Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United resume their quest for Champions League football on June 19 – can Spurs boost their chances by stopping the rot they were in before the sudden shutdown or will United maintain their place in the top five by getting one over on old boss Jose Mourinho?
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Spurs were enduring a rotten run of form and pressure was mounting on manager Mourinho when the Premier League was placed on a sudden hiatus. They had been dumped out of the Champions League by RB Leipzig, exited the FA Cup thanks to a penalty shootout loss at the hands of Norwich City, and had seen their top-four challenge in the Premier League suffered a serious setback with a three-match winless run that saw them collect just one point. The good news for them is that fifth place could be enough to secure Champions League football for next season, thanks to Manchester City’s impending European ban, and they could move within a point of that position with a victory in their first competitive fixture for over three months.
Their opponents on June 19 are a Manchester United side who currently occupy fifth spot, and it is a Manchester United side who were in good form until the global sporting shutdown. The Red Devils had gone 11 games unbeaten in all competitions, winning eight times, and in the Premier League they had responded to that miserable home defeat at the hands of Burnley by racking up 11 points during a five-match unbeaten sequence that had seen them win at Chelsea, upset Manchester City at Old Trafford and keep four clean sheets in a five-game spell. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains the subject of much debate – is he really the man to take United forward – but results heading into the temporary closure of the top flight made it difficult to argue for him getting the chop.
Solskjaer needs to keep delivering though and he needs to ensure that his side finish in the top four to guarantee Champions League football for the 2020/21 campaign. Three points against Spurs in their first game back would certainly help that cause, but will they get them?
The Premier League’s three-month shutdown may have aided Tottenham because it has allowed talismanic striker Harry Kane to get fit again, as well as the likes of Heung-Min Son and Moussa Sissoko, but there are question marks surrounding them. There is the potential for every player on the pitch to have some rustiness after three months of competitive inactivity, but for those players who were already sidelined prior to the league’s hiatus, their spell out of action is even longer and will almost certainly increase their levels of rustiness. Factor that into the very differing forms of the two sides, and the fact that United have already beaten Spurs once, and you have to fancy the chances of Solskjaer’s men leaving the almost empty Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with the spoils.
I also like the chances of Marcus Rashford hitting the back of the net in a victory for Manchester United in their first game back. The young striker’s off-the-field reputation has grown leaps and bounds due to his charitable exploits, and on it he will be looking to pick up from where he left off in March. Rashford had scored 19 goals in his previous 20 appearances for club and country, and two of those strikes came back on December 4 when he struck either side of a Dele Alli goal to lift the Red Devils to a 2-1 win over Spurs, earning man of the match plaudits in the process. He could cause all sorts of problems for Tottenham again in this one, and he could cap off another strong showing with a goal to take his Premier League goal tally for the season to a career-best 15.