The Big Match

Football: Vital for Tottenham to tame Manchester United

Failure to secure a first home win over United in 15 years will doom Spurs' title bid

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tottenham may come full circle. Their title challenge began, albeit in inauspicious fashion, against Manchester United on the season's opening day. It could end against the same opposition now.

A repeat of August's 1-0 defeat would probably leave them 10 points behind leaders Leicester City. As it is, Mauricio Pochettino's tone changed after last week's draw at Liverpool. He started talking about next season.

Tottenham have achieved much in a transformational campaign but it may not be reflected in the trophy cabinet.

Among other things, they have swopped status with their visitors. The expectation was that United would be title contenders and Tottenham bidding for a top-four finish. Now it is the other way around and it is shaping up to be a week where ambitions end for one.

A first loss for United at White Hart Lane since 2001, coupled with an FA Cup exit at West Ham on Wednesday, would all but ensure their campaign ends in failure.

While that would have obvious implications for Louis van Gaal, the United manager has a habit of securing results when the pressure on him threatens to become overwhelming.

He has already won this year at Liverpool and Manchester City, both 1-0. Given the presence of the two most frugal defences in the division, there could be a similar scoreline, even though Spurs are the Premier League's top scorers.

It is a fundamental difference. Another is in the speed of play. Spurs adopt an up-tempo approach. United are slower, more passive but with more of an emphasis on accurate passing. It prompts the question of what might have been if Tottenham had secured their original target to replace Tim Sherwood in 2014 - van Gaal.

They may deem his preference to move to Manchester a lucky escape. One common denominator, at least, is a faith in youth that has offered each encouragement for the future.

The encouraging elements of United's season have often involved Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. There is a case for giving the ebullient Tim Fosu-Mensah, 18, who set up Martial's winner against Everton last week, a start tomorrow.

Pochettino can be still bolder in promoting youngsters. If the draw at Liverpool suggested that Dele Alli, after a breakthrough season, is looking mentally and physically tired, he should welcome back Erik Lamela, another key member of his attacking armoury.

It bodes well for Spurs that the last time United faced a high-paced pressing team, they were overwhelmed by Liverpool in the Europa League.

It bodes less well that they have not beaten United at home for 15 years. Unless they can make history in this game, they are unlikely to make history by becoming champions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'VITAL TO TAME RED DEVILS'. Subscribe