Manchester United v Tottenham: Key contest could be close

Manchester United meet Tottenham at Old Trafford on Saturday in a crucial contest in the race for a top-four finish. Mark O'Haire previews the Premier League encounter.

United embarrassed on derby day

Manchester United return to action after a miserable and chastening 4-1 thrashing at derby rivals Manchester City last weekend. The Red Devils fell behind inside the opening five minutes but fought back to level with Jadon Sancho getting on the scoresheet midway through the first-half. However, City soon found a second and went into half-time ahead.

After the interval, United couldn't cope with the increase in tempo from the Citizens. In a painful watch, the Red Devils were chasing shadows and outmanoeuvred at every turn by their neighbours.

Ralf Rangnick's side were wasteful in possession and lacked defensive organisation in a ragged performance that featured zero attempts at goal from the visitors.

United were without injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, as well as Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw, who were unavailable due to positive Covid-19 tests. All four are expected to be back in the squad for Saturday's showdown against Tottenham with the pressure now on Rangnick to salvage a fightback from his underperforming squad.

Tottenham eviscerate Everton

Tottenham maintained their top-four aspirations with an exhilarating 5-0 evisceration of Everton on Monday. Spurs outclassed the Toffees from the off and ran riot once Michael Keane had fired Ryan Sessegnon's cross into his own net after 14 minutes, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was at fault for Son Heung-min's second three minutes later.

Matt Doherty set Harry Kane free to put the game out of sight eight minutes before half-time, while any slim hopes of an Everton revival were snuffed out when substitute Sergio Reguilon scored with his first touch at the far post seconds after the restart. As the visitors fell apart, Kane added the fifth after 55 minutes with a crisp volley from Doherty's delivery.

Head coach Antonio Conte was understandably enthused post-match, saying: "I'm pleased for my players. The hard work we are doing is starting to pay. This team is improving a lot and our expectations are now a lot higher. We have a lot of space to continue to improve and I want to try to be competitive and push my players to be at the top of the table."

Inconsistent pair hold little appeal

Traditionally a one-sided fixture, more recent meetings between Manchester United and Tottenham have been competitive affairs with the Red Devils enjoying just a slight W8-D4-L7 supremacy in Premier League match-ups since 2011/12. Surprisingly, Spurs have taken top honours in two of their last three trips to Old Trafford too, winning 6-1 here last term.

Manchester United 2.18 have been beaten just twice since Ralf Rangnick took charge and boast a reasonable W13-D8-L4 return when taking on teams outside of the top-three. However, five of their last eight outings across all competitions have ended all-square with the Red Devils proving far from reliable at Old Trafford this season (W7-D3-L4).

Tottenham 3.55 have been mired in inconsistency since Antonio Conte arrived and are searching for back-to-back triumphs for the first time since before Christmas. A W4-D2-L8 record against top-half teams hardly inspires confidence, although displays at Manchester City, plus follow up triumphs against Leeds and Everton highlight their potential.

Both sides may not score

No team has seen more Both Teams To Score 1.67 winners in the Premier League this season than Manchester United with 17 (61%) fixtures seeing both sides oblige. But the majority of those pay-outs arriving away from Old Trafford with home tussles tending to be tighter affairs - United have scored just 12 goals in their past 12 home league games.

Meanwhile, only Wolves have delivered fewer Both Teams To Score pay-outs than Tottenham in 2021/22.

Spurs have seen only 9/26 (35%) matches produce profitable BTTS punts, and considering the magnitude of the match on Saturday evening, a repeat could be of interest at generous quotes - Both Teams To Score 'No' is rated a 2.38 shout.

Nine of Spurs' 14 showdowns with top-half teams have seen this wager collect, as have seven of Man Utd's 13 clashes with the same standard of Premier League opposition.

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