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Manchester United will make a clean sheet the priority after last Sunday’s debacle, while Spurs have become a cautious team who do not score many goals.
Back under 2.5 goals (+106)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has earned an unlikely stay of execution. Sunday’s seismic shellacking by Liverpool – the 5-0 demolition by Manchester United’s arch-rivals was described by the defeated manager as his “darkest day” in soccer – pushed Solskjaer to the brink. But the axe did not fall, and the powers that be at Old Trafford have instead decided to back their man. Solskjaer reportedly has three games to turn the situation around, although another loss this weekend could bring the curtain down on the Norwegian’s tenure.
United’s decision to stick with Solskjaer has been interpreted by some as a sign of loyalty. In fact it is a sign of weakness. It is patently clear that the 48-year-old is not up to the job. He has done some good work in his three years at the helm, and United are certainly in a better place now than they were when he first took the reins in December 2018. But Solskjaer is simply not in the same league as Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, the three managers he is supposed to be competing with. United have one of the strongest squads in Europe. Now they need a manager to match.
The problem, though, is that dysfunction runs deep at Old Trafford. Chelsea acted decisively in sacking Frank Lampard and hiring Tuchel in January, a decision which was rewarded with Champions League glory a few months later. By contrast, United’s hierarchy appears frightened to make a decision. It is unclear, too, whose job it would be to dismiss Solskjaer. No one wants to take responsibility, and there is little evidence of joined-up thinking in the boardroom.
In the past, Solskjaer has pulled out some big results just when he needs them most. He may well do so again on Saturday, but that would merely be a sticking plaster. The failure to sack Solskjaer this week is only delaying the inevitable.
Nuno Espirito Santo is not under quite as much pressure as Solskjaer for the time being, but it is accurate to say he has his fair share of doubters among the Tottenham Hotspur fan base. That is not entirely his fault. Daniel Levy, the long-serving Spurs chairman, assured supporters that his next managerial appointment would be someone who plays “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” soccer in the club’s tradition. Anyone who watched Nuno’s Wolverhampton Wanderers would have known they were not exactly thrill-a-minute.
The Portuguese was installed after Tottenham had missed out on several of their preferred candidates. The fact he was only handed a two-year deal by the club is evidence of their reservations. Yet even with those doubts, Levy must have hoped that Nuno would not be coming under scrutiny less than three months into the season.
Tottenham are sixth in the Premier League table and just two points short of the top four. Only the top three of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City have won more games. Yet Spurs have already been beaten four times, and the underlying numbers are concerning.
Only the bottom three – Newcastle United, Burnley and Norwich City – are lower in the expected goals table. The defense has performed better than the attack, but not well enough to make up for their insipidness in forwarding areas. Last weekend’s meek 1-0 defeat by West Ham United was a case in point, as Spurs failed to take a single shot in the second half. For Nuno’s sake, that cannot continue.
After the way his team’s defense was torn apart by Liverpool last time out, Solskjaer is likely to go back to basics here. The 5-0 defeat served as proof that this United team is incapable of pressing effectively, so we will probably see them sit deep and play on the counter-attack. Keeping a clean sheet will be a priority for Solskjaer, who must realize that aside as open as his in recent weeks will not win trophies.
The question will then be whether Tottenham have the guile and creativity to break United down. On the evidence of the season so far, that seems unlikely. With Harry Kane out of sorts, Spurs have a reduced goal threat even before one considers Nuno’s tendency towards caution. The home crowd will urge Tottenham forward but that does not necessarily mean they will have the requisite invention in the final third.
Despite the considerable attacking quality on display, we are likely to see a cagey, low-scoring match on Saturday. That is a result both of ideological preference and the reality of both managers being under pressure. Back under 2.5 goals when Tottenham face Manchester United.
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|Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United Information|
|Teams||Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United|
|Location||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England|
|Time||Saturday, 30 October 2021, 12.30 PM EDT|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
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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