2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)

The pressure continues to mount for Jose Mourinho, who could face the chopping block if Manchester United fail to at least get one point at Old Trafford on Saturday against a winless Newcastle United side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Manchester United (3-1-3) are languishing in 10th place in the table, enduring a miserable stretch in the past fortnight that could see them go into the international break winless in five matches across all competitions. Mourinho’s side barely improved on their lethargic loss last weekend at West Ham United as Spanish side Valencia held them to a scoreless draw Wednesday at Old Trafford in Champions League play.

“The last few games haven’t been good enough. We need that break and we need that break with a win,” left back Luke Shaw told MUTV. “It’s always a better feeling going into an international break with a win, because if you go in without a win, it’s a long time before our next game when you can put things right. It’s frustrating if we don’t, but I’m sure we’ll bounce back.

“We keep saying that after every game and I’m sure it’s hard for the fans to take, but you don’t know what else you can say. We need to win on Saturday and we have to win and we have to do it for ourselves, for the team, for the staff and most importantly for the fans.”

Supporters at “The Theatre of Dreams” were treated to a nightmare of insipid football Wednesday, a far cry from the “Attack, attack, attack” pleas the Stretford End voiced throughout 90 forgettable minutes. That such an effort came against a side currently 14th in La Liga with just five goals in nine matches made it all the worse.

Embattled playmaking midfielder Paul Pogba again underwhelmed and central striker Romelu Lukaku was again undeserved by a midfield lacking imagination beyond Pogba in the form of defence-first options Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic.

Alexis Sanchez’s struggles continued on the right wing, his lack of effectiveness exacerbated by Valencia’s repeated forays forward in the open space he created failing to back track in front of Antonio Valencia. Mourinho made only one substitution, swapping Anthony Martial for the Chile international in the final quarter-hour, but it mattered little in the end as United had only four shots on target in a fourth consecutive match without a victory.

“They tried, the players tried and they raised the level of their effort. We raised our level and intensity and we tried to play in some crucial positions building up but we don’t have the technical quality to build from the back,” said Mourinho, again offering his team faint praise amid his withering criticisms. “We knew we were not going to create 20 chances because we know our attacking players are not also in the best moment of confidence and individual performance level.

“So we thought with three or four chances, we would score and win the game. Which we didn’t but, as I was saying, it’s not a bad result.”

Mourinho remains determined to stay at Old Trafford in a bid to buck the third-season struggles that have engulfed him – he still has the backing of ownership and club chairman Ed Woodward – and other high-profile clubs throughout his storied career, but even that right now appears little more than a marriage of inconvenience between. A growing list of former United players turned pundits – most notably Rio Ferdiand and Paul Scholes – have called on Woodward to sack Mourinho, with Ryan Giggs holding out in favour of Mourinho.

As all of English and European football media continue to take sides on whether Mourinho’s bile and rage will eventually consume himself and cost him this job through either the sack or resignation, the other looming truth is the only realistic option United have in trying to salvage this season if Mourinho does exit is bringing Zinedine Zidane to Old Trafford, and there is no guarantee the former Real Madrid boss and three-time Champions League winner will come on board.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez can empathise with Mourinho regarding struggling player performance, but only so much as the Tyneside club are one of three Premier League teams without a victory. The Magpies (0-2-5) are at the top of the drop, ahead of fellow winless squads Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City on goal difference, with Benitez’s tactical nous limiting the damage of a daunting early stretch of schedule that included four of the big six sides.

Like Mourinho, Benitez has plenty of worry about his team’s attack after it was completely non-existent in a 2-0 loss at home to Leicester City last weekend. Newcastle had only one shot on target, and it embodied the word “speculative” as Jonjo Shelvey tried to catch Foxes keeper Kasper Schmeichel off his line with a 60-yard effort that the Denmark international comfortably caught under his crossbar.

Otherwise, there was little to write home about, with the St James’ Park faithful again engaging in lusty booing of beleaguered owner Mike Ashley as the lack of funds to strengthen the Magpies continues to be the undercurrent regarding all things Tyneside and straining the relationship between owner and manager. Newcastle conceded a penalty on the half-hour when DeAndre Yedlin handled Harry Maguire’s shot inside the 18, and slack defending on a corner in the 73rd led to Leicester’s central defender putting the match out of reach with a header.

“The reality is, if the team are doing well, normally the fans are happier,” Benítez told The Times. “When you are not doing well, football fans expect to see the team doing things right. We have to improve, that is it.”

The problem for Benitez is he lacks the options in personnel to drive that improvement, especially in attack. Both Joselu and Salomon Rondon lack top-shelf quality operating as the lone striker in Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1 formation, and Ayoze Perez – who plays beneath whichever striker Benitez chooses for a given match – does not get enough touches to help them.

For all of Shelvey’s vision in the middle of the park, he has little help going forward, and the eventual pressure of defending and defending and defending reaches a crescendo in which a breakdown happens late, Newcastle concede and the hopes of nicking at least one point are dashed.

The Magpies have yet to lead at any point in their eight matches across all competitions this season. They have totaled just five goals, failed to score more than one in any contest, and three of those markers have come at 83 minutes and later.

The home team won both matches last term, with Manchester United storming to a 4-1 victory as Pogba had a goal and an assist to help the hosts overturn an early deficit. Newcastle won 1-0 in the most recent meeting, after which Mourinho excoriated his players for lacking the needed desire to win.

