One of the Premier League’s marquee fixtures take place on Wednesday when Manchester United run-out at Wembley against Tottenham – added spice provided by Alexis Sanchez making his Premier League debut versus his former club’s hated rivals.
Spurs will be eager to avenge the meek 1-0 loss at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture and stay well in the mix for Champions League-qualification. For United, they’ll be hoping for an instant return on the enormous investment made in their new Chile superstar.
Here, we compare the sides through their key assets using statistics from the 2017/18 top flight.
Harry Kane v Alexis Sanchez
Goals per minute: 93.2-215.4
After sulking away his final half season at Arsenal, all eyes will be on Sanchez tonight.
Stolen from Manchester City’s grasp to great fanfare, this is supposedly a signing to match the revitalising impact of the iconic Eric Cantona in November 1992.
United fans will dream of immediately seeing the swashbuckling forward who plundered 24 goals and 10 assists in the 2016/17 Premier League. If they get the man whose current campaign tally stands at seven goals and three assists, the disappointment will be palpable.
Sanchez has only two strikes in eight career games against Spurs. What a time to improve this record.
There can be no question marks about the expected involvement of Harry Kane this evening.
Europe’s top goal scorer in Europe for 2017 has continued in the same vein in 2018. The England man has six goals from six matches in all competitions, such lethal form seeing rumours strengthen about Real Madrid’s intentions to lead a summer revolution with his capture.
Kane’s importance to Spurs bears repeating. Of their 47 goals in 24 top-flight matches this term, his 21 equates to 44.6 per cent.
He is also making up for lost time against United, missing October’s 1-0 defeat with a hamstring strain.
NO-ONE SHALL PASS
Hugo Lloris v David De Gea
Goals conceded: 20-16
Clean sheets: 9-14
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will be desperate for his goalkeeper to get the medical all-clear to feature in this fixture.
Lloris has missed Spurs’ last two matches, 1-1 draws against Southampton and Newport County, through illness. But he has returned to training this week.
The France No1 is more than a shot-stopper for his side, providing essential leadership as well as stunning reflexes.
For all understudy Michel Vorm’s qualities, it is no surprise goals have gone in both times under his watch.
For opposite number De Gea, is any one player more important to his club’s success?
United boast the joint-best defence in the Premier League, with 16 goals conceded alongside Chelsea. Yet the Spain superstar has been forced to pull off 80 saves.
To put this into perspective, this figure is only beaten by Swansea, Stoke and Everton. Chelsea’s goalkeepers have faced nearly half as many, with 48 saves recorded.
Against Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal in December, De Gea made 14 saves – the joint-most in a Premier League game since statisticians Opta started collecting this data in 2003/04. He will hope for a quieter evening, but a similar 3-1 win would be most welcome.
Dele Alli v Paul Pogba
Pass-accuracy percentage: 78.9-84.3
These are the types of huge matches Paul Pogba was brought back, at a princely sum, to decide.
The France centre midfielder was imperious for 74 minutes of United’s 3-1 victory at Arsenal last time they faced opposition from north London, laying on two glorious assists. But his two-footed lunge on Hector Bellerin and subsequent red card highlights a stunted season, in which bans and injuries have seen 10 Premier League fixtures missed.
Only the free-scoring Manchester City duo of Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane can better his nine assists. United also haven’t tasted defeat since October 2016 with Pogba in their line-up.
There has been less positivity about the performances of Spurs attacking midfielder Dele Alli this term.
The England maverick is currently notching a Premier League goal or assist every 160.9 minutes. This is a noticeable drop from 2016/17’s 121.8 minutes and 2015/16’s debut 130.6 minutes.
Issues about focus and off-field distractions, such as the clamour to become his new agent, appear to have messed with his influence on the field.
At Old Trafford in October, he was also guilty of a glaring miss prior to Anthony Martial’s solitary strike. He cannot afford to be so generous, this time.
George Tanner and Max Dunne have signed their first professional contracts at Manchester United.
The 18-year-olds have come through the club’s academy system and seen their progress rewarded.
Tanner, who comes from Blackpool, has represented England up to Under-18 level and has been converted from winger to full-back.
Manchester-born defender Dunne joined the club in 2014 and has signed his first pro deal.
Angel Gomes, Aidan Barlow, Aliou Traore and Arnau Puigmal have all recently signed contracts.
These are just some of the selection issues examined ahead of Wednesday’s mega match.
SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE FOR SPURS
Precious little has worked for Tottenham against the Premier League’s top six this season.
A paltry three points have been mined from games versus Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Man United, at an aggregate score of 10-6 against. Pochettino has mixed up his tactics; playing four-man defences versus City and Chelsea, then variations of 3-5-2 against United, Arsenal and – for their only win – Liverpool.
What was noticeable about the brilliant Liverpool victory was the positive mindset applied. This was in stark contrast to the miserly match at Old Trafford, for example.
To avoid history repeating, they should go for the jugular – whatever the shape.
SANCHEZ PROVIDES A WELCOME PROBLEM
After the excitement of signing Sanchez, now comes the difficult part – working out how best to utilise him.
In recent seasons, he’s wrought devastation coming in off the left flank for Arsenal. But Anthony Martial has nine goals and four assists in the 2017/18 Premier League doing just that.
If played behind centre forward Romelu Lukaku, it could kill Jesse Lingard’s hot streak. Sanchez hasn’t regularly played as an orthodox right winger since his days at Udinese and Barcelona, though Juan Mata is the player who most deserves to be benched.
A 4-3-3 could keep Lingard central, while allowing easy rotation between Sanchez and Martial.
THE SISSOKO OR LAMELA DILEMMA
Spurs had a miserable last outing in the Premier League, drawing 1-1 at struggling Southampton.
Audible groans were sparked by the decision to go for France utility – or futility – man Moussa Sissoko at right wing, rather than returning Argentina forward Erik Lamela.
It is hard to ascertain Sissoko’s value to the team. He has just one goal and one assist in 1,104 2017/18 Premier League minutes, with his average tackles (0.9) and interceptions per match (0.4) being less than attackers Christian Eriksen (1.3 and 0.7) and Dele Alli (1 and 0.7).
Lamela has been out for more than a year, yet has two assists in 273 minutes.
MOURINHO HAS TO BE SHAW
‘The Special One’ has a conundrum to solve at left-back.
Ashley Young offers experience, while Luke Shaw’s increasing application makes him an option of rare talent. Young provides reliable delivery, although Shaw’s lightning pace on the overlap is a true asset.
On past precedent, Mourinho is likely to go with Young – a game changer against Spurs from 2011/12.
Yet with right-backs Serge Aurier and Kieran Trippier so essential to the host’s attacking options, a strategic call could see Shaw picked.
Fear of his speed on the overlap would peg them back, denying striker Harry Kane a profitable supply of crosses.