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Manchester United were poor last time out and could be picked off on the break by an improving Spurs side.
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At the start of the season, there were murmurings around Old Trafford that Manchester United were finally ready to mount a sustained Premier League title challenge for the first time in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
United finished second last season, and although they did not really come close to knocking Manchester City off their perch, ending the campaign as runners-up was a mark of progress.
When United followed that up with the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, it looked as though they were ready to take the next step.
Yet as we approach the business end of the campaign, United find themselves 22 points short of the summit of the standings.
Their chances of a title triumph ended in the fall. They are now battling for a top-four finish, and until recently United were the favorites to qualify for the Champions League alongside Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. However, a run of just two wins in their last six games has seen their chances fade.
United might only be one point adrift of fourth spot at present, but they have played three games more than the team directly above them, Arsenal.
The Gunners have a young team and they struggled to find consistency in the early part of the campaign, but Mikel Arteta’s men look stronger with each passing week. As things stand the final top-four place is theirs to lose.
Missing out on the Champions League would make this season an unmitigated failure for Manchester United.
Defeat on Saturday could in effect end their hopes of finishing fourth, so Ralf Rangnick and his players will know how important the visit of Tottenham is. United will need to perform much better than they did in last weekend’s 4-1 defeat by Manchester City to stand a chance of winning.
Like their north London neighbors, Tottenham have also found it difficult to be reliable this term. That has even been the case under Antonio Conte, who has overseen an improvement since assuming control in November but has yet to turn Spurs into a winning machine that resembles his former Juventus, Chelsea and Inter sides.
It was always going to take a while for Conte to make an impact at Tottenham, who have largely struggled since Mauricio Pochettino left the club in 2019.
Yet there are tentative signs that they are beginning to become a more rounded team. Tottenham have won three of their last four matches in the Premier League, including a 3-2 triumph over Manchester City and thrashings of Leeds United (4-0) and Everton (5-0).
There is still plenty of work to do in the top-four race: Spurs are three points behind Arsenal despite having played a game more than their rivals. But Conte will be delighted with back-to-back clean sheets, while the fact Harry Kane has rediscovered his best form makes Spurs a much greater threat in the final third.
Throw in the vast improvement in Matt Doherty, the return to full fitness of Cristian Romero, and the positive influence of January additions Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur, and a sense of optimism is beginning to return to Tottenham.
The same cannot be said for Manchester United. Despite the vast sums of money the club has spent since Ferguson retired, they are no closer to winning their 21st Premier League title.
Rangnick is only the interim manager, and while he has given United more of a structure with and without the ball, he was always going to struggle to completely overhaul the team given that the players know he will not be in the dugout next season.
United have enough individual quality to beat any team in the division on their day, but a well-executed game plan from Tottenham could bring them victory on the road this weekend.
Conte’s side were superb on their last visit to Manchester, when their triumph over City blew the title race wide open. A similar formula of hitting United on the break could pay dividends, with Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray passes around to his fellow forwards likely to cause problems for the home team.
This match feels like one which could go either way, but the price available on a Spurs success looks very generous indeed. Do not pass it up.
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|Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur Information|
|Teams||Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur|
|Location||Old Trafford, Manchester, England|
|Time||Saturday, 12 March 2022, 12.30 AM EST|
|How to watch||Peacock Premium|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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