Newcastle’s lone win in 24 trips (1-8-15) to Old Trafford in the Premier League era was a 1-0 triumph in 2013 on a goal by Yohan Cabaye. The Magpies have scored more than one goal just twice in those 24 matches at Manchester United.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Man United are still prohibitive favourites to tune out the noise for one match at least as they enter this contest with 4/9 odds to claim all three points. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 16/5, while Newcastle are 7/1 longshots to claim only their second win at Old Trafford in the Premier League era.

While oddsmakers are expecting Manchester United to score goals — a win with 2.5 goals leads the listings at 27/20, there is a healthy respect for Benitez’s tactics as a Manchester win under 2.5 goals is not that far off at 9/4. Unsurprisingly, a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the third-most attractive option at 4/1, while Newcastle victories offer substantial returns under 2.5 goals (12/1) and over (14/1).

Lukaku heads the list for first goal scorers at 14/5, leading a parade of seven Man United players that include Rashford (7/2), Martial (9/2), Sanchez and Pogba (5/1), Jesse Lingard (6/1) and Juan Mata (7/1). Joselu and Rondon are both 11/1 to give the Magpies a shock lead, rating behind Fellaini and no goal-scorer.

Lukaku is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Rashford 11/8 and Martial (8/5) edging out Pogba (7/4) for third. That is somewhat surprising given Pogba is Man United’s designated penalty taker and Newcastle have already conceded spot kicks to two of the other four “Big Six” sides they have faced. Oddsmakers are still showing faith in Sanchez to get on track, offering 15/8 odds to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

How much longer can this go on? This already has the feel of a Mexican standoff, with Mourinho offering clipped responses at press conferences, former Man United players-turned-pundits offering opinions every time a microphone is thrust in front of them or held by them and breathless speculation about suitors Woodward has or has not secretly met with to gauge their interests in a job that has been evolving into a poisoned chalice since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And with a reported £15 million payout for termination, the Glazers will have to think long and hard about sacking Mourinho and bringing in Zidane during a season as opposed to at season’s end. And whether you love or loathe “The Special One,” the United fan base will not go quietly into the night if the hatchet man does come calling for Mourinho.

But you know who can fix this, for one weekend at least? Lukaku. If ever Man United needed the Belgium international to live up to his flat-track bully reputation and pump in a goal or two, it’s in this match at this moment. Lukaku’s last goal came five matches agao at Watford, and it has been a combination on both ends why the drought is where it is. One is the lack of service, and the other is lack of finishing. One or both have to change, and one option is for Mourinho to have Pogba and Mata flank Matic in the 4-3-3 knowing full well Benitez is going to have two banks of four and dare Man United to come forward.

And that brings the conversation to Newcastle. Any other manager would have been pilloried with four league goals through seven matches and an inability to have a lead for even one of a possible 720 minutes. With the distance between last season’s 10th-place finish and this season’s current plight at Tyneside, it does look like Benitez was a sort of miracle worker in getting the Magpies to the top half before regressing to the mean thus far.

Some of that is the schedule, and while Man United are the fifth of the big six Newcastle are facing in their first eight matches, there can be only so much negative football played before it weighs on the players. That is not a knock against Benitez and his side, it’s simply the realisation trying to win 1-0 or hold out at 1-1 or 0-0 is an energy-intensive exercise steeped in frustration and misery. And Newcastle supporters already have that in spades tolerating Ashley’s stewardship of the club.

After playing down to Valencia, this is the match Man United finally get it right for 90 minutes and get three points, however convincing or unconvincing it may be.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 2, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-0, +3, 3-0) vs. Valencia (0-0-1, -2, 0-2)

The sideshow rages on at Old Trafford, where Manchester United will try to put aside all the distractions created by Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba and create some separation in Group H of the Champions League on Tuesday when they host Valencia.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Any thought that Manchester United had moved on from their early season swoon promptly gave way to a fresh new inquest following a disastrous week in which they were bounced from the Carabao Cup on penalties by Derby County, coached by Frank Lampard, his one-time midfielder at Chelsea, and then were listless in a 3-1 defeat at West Ham United over the weekend.

Mourinho’s relationship at Pogba reached a nadir early last week when he stripped the World Cup winning midfielder of the vice captaincy in front of his teammates at training before the loss to Derby, and things were not helped when Pogba was lifted in the 70th minute of the loss to West Ham.

However, Mourinho then sucked whatever oxygen was left in the room Monday with a fresh round of criticisms of his team, saying “I see upset people, I see people that don’t look like they lost a game. I see different actions but what you see is not really inside.”

It still remains to be seen if Mourinho has truly lost either the plot or the dressing room in what is rapidly becoming yet another third-year death spiral for “The Special One.” The bigger issue for United is if the latter is the case, the only person who can conceivably come in and salvage this team this season is Zinedine Zidane, who has been breathlessly rumoured to be the next in line should Mourinho’s act run its course this term.

Things were not helped earlier Tuesday when reports emerged Mourinho has also fallen out with Alexis Sanchez, who has scored just three goals in 21 matches across all competitions since his January arrival from Arsenal.

The Chilean international has just one assist in five league matches and was held out of United’s 3-0 win over Young Boys in United’s Champions League opener a fortnight ago. He was an unused substitute in the loss to Derby and not among the 18 at West Ham United.

