Preview: Manchester United v Tottenham

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will be gunning for all three points at Old Trafford on Sunday as they bid to avoid slipping further behind the Premier League front-runners.

Premier League
11/12 December 2016
Matchday 15
Kick-off: 22H15 HKT
Venue: Old Trafford

Referee: B. Madley
Assistants: M. McDonough, M. Perry
Fourth official: M. Jones

Head-to-head summary:

Manchester United 154 80 39 35
Tottenham Hotspur 154 35 39 80

Previous encounter:

Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Manchester United 10/04/16 (Premier League)

Tottenham Hotspur goalscorers: D. Alli (70′), T. Alderweireld (74′), E. Lamela (76′)

Players to watch:

United fans have endured a long wait to see Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action.

But in recent games, the 27-year-old former Borussia Dortmund man has displayed the kind of sublime skills and ingenuity that everyone bar his manager felt he was capable of from the start, at his new club.

Mkhitaryan was excellent as he starred and scored in the 2-0 win over Zorya Luhansk on Thursday after impressing in the 1-1 draw with Everton, where he was withdrawn with the Red Devils leading 1-0. He also setup two goals in the 4-1 win over West Ham last weekend, and all indications suggest he will only get better with more game time.

A number of pundits this week have suggested that Deli Alli is far out-performing Paul Pogba this season, and at £5million pounds, compared to the £89.3million United spent on the Frenchman, Alli certainly represents value for money.

Both players have scored four goals in 19 appearances this season, but while Pogba takes time to resettle in at United, Alli appears to be going from strength to strength and, alongside Christian Eriksen, and will continue pull the strings for Spurs this weekend.

Team form and manager quotes:

Under Jose Mourinho, United started the season well before falling off the pace at the top of the Premier League quite dramatically.

The club’s inconsistency has been a key factor of their current position of sixth, with 21 points from 14 games, that includes just five wins.

However, they come into this match on the back of a positive 2-0 win over Zorya, and progression to the knockout rounds of the Europa League, with Mourinho having lauded his side’s play – and without a loss in their last seven games.

Ahead of the match, Mourinho told the club’s official website: “At the moment, we have Phil Jones, Bailly and Marcos Rojo [as centre-backs]. We play Tottenham, West Brom and Reading, West Ham away [among others] – in that period we have a lot of matches and it is important to have players.”

He added: “We expect more goals from him (Rooney) but we expect more goals from everyone. Maybe Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] is the one [main goal threat] but maybe, as the main striker, it’s normal he has scored more goals.”

On Mkhitaryan, he said: “He was determined to fight against his difficult adaptation.

“He worked hard physically and tactically – the talent was there, we knew that when we bought him. Now he’s playing good – in the Premier League, Europa League and EFL Cup, and now the goal means a little more happiness for him, so I’m very pleased.”

Spurs, meanwhile, who held onto their tag as the last team to lose a league game in the Premier League season until facing league leaders Chelsea two weeks ago, have rediscovered their early-season form.

Key injuries to Mauricio Pochettino’s side, mainly in defence, meant that after a promising start to the season, Spurs suffered for form and results, culminating in their elimination from the Champions League, and slipping to fifth in the EPL table.

However, with some players having now returned, the London club have rediscovered their form, and thrashed Swansea 5-0 last week before recording a good 3-1 win over CSKA Moscow, to also book their place in the Europa League knockout phase.

Pochettino, meanwhile, is starting to feel better about life at Spurs, and says his side are close to getting back to their best.

He said: “We are starting to show our real quality. We struggled in the last month and a half because we have some problems, but we have all the squad nearly fit and we are stronger.

“You can feel the team is recovering that feeling that we can win every game. We have recovered that feeling maybe that we lost when it’s true, it was a bit of a struggle to compete.

“We need all the players fit to be strong and to compete in tough competitions like the Premier League and Champions League and it was unlucky that our struggle arrived in a busy period with important games.”

Team news:

United will have to continue to make do without Chris Smalling (broken toe) and Luke Shaw (knock) for this weekend’s clash, but Eric Bailly is back after successfully coming through Thursday night’s game.

Bailly appeared to pick up a slight knock during the tie but carried on playing and has been declared fit for Sunday.

Juan Mata, though, was withdrawn with a similar ailment, and is a slight doubt, but Wayne Rooney is back in contention after serving a one-match ban at Everton.

For Spurs, Erik Lamela (hip) remains out, as does Vincent Janssen (ankle), but Ben Davies is available again after his ankle injury.