Thursday 22 August 2019

John Giles: Unbalanced Manchester United need new ideas against rampant Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho
Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho

John Giles

When Alex Ferguson gave his damning "it's only Spurs" assessment of the threat posed by a club which has rarely delivered success to match expectations, I'll bet there were very few who didn't nod their head in agreement.

Even in the last few years when Mauricio Pochettino's gritty management style and a flush of young talent lifted Spurs into the Top Four reckoning, I always had reservations.

They fell at big hurdles and the collapse when they were chasing down Leicester for the title was so typically Spurs.

During the summer, I watched Daniel Levy stir after a few years when he seemed to leave Pochettino alone to do his work.

I heard talk of wage caps and didn't see the one thing the team needed to step up from also-rans to champions.

Spurs didn't sign a playmaker and they need one to turn a fine level of consistency in all other areas of the pitch into a title win.

That's the reason why I'm unsure about the outcome of the weekend's big Premier League battle between Spurs and Manchester United at Old Trafford tomorrow, a showcase fixtures which should tell us a great deal.

When Spurs lost to Chelsea in August, my fears about the consequences of a summer in which some players voiced discontent about Levy's wage cap seemed to be confirmed.

But I have to give great credit to Pochettino who never blinked and got a great response from his players with some strong Premier League performances and results.

The Champions League draw in Madrid was another big step forward and at the moment Spurs are poised as the team most likely to push Manchester City to the title on the basis of form alone.

Never mind that defeat by West Ham. That was a blessing. Pochettino has a small squad and dropping out of the League Cup removes a source of injuries.

Before Monday, his run of results was excellent and the 4-1 dismissal of Liverpool showed that his team is arriving in front of Jose Mourinho primed to do damage.

I'd be very confident about their chances of doing that if he had a bit more guile in midfield. Even without that, they will trouble Mourinho deeply.

Their main midfield card is Cristian Eriksen but I wouldn't see him as a playmaker. In fact, he's not really a midfielder at all.

Put it this way, he plays in bursts and he will never run a game like Luka Modric, exactly the man Pochettino could do with.

For now, he must use what he has and in Harry Kane, he has a leader and goalscorer who can carry Spurs a long way. He is the man who will trouble Mourinho most as he plans for this game.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about Mourinho's future plans and the link with PSG. This is the type of fixture and set of circumstances which will only underline for him how attractive Paris could be.

His unbalanced squad has hardly faced a test other than Liverpool and he flunked that badly.

Instead of attacking Klopp's very obvious soft spot in defence, he saw only a threat from Liverpool's front-runners.

If he does the same against Spurs, Kane, Dele Alli and Eriksen will give his defence a much more searching examination than Liverpool did.

It should also be noted that Pochettino's strongest suit over three seasons has been his defence and while Manchester United scored freely throughout September, the supply dried up against Liverpool and then Huddersfield.

Missing Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini doesn't help but I believe he still has enough to trouble Spurs and that's why I'm slow to make a prediction.

Mourinho is famous for finding a way to win and that does not always mean "parking the bus". He might just surprise us.

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