While Sanchez is expendable to a degree because Anthony Martial can be plugged in on the left wing in United’s 4-3-3 formation, Pogba continues to be a must-play despite the issues between him and Mourinho.

Yet the good news for United — at the moment — is that there appears to be a clear line of demarcation in Group H between the haves and the have-nots as Mourinho’s team are still expected to progress along with Juventus. That puts the pressure on Valencia to somehow get a result from Old Trafford after Els Taronges opened their Champions League adventure with a 2-0 defeat to the Italian side.

Yet the Spanish side enter this contest with some momentum after finally posting their first victory in La Liga last weekend, a 1-0 triumph at Real Soceidad on Saturday. Kevin Gameiro accounted for the lone goal, continuing the offensive struggles of a team that has recorded draws in five of their seven league matches while scoring just five goals.

“We’re here with hope, because of the surroundings, the competition and the opponent. We go out to win every game, even if we know how difficult it will be to win here,” Rodrigo said at Monday’s news conference. “We competed well against Juventus, but didn’t manage to get over the line. Even so, we’ve come here to win, and we’ll be trying to go out feeling as good as possible and to grow as a team.”

It is possible some of the offensive struggles of late were due to Marcelinho serving a two-match ban after being sent off in their scoreless draw at Villarreal, but the team has been held off the scoresheet in four of their eight matches. Els Taronges have scored three of their five goals on the road, but they also have not scored in 378 minutes of Champions League play dating to their last appearance in 2015 when Gent’s Stefan Mitrovic scored an own goal that made the difference in Valencia’s 2-1 victory.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are still overwhelming favourites despite all the drama surrounding them, entering the match with 7/10 odds to take the full three points. The odds of the team splitting the points are 27/10, while Valencia are 4/1 longshots to pull off a shock scoreline and add some chaos to Group H.

Even with Valencia’s struggles, oddsmakers are counting on United to deliver some goals as a home win with more than 2.5 goals leads the options at 17/10 odds. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory follows with 3/1 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in at 18/5. For those who fancy the Spanish side emerging victorious, it is a 7/1 return on over 2.5 goals and 9/1 for under the mark.

Lukaku unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scorers at 3/1 odds, well clear of his wings Martial and Marcus Rashford, who are both 11/2 to make it 1-0 for United. Despite the reported fallout, Sanchez has 6/1 odds, and Pogba is always a viable selection as the penalty taker and gets 7/1 odds for the first marker. On Valencia’s side, Rodrigo Moreno leads the way at 15/2, followed by Gameiro and Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi — both of whom are 8/1.

Lukaku is almost even money to find the back of the net at some point during the match with 21/20 odds, with Rashford (15/8) edging out Martial (2/1) for second. Sanchez is a surprising 2/1 while Pogba lurks close behind him at 23/10 and Juan Mata has 5/2 odds. For Els Taronges, Moreno (13/5) edges out Gameiro and Batshuayi (11/4) for the top option.

PREDICTION

Manchester United need to make the pressure go away, and the only way that happens — for the time being at least — is with a victory in this game. A third successive loss on the bounce to teams all of lesser quality when compared to what Mourinho has regardless of his criticisms may be too much water for the ship to take on.

The Red Devils looked listless at West Ham, and perhaps more ominously, it looked like Mourinho was outcoached by counterpart Manuel Pellegrini as United lacked answers after falling behind. This match should be different because Valencia have lacked any and all offence for much of the young season — they have not scored more than two goals in any match.

Yet Rodrigo and Batshuayi could provide problems for a back four that still appear fragile at times, especially with the central partnership of Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. While it would no be surprising to see Fellaini as the shield in front of them, this may be a case where Matic may be the better call to be that holding midfielder while Pogba and Fred push forward.

For all the doom and gloom around United, they are not a bad side. There is quality throughout the pitch, and that doesn’t even factor in keeper David De Gea, arguably the best shot-stopper in the Premier League and perhaps Europe. It is a matter of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, and that can only start with a victory — one United will likely graft to here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 1, Valencia 0.

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)

For all the talk of the captain’s armband around Carrington and Old Trafford this week, a circus ringmaster’s hat may be the next appropriate piece of fashion to be discussed as the fractious relationship between Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and manager Jose Mourinho spilled out into the open ahead of Saturday’s match’s at West Ham United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

While the two have circled round each other to varying degrees starting almost the moment after Pogba lifted the Jules Rimet trophy with France at the World Cup – aided by the words, actions and inactions of Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola and United executive chairman Ed Woodward – this week has taken the relationship, or lack thereof, to a new level or low depending on perspective.

It began with last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton which ended a three-match winning streak in all competitions for United (3-1-2). Pogba set up Fred’s first-half goal but was also responsible for the giveaway that led to Joao Moutinho’s equaliser for Wolves.

United were on the back foot for much of the match against the promoted side, something Pogba noted to the BBC post match in which he said, “We are at home, and we should play much better against Wolves. We are here to attack. … When we play like (that) it’s easier for us.”

That tweaking of Mourinho’s tactics led the manager to stripping Pogba of his vice captaincy in front of his teammates on the practice grounds one day before United crashed out of the Carabao Cup 8-7 on penalties Tuesday at home to Championship side Derby County, run by Frank Lampard — one of Mourinho’s star midfielders at Chelsea.

