONDON. — Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer’s per­fect start as Manch­ester United’s care­taker man­ager faces its stiffest test when the Nor­we­gian goes head-to-head with re­port­edly United’s pre­ferred tar­get for the job on a full-time ba­sis in Tot­ten­ham’s Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino.

After a brief lull for FA Cup du­ties last week­end, Liver­pool and Manch­ester City also re­new their bat­tle for the ti­tle, while at the other end of the ta­ble four of the bot­tom five meet in two rel­e­ga­tion six-point­ers.

United have swept aside more limited opposition in Cardiff, Hud­der­s­field, Bournemouth, New­cas­tle in the league and Read­ing in the FA Cup since Sol­sk­jaer took charge to close the gap on the top four to six points.

How­ever, they re­main 10 points adrift of third-placed Spurs with Po­chet­tino’s stock con­tin­u­ing to rise this sea­son for keep­ing Tot­ten­ham in con­tention across four com­pe­ti­tions de­spite work­ing with a frac­tion of the re­sources on of­fer at Old Traf­ford.

Spurs moved an­other step closer to win­ning their first tro­phy un­der the Ar­gen­tine by beat­ing Chelsea 1-0 in the first leg of their League Cup semi-fi­nal on Tuesday.

But while Po­chet­tino’s men have had to keep grind­ing after a gru­elling fes­tive pe­riod, United have had the lux­ury of a free week to head off to Dubai on a mid-sea­son train­ing camp.

“As you can imag­ine, it’s quite a happy camp. When you’re win­ning foot­ball matches, you can’t put a price on the feel­ing that gives you, and the con­fi­dence and the be­lief,” said United coach Michael Car­rick, who has formed an im­por­tant part of Sol­sk­jaer’s back­room staff.

“You al­most sense a calm­ness when you’re win­ning games. It’s great to see the lads en­joy­ing them­selves. The foot­ball’s flow­ing, the train­ing’s good, they’re bounc­ing around the place, and it’s nice to see.”

United have scored 16 goals in their last five games in stark con­trast to the foot­ball of­ten de­void of in­spi­ra­tion that came to char­ac­terise Jose Mour­inho’s fi­nal days in charge.

Sol­sk­jaer has re­ju­ve­nated Paul Pogba, Mar­cus Rash­ford, An­thony Mar­tial and Romelu Lukaku among oth­ers and should the visi­tors strike a po­ten­tially de­ci­sive blow to Spurs’ ti­tle hopes to­mor­row, the care­taker boss will do his chances of earn­ing the job on a full-time ba­sis no harm at all.

The Premier League’s fes­tive fix­ture list ended with ar­guably the best game of the sea­son so far as City in­flicted Liver­pool’s first league defeat of the sea­son to re­duce the gap at the top to four points.

A much-changed Liver­pool also crashed out of the FA Cup to Wolves on Mon­day, but that may ul­ti­mately help their case to end a 29-year wait to win the league.

Jur­gen Klopp now has more time to pre­pare for a run of five very winnable fix­tures be­fore fac­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Cham­pi­ons League that be­gins at Brighton today with Le­ices­ter, Crys­tal Palace, West Ham and Bournemouth to come.

Vic­tory at the Amex will open up a seven-point ad­van­tage at the top once more with City not in ac­tion un­til Mon­day when Wolves visit the Eti­had.

Pep Guardi­ola’s men have smashed 16 goals past lower league Rother­ham and Bur­ton in Cup ac­tion in the past two games, but Wolves have proven to be a thorn in the side of all the top six in their first sea­son back in the top flight.

City were held 1-1 at Mo­lineux ear­lier in the sea­son and Wolves have also won at Spurs and drawn away to Arse­nal and Manch­ester United.

Already eight points adrift of safety, Hud­der­s­field real­is­ti­cally have to avoid a 10th straight defeat when they travel to Cardiff today to avoid the drop.

“The re­al­ity at the minute is that I’m

not happy be­cause we, and I, haven’t de­liv­ered what we ex­pect. I, and we, have to turn this,” said man­ager David Wag­ner.

Ful­ham’s vic­tory over the Ter­ri­ers just be­fore the end of the year has given Clau­dio Ranieri’s men more chance of stay­ing up and vic­tory at Burn­ley could pull them to within one point of safety.

English Pre­mier­ship Fix­tures (all 5pm un­less oth­er­wise stated)

Today: West Ham United v Arse­nal (2:30pm); Cardiff City v Hud­der­s­field Town; Le­ices­ter City v Southamp­ton; Crys­tal Palace v Wat­ford; Brighton & Hove Al­bion v Liver­pool; Burn­ley v Ful­ham; Chelsea v New­cas­tle United (7:30pm).

To­mor­row: Ever­ton v Bournemouth (4:15pm); Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur v Manch­ester United (6:30pm).

Mon­day: Manch­ester City v Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers (10pm). — AFP

Manch­ester United man­ager Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer

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