The Big Match

Football: Spurs home in on fitting finale at White Hart Lane

They have been the best team at home this term, can equal a club record against United

It is time to say goodbye. Tottenham first played at White Hart Lane in 1899. They will not do so again after tomorrow; not in its current incarnation anyway. The last game at their historic home should be a memorable occasion as well as a meaningful match.

Tottenham have the chance to leave on a high. Victory would be their 14th in as many league games at White Hart Lane, equalling a club record. It would be a fitting farewell.

It would also ensure that, despite Chelsea's exploits, they end the season topping one table. Their home record would be unrivalled. They have let in only eight league goals all season on their own turf, and have not dropped a point since October.

All of which would render Manchester United's task difficult at the best of times.

Coming 66 hours after a tense, draining Europa League semi-final triumph over Celta Vigo, with a spate of injuries, a guarantee players will be rested and a manager who has pronounced it "impossible" they will finish in the top four, they have rarely been such outsiders.

And yet if a Spurs victory seems obvious, there are a couple of other considerations.

They failed to win any of their final four matches 12 months ago, taking the gloss off an otherwise fine season, and last week's defeat by West Ham raises the prospect of an unwanted repeat.

They may also be facing a manager with a point to prove. Jose Mourinho's United have yet to score away from home at top-six opponents; indeed his last goal at those grounds came in Chelsea's 3-5 loss at White Hart Lane in January 2015.

Perhaps Mourinho has become more cautious since then. Certainly he was negative in losing to Arsenal last week. His tactics are under the microscope.

It will be especially intriguing if Mauricio Pochettino opts for a 3-4-2-1 formation. When visiting Chelsea and Arsenal sides, both of whom deployed that shape against United, Mourinho in effect fielded a back-six. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata almost operated as full-backs last week. Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial posed little threat in attack then.

Because neither started against Celta, both could feature again.

Predicting a much-changed line-up poses problems. Anticipating an attack-versus-defence exercise seems altogether easier.

It would bring suggestions Mourinho has an inferiority complex, whereas once Spurs did. Alex Ferguson used to have an infamously simple team talk before United won. "Lads, it's Tottenham," he would say.

Now that has a different meaning, especially at White Hart Lane where Spurs seek the appropriate end to both a season and an era at home. Many former Tottenham greats will be paraded before the crowd. It is up to the team of today to impress their past as they move into the future.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Spurs home in on fitting finale'. Subscribe