After the loss – in which Pogba did not play as part of a prearranged plan by the two parties – Mourinho downplayed any talk of a rift while confirming his action without explanation, saying “The only truth is that I made the decision for Paul not to be second captain any more. It was exactly the same person who decided Pau was the second captain – myself. No fallout at all, just decisions I do not have to explain.”

On Wednesday, video emerged of a tense exchange between the two at Carrington, with details later coming out Mourinho was upset over an Instagram post Pogba made that reached his social media account 30 minutes after the loss to Derby County. That, however, blew over without incident when it became clear that the WiFi at Old Trafford – which English journalists all have pointed out is notoriously inconsistent – led to the delay in the video posting in what optically looked at an inopportune time.

Yet as Mourinho put out one fire, another emerged with his surprising criticism of defender Phil Jones, whose missed penalty in the eighth round consigned United to defeat and was the only attempt among the 16 by both sides stopped. After the match, Mourinho said “Going after the sixth and seventh I knew we would be in trouble with Jones and Eric (Bailly).”

While this sideshow rages on, one point Mourinho repeated Tuesday after the draw versus Wolves rang true – United currently are lacking a killer instinct to finish teams off. The red card to keeper Sergio Romero did United no favours, and it took Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time equaliser just to get the match to penalties.

Whether Pogba is restored to the lineup is a question only Mourinho answers. “The Special One” though has issues at both right back and left wing. For the former, summer signing Diogo Dalot appears ready to supplant veteran Antonio Valencia, whose lack of effectiveness going forward is overshadowing his steady play along United’s back four.

Up front, Alexis Sanchez was an unused substitute Tuesday night – the second time in three matches he did not play, though he was left behind for United’s Champions League opener on the artificial pitch at Young Boys. With Marcus Rashford having completed a three-match ban for violent conduct and eligible to return, Mourinho may shuffle his attackers as Tuesday goal-scorer Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard are also among the options with Sanchez and Rashford to flank Romelu Lukaku in United’s 4-3-3.

The drama surrounding Pogba and Mourinho has sucked up all the oxygen in that facing what appears to be a resurgent West Ham United squad is completely secondary. After opening league play with four losses on the trot, the Irons (1-1-4) have taken four points from their last two matches and ended Chelsea’s 100 percent run with a scoreless draw last Sunday.

In fact, it can be argued West Ham should have taken all three points, but Andriy Yarmolenko missed a wide-open header late as the Irons sorely missed the presence of injured striker Marko Arnautovic.

Much of West Ham’s resurgence can be attributed to the introduction of Declan Rice in a holding midfielder role in front of the back four. There was also a strategy to lay deeper against Chelsea, something that could repeat itself again in this match given Man United’s attacking options.

“It is obvious that we have improved, otherwise we would not have taken four points in these last two matches,” midfielder Pedro Obiang told the club’s official website. “We have to improve more to meet the expectations that we have about us. We are doing it little-by-little, week-by-week.

“The expectations with the new signings and the new coach are very big. We had a bad start and now we have to organise ourselves little-by-little.”

That organisation on the offensive side finally came to fruition Wednesday when West Ham demolished last-place League Two side Macclesfield Town 8-0 at home. Grady Diangana had a brace in his senior Hammers debut while Ryan Fredericks, Robert Snodgrass and Lucas Perez all added their first goals with the club.

“We played with intensity and we tried to continue playing in the same way,” a pleased Pellegrini said. “A lot of the time when you play against a lower league team you don’t play with the same pace, and you think you can walk to victory but we were very professional.”

Arnautovic is expected to be restored to the starting XI, with Michail Antonio the most likely candidate to make way for the Austria international. Arnautovic has combined with Yarmolenko to score all five of West Ham’s goals in league play.

Manchester United took four points in last season’s means, including a scoreless draw in the corresponding fixture. West Ham United are winless in their last five (0-2-3) in all competitions versus the Red Devils and have not scored in 358 minutes in league play against them since Diafra Sakho’s goal  a 1-1 draw Nov. 27, 2016.

West Ham have just one win in their last 19 league matches (1-5-13) against Manchester United, a 3-2 victory at Upton Park on May 10, 2016. The Irons, though, are 1-4-2 in the last seven top-flight matches between the clubs.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are comfortable 4/5 favourites to return home with three points. The odds of a draw at 13/5 are slightly better than West Ham pulling off a surprise win at 13/4.

Oddsmakers believe there will be goals scored as Manchester United are 7/4 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored compared to 17/5 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 15/4 odds, while an Irons win over 2.5 goals is listed at 6/1 odds and a victory for the hosts under 2.5 checks in with 8/1 odds.

Lukaku leads the line for first-goal scorers at 10/3, with Rashford getting 5/1 odds to make it 1-0 upon his return to the fold. Martial (11/2) has moved ahead of Sanchez (6/1) on United’s pecking order for the first goal of the match, and the Hammers have both Arnautovic and Chicharito listed as 6/1 odds to get the home side off to a positive start.

For those who think Manchester United can get a 1-0 lead via penalty and are willing to take a flyer on Pogba, the France international is getting 15/2 first-goal odds.

Lukaku is near even-money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 23/20, with Rashford lurking at 17/10. Martial and Sanchez have 2/1 odds to beat Irons No. 1 Lukasz Fabianski, with West Ham strikers Arnautovic and Chicharito at 2/1.

PREDICTION

Before all the breathless speculation about who will emerge as the winner of this cage match between Pogba and Mourinho, one thing needs to be said straightaway: This is not that big of a deal unless Pogba is dropped from the starting lineup. THEN the argument can be made about Mourinho possibly losing the plot and the dressing room.

