Manchester United and Spurs square off in Shanghai on Thursday as both teams continue their preparations for the 2019/20 season.
United are three from three from their pre-season programme so far, scoring seven goals in wins over Perth Glory, Leeds United and Inter. Spurs, meanwhile, pulled off an impressive 3-2 triumph over Serie A champions Juventus on Sunday in Singapore.
We take a look at three talking points ahead of the game at the Hongkou Football Stadium.
A case of teenage kicks it certainly was not for United’s youngsters during pre-season a year ago as moody manager Jose Mourinho tore into his youthful, bedraggled squad as not being fit for purpose.
Although known for his prickly side, the Portuguese picking out his fledglings seemed particularly poor man management on his part, and set a dark tone for the upcoming season before it had even began.
Fast forward 12 months and the Red Devils’ resplendent form and results in pre-season has been a tonic for their fans. And it is form that has been underpinned by a number of youngsters – particularly new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James (both 21) as well as 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, who has two goals in two games.
Tahith Chong caught the eye a year ago due to his flowing curly mane atop his head – for many United fans it was a first glimpse of the Curacao-born forward. After a stringy few outings last term and a hit and miss performance against Perth, the 19-year-old was excellent last time out against Inter – receiving a bout of rough treatment as his pace and trickery attracted some heavy-handed tackling.
Axel Tuanzebe is another player with a big future predicted at Old Trafford and, on the back of a stellar campaign in England’s second tier during which he played a big part in Aston Villa’s promotion, the 21-year-old has hit the ground running Down Under with some accomplished performances.
HAS POCHETTINO FOUND HIS GUY?
Spurs’ lack of signings has been highlighted as a major weakness preventing them from making that next step to being a genuine Premier League title contender. But excitement abounds that could be about to change this season after they splashed a mammoth £65million on Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon.
The dynamic midfielder made an instant impact on debut against Juve in Singapore on Sunday – setting up Lucas Moura to make it 2-2 within seconds of coming onto the field, with the Londoners going on to claim a late 3-2 win.
His is a signing that will inject much-needed energy into and also lighten the load on a previously sparse Spurs midfield. Mauricio Pochettino is operating on the premise of valuing quality over quantity – which works as long as you keep hold of your best players and only allow the driftwood to depart.
It is a subject that formed a key component of the Argentine’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Shanghai showdown with United on Thursday.
Pochettino bemoaned the fact that he tends to be left carrying the can for when a signing fails to flourish – Vincent Janssen’s miserable spell came to end on Tuesday when the Dutch striker joined Mexican club Monterrey for around £7 million. Three years after his arrival from AZ Alkmaar in a £17m deal. Yet, when a player is a success – Moura or Son Heung-min, for example – the praise is shared around.
“I think that when someone signs for the club and is successful we share it between all of us, but when the player fails always it’s accuse the manager. I am responsible,” he said.
AN EARLY INDICATOR
Although Spurs have flattered to deceive as a title challenger in recent seasons despite vast improvement under Pochettino, they have wrestled the initiative from United in this particular duel.
United hold the overall advantage in the two sides’ previous 10 meetings – leading 6-4 in terms of wins.
But not since the 3-0 league win at home in March 2015 have United enjoyed a winning margin of more than a goal. A goal of supreme quality – created by Paul Pogba and finished with aplomb by Marcus Rashford – yielded a 1-0 win at Wembley last season. Although United’s triumph was as much down to a superhuman performance from David De Gea in goal than anything else.
In the earlier fixture of 2018/19, Pochettino’s side pummelled the hosts in front of their own fans last August, Moura scoring a brace as United were embarrassed 3-0 at Old Trafford.
In fact, in their four victories of the last 10 games in all competitions, Spurs have won 3-0 twice and also 2-0, as well as a 2-1 triumph at home in May 2017, although Wayne Rooney’s consolation in that end of season stroll belied the home side’s utter dominance.
United have made a couple of positive moves in the transfer market this summer and have won all three of their opening games of pre-season. So while you cannot read too much into a game on with so little is riding, it will be interesting to note how much of an indicator this will provide for both teams’ seasons to come.
United are desperate to regain a place at the Champions League table and with Manchester City and Liverpool the undisputed top two in the Premier League, they are going to have to go through Spurs to get it back.
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