The first big test for interim Manchester United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer comes when his side take on Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League at Wembley on Sunday (11:30am ET).
Things have so far gone perfectly for the former Man Utd striker. He stepped in to take over on a temporary basis until the end of the season following the mid-December sacking of Jose Mourinho and has led his new charges to five consecutive victories in all competitions.
When Solskjaer took over, United were sixth, just a point clear of Wolverhampton Wanderers in seventh, eight points behind Arsenal in fifth and 11 off the top four. Four league wins later and they are still sixth, but a full seven points clear of seventh, just three off Arsenal in fifth and six away from the top four.
Reports following his departure suggested there had been a toxic atmosphere at the club during the final months of Mourinho’s reign, something that was hinted at in the public sphere through his verbal squabbles with midfielder Paul Pogba. Solskjaer has come in, lightened the mood and got everyone pulling in the same direction.
On the pitch, the reigns have been loosened. Man Utd have shown their attacking potential by ramming home 14 goals in four matches, with just three conceded. In terms of talent, the balance within the squad is firmly tipped towards the top end of the pitch. Solskjaer appears to have embraced that to a degree to which Mourinho was reluctant to.
However, it does bear noting that Solskjaer has had a particularly kind set of fixtures since taking over. Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle are all in the bottom six, with Huddersfield plum last. Bournemouth had lost seven of their previous nine matches before Man Utd thrashed them 4-1.
Sunday’s match will, therefore, provide a more realistic picture of where United now stand. It is the first time since Solksjaer’s arrival that they have come up against a team with sufficient firepower to cause them genuine problems on the counter-attack. Spurs were 3-0 winners when the sides met at Old Trafford back in August and come into the reverse fixture in similarly strong form to their visitors.
Manchester United were the only side to win all four of their matches either side of Christmas and the New Year. Spurs won three of theirs and have since recorded victories over Tranmere and Chelsea in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup respectively. They have been in particularly good nick in front of goal, scoring 15, one more than United, across their last four in the league.
With a midfield decimated by injuries, Mauricio Pochettino has adjusted his approach somewhat to allow his side to transition more directly from defence into attack. With a forward-most four of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, Spurs carry a varied and potent attacking threat that has largely got the job done for them.
There have been a few stumbles, including a recent 1-3 home defeat to Wolves and an earlier 2-4 loss away to Arsenal in the North London derby. Spurs have otherwise been very impressive since defeat to Manchester City in late October, winning nine of their subsequent 11 matches in the Premier League and securing progress in three cup competitions.
Tottenham’s underlying statistics suggest that they are perhaps running a bit hot, particularly in front of goal, but to be just two points behind second-placed Manchester City and six shy of the awesome pace set by leaders Liverpool at this stage of the campaign indicates they are doing something right.
Man Utd did finish ahead of Tottenham last season but Spurs have been the more consistently strong side in recent years. They have come home ahead of United in three of the last five seasons and recorded an average finish of fourth to United’s fifth in that period.
Spurs have also been very strong at home to United in recent seasons, winning each of the last three encounters and progressing undefeated through the last six. Their productive attack should be enough to see them to another victory on Sunday.
Our Betting Preview’s Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United Predictions & Picks Verdict
- Bet on Tottenham to win this English Premier League soccer game @ best odds of +109 with BetOnline.