Talk all you want about where Pogba may go in the January window in the unlikely event Woodward acquiesces to Raiola’s wishes, refresh the toteboard on the odds of Mourinho’s survival as often as you like, if No. 6 is out there Saturday afternoon, how much has really changed for Manchester United?

In some respects, Mourinho’s side have become a poor man’s Tottenham Hotspur — United are a team with a defined ceiling that right now can be argued will not be good enough to finish in the top four.

Crashing out of the Carabao Cup is in irritant mostly restricted to Mourinho because he likes pointing to silverware as proof positive he is coaching United the right way. Losing to Lampard is an additional aggravating factor. About the only certainty regarding United is they play their best when challenged — evidenced at Burnley, evidenced at Watford.

This is a team that needs to be away from Old Trafford this weekend and are fortunate enough the schedule-makers aligned in their favour.

It is too early to buy on West Ham, solid back-to-back games aside. Pellegrini played a smart tactical game against Chelsea considering he did not have Arnautovic available, and the two low banks of four removed the issue of Noble’s lack of pace that could have been a factor had the Irons tried to stand toe-to-toe with their derby rivals. There is never any shame in taking a point, but lament for failing to grab all three is understandable.

Arnautovic does return, but it will be interesting to see just how effective he is as a hold-up forward since West Ham are lacking a defined playmaker without the injured Jack Wilshire to get him the ball. The matchup on the right as West Ham attacks between Yarmolenko and Luke Shaw will be one to watch given how Manchester United are still not a completely cohesive unit at the back and rely more on De Gea’s shot-stopping skills than actual defending.

A better opponent could have caught out United on this game amid the media circus, but even with their mini resurgence, West Ham are not that side at this moment. It will be another day Mourinho keeps the wolves at bay, but whether Pogba helps is the million-pound question.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, MANCHESTER UNITED 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)

It is a case of protégé versus mentor Saturday when Nuno Espirito Santo brings promoted and in-form Wolverhampton to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho and an equally sharp Manchester United squad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

 

Nuno was the second-string goalkeeper at FC Porto, where Mourinho’s coaching star took off with a UEFA Cup title in 2003 and Champions League title the following season. During his time as a player, the coaching bug bit Nuno, who made it a point to soak up the managerial style of “The Special One” while also serving as his eyes and ears in the locker room for his gaffer.

The 44-year-old had three coaching stops – Rio Ave, Valencia and his old club Porto. While he enjoyed success with both Rio Ave and Valencia, his one season at Porto was devoid of silverware and he was fired despite a runners-up finish. Nuno then took over Wolverhampton last season, guiding them to promotion from the Championship in style as they clinched a move up with four matches to spare and the league title two matches later.

Nuno explained Mourinho’s influence on him to Soccer AM earlier this month, explaining that, “In that moment, what we had, the group of players we had, the way Mourinho manages and made us believe that it was possible to do what we did as a squad. We won everything, and it was absolutely fantastic.

“You take from everyone. When you have such success it’s because you do things right. Of course you learn a lot as a player when you pay attention to managers when they speak to you.”

When Manchester United (3-0-2) were struggling last month and many thought Mourinho was going through his customary third-season troubles that would result in him leaving Old Trafford, Nuno was quickly put up among his potential replacements, reports he quickly shot down by telling The Express, “I completely ignore it.”

Wolverhampton (2-2-1) are unlike almost any promoted team previously in the Premier League era because of their unusually high talent level. Part of that is by design – super agent Jorge Mendes, who counts both Nuno and Mourinho among his clients along with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo – was essentially a de facto advisor to the club following Nuno’s hiring and has been able to steer many Portuguese players to the club in that span.

The most important player may have come with Wolves promotion as Portugal No. 1 keeper Rui Patricio signed after a fan attack due to unrest with the club dealings at Sporting FC. Patricio has posted back-to-back clean sheets and conceded only five goals, one of which was an own goal.

Wolves, though, took the match to Burnley last time out, winning 1-0 on Raul Jimenez’s goal just after the hour mark. Wolverhampton finished with 30 shots, putting seven of them on frame, but Nuno is calling on his team to be better finishers ahead of this high-profile clash.

“It’s hard to build the way we build and stay organised in the shape,” the manager said post-match. “It could have been a different result but how we played is more important at this stage of the season. The scoreline could have been more. The way we create those chances requires the last touch, but things will come if we stay organised and are more clinical.”

With no injuries to report, Wolverhampton are expected to maintain the starting XI that has served Nuno throughout the club’s first five league matches.

United, meanwhile, are finally starting to resemble a top-tier side. Whether that is good enough to hang with the likes of reigning champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea is yet to be determined, but there is definitely progress being made.

Mourinho’s charges are looking for a fourth win on the bounce in all competitions after opening Champions League group play with an impressive 3-0 road win over Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday. Paul Pogba put in arguably his finest performance since his £90 million signing last season, recording a first-half brace before assisting on Anthony Martial’s first goal of the season.

“Yeah, I am happy,” Pogba told MUTV. “Very happy to score, very happy to help my team and very happy with the result as well. We had the result that we all wanted. It was a very good start for us and we have to carry on like this.”

