Manchester United v Tottenham: Tense affair to end all square

Neither Manchester United nor Tottenham are consistently hitting top gear, and Kevin Hatchard believes there'll be little to choose between them on Sunday...

Manchester United v Tottenham
Sunday 04 October, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports

Solskjaer caught in pincers of caution and expectation

Qualifying for the Champions League year-in and year-out is the minimum requirement at Manchester United, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dragged his team over the finish line on the final day of last season. While it's true that United have spent a huge amount of money in recent seasons, and that they have an embarrassment of riches in some areas (Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Donny Van de Beek are all midfield options), it's clear that the squad needs improving in some respects.

Through a tight smile, Solskjaer is forced to defend the depth of his squad, while the club prevaricates in the chase for England international and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho. That high-profile dithering has angered many fans, turning up the heat and the level of scrutiny.

On the pitch, all is not well. United were beaten 3-1 at home by Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener, and then Lady Luck didn't just smile at them, she offered her hand in marriage as the Red Devils scraped a 3-2 win at Brighton. The Seagulls struck the United woodwork five times, before conceding a penalty that was awarded to Solskjaer's side after the final whistle. That said, United and Solskjaer can point to a positive set of results in 2020. They reached the semi-finals of three competitions, and in the Premier League they have only lost four times since the turn of the year.

Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes are both being assessed after missing the Carabao Cup win at Brighton with minor knocks, while David De Gea is expected to reclaim his place in goal. Van de Beek has only played 23 minutes in the Premier League, and might have to once again settle for a place on the bench.

Mourinho building momentum

It's been quite the week for Tottenham. After the bitter taste created by the concession of a 97th-minute equaliser against Newcastle, Spurs cleansed their palate with a penalty-shootout win over Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, and they were then able to thoroughly enjoy the flavour of a 7-2 win over Maccabi Haifa in the Europa League qualifiers. Jose Mourinho's side has been drawn to face Ludogorets, LASK and Royal Antwerp, and that should present a golden opportunity to make serene progress into the last 32. Spurs are currently 7.40 favourites on the Betfair Exchange to win the Europa League.

Spurs do need to achieve better domestic results, having taken just four points from their first three Premier League games, but there was at least a big improvement against Newcastle. Tottenham put up an Expected Goals figure of 3.47 according to Infogol, and they haven't lost a game since their opening Premier League match against Everton. Their recent away form in the top flight is respectable - the Lilywhites are unbeaten in four, and have scored nine goals across those matches. If you stretch back a bit further, they have only lost two of their last nine PL road matches.

Spurs could be without the influential Heung-Min Son, who scored four times in the last league away game at Southampton. The South Korean is still struggling with a hamstring injury, although Mourinho hasn't ruled him out entirely. Harry Kane scored a hat-trick in the thumping win over Maccabi Haifa, and could partner Lucas Moura in attack, or may spearhead the team on his own. Gareth Bale is still on the sidelines.

United an unappealing prospect at odds-on

Given how United have sputtered and misfired so far, it seems odd to see them trading at odds-on against a talented set of opponents. United haven't won any of their last three PL home matches, and their first two league displays this term have been far from dominant. Indeed, they lost the xG battle in both games.

The two PL meetings between the clubs last term were pretty tight. There was a 1-1 draw in North London, and United edged a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. I can't get on board with backing United at 1.99, so you could lay them. However, I'll go for the draw at a sizeable 3.90. Mourinho takes few risks in the big games, and this is a game these sides daren't lose.

Unders a value play

Under 2.5 Goals is trading at 2.16 here, and I must admit I'm a little surprised. Eight of Tottenham's last 13 PL games have featured fewer than three goals, and I expect Mourinho to adopt a safety-first approach against his old club. It's also worth noting that United last five top-flight games against so-called Big Six opposition have all seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet land.

Kane can be backed at hefty price

Considering the market expects goals, I'm surprised to see some of the key players priced quite generously in the To Score market.

Harry Kane scored a hat-trick in midweek, and has netted in four of his last six competitive appearances. He is priced at 2.50 to score at any time.

Opta tell us that Bruno Fernandes has scored nine goals in his 16 Premier League appearances, and he is priced at 2.52.

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