Nobody mention 6-1
‘Keep singing 6-1’, Manchester United fans used to chant at Manchester City after that infamous Old Trafford defeat in the 2011/12 campaign, using the scoreline as a jibe back at City for their failure to win one of six games in Europe that season.
Tottenham have not only flopped in European competitions this season, they have spectacularly failed to kick on from the 6-1 humbling they inflicted on United in October.
Jose Mourinho’s side were top of the Premier League at the end of November, seven points ahead of United and being tipped for all sorts of gongs. Their Old Trafford romp appeared to be the start of something exciting in North London, but it has all unravelled and United are now 11 points better off than their old manager. Some turnaround.
As the Portuguese boss suggested himself in the build-up to this clash, the October game was a complete anomaly.
"I believe that 6-1 doesn't reflect the reality,” he said. “It can happen. Of course it can happen, the results they can happen in an isolated way. If [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer is going to use that result I don't know. If it was the opposite. If it was my team losing 6-1 to them I would just say to my guys that it happened once and it's not going to happen twice.“
Mourinho has got plenty wrong at Spurs in recent months, but he’s correct that the 6-1 shouldn’t have much bearing on this afternoon’s game — even if it gets plenty of mentions in the Sky Sports over-hyped preamble.
Rashford risk once again?
There are only so many times United can withdraw a visibly half-fit Marcus Rashford on the hour mark, before alarm bells ring to deafening levels.
The United forward deserves immense credit for making himself available for every game at this crucial stage of the season, but at some point he needs a rest.
It was just as well he belatedly pulled out of England duty last month; to have played even once or twice for the Three Lions would have been detrimental to United’s hopes.
And, yes, Solskjaer is further hamstrung in attack by the absence of Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani’s loss of form, and so there is an over-reliance on Rashford and the in-form Mason Greenwood.
So don’t be surprised to see Rashford start again, only to come off hobbling ever so slightly again.
It’s unsustainable, but it’s a compliment to him and his status in this team.
Cavani vs Bale
A couple of months ago, there wasn’t much debate about the fact United had chosen the right thirty-something glamour forward to sign on a short-term deal last summer.
Cavani was really coming into his own in early February, scoring in back-to-back games against Southampton and Everton, providing United with the focal point their attack so desperately needed.
Meanwhile Gareth Bale — a transfer target of United’s since 2013 and a player they considered for a loan deal last summer — was looking less like a world-class footballer and more like a lost golfer sitting in a coat and a bib waiting for the sun to come out.
Then Bale leaped into life, possibly motivated by a desire to get fit and firing to play for Wales in some crucial World Cup qualifiers (2022 will surely be his last chance to feature at the showpiece tournament). He scored five goals in six Spurs games, while Cavani was beset by fitness problems and struggling to even play back-to-back games — prompting United to rethink his contract extension.
Neither player has been a total flop for their side, though neither has rediscovered their former selves to truly set the Premier League alight.
Ultimately, they were both gambles from clubs unable to find better options in the difficult summer 2020 transfer market.
Yes, that question once more: will United ever sign Harry Kane?
One week it looks like the most implausible and ridiculous tabloid gossip story, there only to chew up newspaper inches on quiet Wednesdays. The next, a story emerges suggesting Kane is unhappy at Tottenham and would leave if Champions League football wasn’t forthcoming.
United and Man City, of course, would be among his Premier League suitors.
It’s not unfair, therefore, to suggest this afternoon’s game is rather important for Spurs and their primary objective — to keep Kane at all costs.
They need a win to boost hopes of finishing in the top four. A draw or a United victory would be a bitter double blow; not only as it would dent the club’s Champions League hopes — and to Mourinho’s job prospects — but because it could push Kane closer to Manchester than he’s ever been before.
And the man Spurs will rely upon to inspire them to this season-defining, future-defining result? Harry Kane, of course.
Not many United fans would have been banking on 10-men Leeds to get much change out of Manchester City, even though they had a 1-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium by the time Liam Cooper had seen red.
But on a remarkable Saturday afternoon, Stuart Dallas’ brace consigned City to just their fourth league defeat of the season and opened the door an inch ajar for United once more.
It would take a herculean effort from Solskjaer’s troops to bridge the current 14-point deficit to City at the Premier League’s summit. But winning their two games in hand, starting today, would make it eight points with six games to play.
It was that exact scenario that City overturned in 2012 to snatch the title away from United.
To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, some bums at the Etihad might just be getting a little squeaky.