“He was solid, class, giving the team the pace that we need sometimes,” Mourinho said of his midfielder. “To increase the pace, keep the possession and just keep control of the tempo. Of course he scored a very good goal and the penalty showed personality, because when you miss a penalty you have doubts about taking the next one, but there were no doubts for him.”

Martial got the nod over Alexis Sanchez in part to playing the match on an artificial pitch, which was why Antonio Valencia did not make the trip. It is uncertain if Martial would get a second straight start, but at the very worst he will move up the pecking order since Marcus Rashford will serve the second of his three-match ban for a violent conduct red card given against Burnley.

Mourinho also will not have the services of midfielder Nemanja Matic, who was sent off late against Watford for his second booking. Marouane Fellaini, who appeared as a substitute late versus Young Boys, would likely slide into that spot between Pogba and Fred.

Valencia may have to fight off Diogo Dalot for his spot at right back after the 19-year-old and former Porto starlet made his long-awaited United debut Wednesday. Luke Shaw was restored to his left back spot after missing the win over Watford due to a concussion suffered while playing for England.

This is the first top-flight meeting between the clubs since United rolled to a 5-0 victory at Molineux in the 2011-12 season to complete a double in which they won by a combined 9-1. Wolves have yet to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, losing four league matches and two League Cup ties by a combined 14-4 scoreline.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are heavy 4/7 favourites, with Wolverhampton 5/1 underdogs to continue their fast start and steal away three points from Old Trafford. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 3/1.

United are also 7/5 favourites to pick up a win with the final tally being over 2.5 goals, and a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts returns 14/5 odds. A draw under 2.5 goals is listed with 4/1 odds, while a Wolves victory over 2.5 goals gets a healthy 9/1 return. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory or Wolverhampton is listed at 11/1 odds.

For first goal-scorers, Lukaku leads the line at 7/2 odds, while a relatively well-rested Sanchez edges out Anthony Martial at 5/1, with the French youngster at 11/2. Given Pogba’s mid-week effort, there may be value at 6/1 considering he is United’s penalty taker.

Jimenez is Wolverhampton’s top option to make it 1-0 at 8/1, with Leo Bonatini behind the no goal-scoring option at 10/1.

Lukaku is also the favourite to score at any point over the 90 minutes, just below even-money odds at 23/20. Sanchez and Martial are joint-second at 9/5, followed by Pogba (21/10), then Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata (23/10). Jimenez is again the top option for Wolves at 13/5, though lurking for them at 4/1 is reserve Adama Traore.

PREDICTION

Crisis? What crisis? There has been a collective exhale throughout the red side of Manchester as United have looked the parts of title contenders the past three matches with professional wins in each contest. They put together their most complete effort in Bern against Young Boys, the challenge is now to kick on to that next level which puts them behind early frontrunners City, Liverpool and Chelsea to begin building for that final step.

Wolverhampton, or “Portugal Lite” for the snarky among us, has already shown all the makings of a side that will be mid-table at worst and lurking outsiders for a European spot if they can also kick on to a higher level. All the talk of protege versus mentor with Nuno versus Mourinho aside, this will be Wolves’ first measuring-stick match since their only other match against a top-five side was against Everton while having a man advantage for the final 50 minutes in a 2-2 season-opening draw.

Nuno hopefully took an important lesson from United’s victory over Watford in which the Hornets afforded Mourinho’s team far too much respect in the opening 45 minutes, and the Red Devils dutifully made them pay with those two first-half goals in quick-fire succession. Wolves are not going to have the majority of possession as they did last weekend versus Burnley — they will be fortunate to get near one-half of the 31 shots attemped versus the Clarets — which makes Patricio the man of the moment.

If the Portugal No. 1 matches his Iberian counterpart De Gea save for save (there may be no keeper in the Premier League more underappreciated than the Spaniard for the quality of saves he makes when called upon), Wolverhampton may be able to escape the Theatre of Dreams with a point. Otherwise, this is a game were United should begin flexing their muscle to start a climb up the table.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 3, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Young Boys vs. Manchester United

Welcome to the Champions League, kid, now go take down Goliath.

Swiss side Young Boys make their debut in group stage proper of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament Wednesday when they host one of its most storied sides in three-time champions Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Young Boys ended the eight-year reign of FC Basel atop the Swiss Super League last season, but getting to this point was not guaranteed since they still had to navigate the qualifying rounds. They accomplished that in dramatic fashion against Dinamo Zagreb last month, overturning a 1-0 deficit in the second leg in Croatia on a brace by Guillaume Hourau. His penalty in the 66th minute — two minutes after he leveled the match — was enough to send Young Boys through 3-2 on aggregate and onto Europe’s biggest stage.

The victory exorcised the demons of their 2010 failure in that round, when Young Boys had stormed out to a 3-0 lead versus Tottenham Hotspur inside the first half-hour of the first leg, only to concede twice and then get roundly beaten 4-0 at White Hart Lane in the return encounter. It was also all the sweeter after missing out last season in the same round, losing to CSKA Moscow, before running away to win the Swiss Super League with four matches to spare.

The 34-year-old Hourau has emerged as an unlikely talisman of this time, a one-time PSG reject with five caps for France whose career was rejuvenated when he joined the Swiss outfit in 2014. Hourau has scored 86 goals in league and European play and is off to a fast start once again with four goals in helping Young Boys claim the maximum 18 points through their first six matches.

“Guillaume is not only the best striker, but the soul and the leader of the team,” RTS commentator David Lemos told ESPN FC. “He is clever, funny off the pitch, and decisive on it. People in Bern absolutely love him.”

First-year coach Gerardo Seoane has largely left the philosophy of predecessor Adi Hutter in place as Young Boys use a high pressing style. They have scored 19 goals in league play while conceding four and recorded four clean sheets. Christian Fassnacht had a brace in the most recent contest, a 3-0 victory at FC Sion on Sept. 1 that was also their first shutout in three matches.

Manchester United appear beyond the doldrums that plagued them early on. They have won back-to-back matches on the road and ended Watford’s 100 percent run with a 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road in their last league contest Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku and defender Chris Smalling scored three minutes apart late in the first half when the hosts afforded them too much respect, and United then saw off a spirited challenge from the upstarts as they hunted an equaliser for nearly a half-hour and played the final minutes with a man advantage after Nemanja Matic was sent off for his second booking.

United played that match without attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who served the first of a three-match ban for violent conduct in their win over Burnley. Jose Mourinho did not guarantee Rashford a spot in the starting XI, but given he has the most energy to burn since he will sit out this weekend’s contest at Wolverhampton, it would not be a stretch to see him on the pitch from the opening kick.

“He’s selected for the game,” Mourinho said Tuesday of Rashford while still showing a little of the salt from the previous week when he defended his use of the England international. “But I just want to remind you, in advance, that we can only start with XI. So when tomorrow you see the team you could try to speak about the ones that are going to play and don’t critique the ones that are not going to play.

“So we have Lukaku, Rashford, Mata, Alexis, Martial and they can not play all together. So try to be a little bit happy with the ones that are playing and not to be greedy with the ones that are not playing.”

Luke Shaw is expected to be back in the starting lineup after sitting out the win over Watford following a concussion suffered on international duty for England in their Nations League loss to Spain. Antonio Valencia, however, did not make the trip since Mourinho did not want to expose the veteran full back to Young Boys’ synthetic pitch and will opt for either Ashley Young or Diogo Dalot, the latter of whom has yet to feature for the senior side.

Despite this being a debut for Young Boys, United would like to forget some of their previous trips to Switzerland. Basel proved a bogey ground on the last two visits to St. Jakob-Park, including last season’s 1-0 defeat in group play, but it is United’s 2-1 loss in 2011 that is recalled far more vividly in Switzerland as it allowed Basel to progress into the knockout round at United’s expense.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are decisive 8/11 favourites to return home with three points and their third win on the trot. A draw is preferred at 27/10 slightly more than a Young Boys upset victory, which is listed at 15/4 odds.

With relation to the 2.5 over/under goals standard, United are 8/5 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored and fetch a 13/4 return on a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. A scoreless or 1-1 draw has 19/5 odds, while a Young Boys win and over 2.5 goals has 13/2 odds compared to a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 9/1.

Lukaku is an expected front-runner for first-goal honours at 7/2, trailed by Rashford (9/2) and Alexis Sanchez (5/1). Hoarau cracks the top five overall, tied with Martial at 6/1 and edging out Jesse Lingard (13/2) and Paul Pogba (7/1), whose two goals in league play have come from the penalty spot.

United’s attacking trio are also the top three options for a goal at any time during the match, with Lukaku leading the way at 5/4, Rashford checking in at 6/4 and Sanchez bringing up the rear at 7/4. Hoarau is a 2/1 bet to prevent David De Gea from posting his 14th career Champions League clean sheet.

PREDICTION

Another match, another chance for the aura of Manchester United to render an opponent helpless for a pivotal stretch in which they can take control of the match. This sounds a little passive-aggressive, sure, but for all the hope neutrals had last weekend in hoping Watford would come out from the get-go and take it to United, the wiles of Mourinho and his men proved too much as they played a ruthless road match.

That pattern should play out here, with United trying to stretch Young Boys all over the pitch when against the high press of the Swiss side. Young Boys keeper David Van Ballmoos does have European experience, but he did not notch his first win in continental play until last month in his 11th such match.

There is much talk about the synthetic turf, though most of it comes after the match when both players and managers are complaining about the knock-on soreness following 90 minutes of running on it. United are the fourth Premier League team to be making the trip to Bern this decade, joining Spurs, Everton and Liverpool, and of the three, only the Lilywhites made the trek back to England empty-handed.

Recent history will allow Mourinho to remind his players not to take their opponents for granted, but as it pertains to United, they appear to be a team rounding the corner. A road sweep of three opponents would be another step in getting themselves in position to make a charge up the table.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Young Boys 0, Manchester United 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City vs. Lyon

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Watford (4-0-0) vs. Manchester United (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The surprise package of the first four matches, Watford put their 100 percent record on the line Saturday at Vicarage Road as they try to move nine points clear of Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-0-0) are enjoying the high life at the moment, trailing only evergreens Liverpool and Chelsea in the table with the maximum 12 points. Manager Javi Gracia has gotten his team to buy into his 4-2-2-2 formation, with Roberto Pereyra a revelation on the left wing replacing the departed Richarlison and keeper Ben Foster making the most of his second go-round with Watford.

One of the underrated parts to Watford’s success is their ability to build a deep squad that is able to run a two-track course with league and cup responsibilities. Watford have won all five of their matches overall and overturned their entire XI in their Carabao Cup win at Reading.

Gracia was named Premier League Manager of the Month, and the Spaniard has instilled confidence his team can claim another high-profile pelt after rallying to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 before the international break on goals by Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart set up by Jose Holebas seven minutes apart in the second half.

“In this moment the results help us to feel we can do it, but it’s only a feeling because you have to do many things to win,” Gracia told Watford’s official website as they seek a club-record fifth consecutive home win in the top flight. “We need to manage situations, we need to play well, run a lot and fight a lot. After that we can have some options to win. We try to prepare as good as possible.”

Pereyra has a team-high three goals and Holebas leads the way with four assists. The Hornets have scored at least two goals in all five of their victories. Gracia is expected to stick with the same XI he has used in all four of his league matches, with Deeney and Andre Gray leading the line ahead of wingers Pereyra and Will Hughes.

“We are in a good moment, we are enjoying it, we know in the future things may change but this is a good moment for us,” Gracia added. “I prefer not to speak about if it’s the fifth game in a row, the sixth or the fourth – it’s the next one, the new one and the chance to get three points. The past is the past. I prefer to focus on the next game and the next three points.”

Getting three points has been challenging at times for Manchester United (2-0-2), who have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries at various positions across the pitch. They avoided a third consecutive loss before the international break with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Burnley that relieved some of the crisis mode surrounding Jose Mourinho and the side, but the truth remains United have much heavy lifting to do to get back into the Premier League race.

The next challenge for Mourinho comes at left back, where Luke Shaw is not likely to play after suffering a concussion playing for England in their Nations League opener versus Spain. Shaw, who had been a whipping boy for Mourinho since his arrival from Southampton, had gotten into the manager’s good graces with a roaring start in being named the club’s player of the month.

United do have options if Shaw is not cleared to play, with one possibility being teenager and summer signing Diogo Dalot making his league debut. Dalot, a £19 million transfer from Porto, had his first action of the season with United’s Under-23 side earlier this week after recovering from an injury suffered last season.

“It was nice, the atmosphere was good, I can imagine if the stadium is full and I am very happy to come back,” Dalot told United’s official website. “It feels good to be back. It was a special night, getting my first minutes after four long months and I am really happy. It is a really special moment for me. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing medical department and the coach, who has believed in me since day one.”

If Mourinho wants a veteran presence, he could opt for Marcos Rojo as the Argentina international has worked his way back into match shape recovering from injuries.

Marouane Fellaini is questionable for the match with a back injury that forced him to withdraw from Belgium’s Nations League matches. The towering midfielder was an influential figure in the win over Burnley in his first start of the season.

One player who will not be available is attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for his headbutt of Phil Bardsley in the win over Burnley. His absence could be filled by Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata or Anthony Martial as Mourinho prepares for a busy stretch of schedule in which United play five matches across three competitions.

Rashford, though, will be available for United’s Champions League opener against Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday.

United did the double over Watford last season, including a 4-2 victory in the corresponding fixture. Ashley Young scored twice in a six-minute span of the first half, and Martial made it 3-0 just after the half-hour. Manchester United are 9-0-1 in league matches against the Hornets, with the lone loss a 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are solid favourites with 10/11 odds, and Watford will give a 3/1 return if they continue their 100 percent start. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 12/5.

United get a 21/10 return to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/5 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count. There are also 13/4 odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Watford have 6/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 7/1 under 2.5.

Lukaku is the favourite to make it 1-0 at 4/1 odds, with Sanchez hot on his heels at 5/1. Martial is third at 13/2, with Lingard close behind at 7/1. Deeney is the top Watford option at 15/2, followed by Gray at 8/1. Despite his three goals, Pereyra is listed at 11/1 to open the scoring.

Pereyra’s odds for a goal at any time in the match improve to 7/2, while Lukaku nets a 6/4 return. Sanchez has 9/2 odds to bag his first goal of the season for United, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata receiving 13/5 odds. Deeney is also listed at 13/5 to beat David De Gea at some point.

PREDICTION

Do you know how I know it was a good week of practice for Manchester United? Mourinho was railing about all the questions surrounding Rashford, who isn’t even playing as he serves the first of this three-match ban for his red card against Burnley. In some ways, that win came at the worst time for United since it was clearly their better victory of the two they have.

Replacing Shaw — provided he is not cleared to play — will provide some obvious talking points, more so if Dalot does not make his debut after playing for the Under-23 side, but this is where United must kick on and get on with their season. They cannot afford to lose this game and be nine points behind Liverpool and seven points behind their eternal rivals across town (note: this space is not entirely sold on Chelsea, but a nine-point deficit would be inconvenient) given how the league is again quickly turning into a top 7/bottom 13 league once more.

And all this is not designed to give short shrift to Watford. The Hornets deserve their status as flavour of the month given their start, with Gracia doing excellent work. Watford have a track record of starting fast before fading in recent seasons, and either avoiding or enduring through that difficult stretch is Gracia’s biggest challenge.

Despite their maximum record, the break after rallying past Spurs may have come at the perfect time for Watford because it allowed Gracia to teach as opposed to simply ride the momentum of a big win into the next match. Those lessons will be learned, and while a fifth league win on the trot may be too big an ask, a hard-earned draw feels like the most likely outcome.

Predicted Final Score: Watford 1, Manchester United 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are dealing with sizable distractions ahead of Monday’s showdown at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s third-season meltdowns at previous stops in England and Europe are well-documented, and the prospect of another one seems to be growing with each passing day. He is still reportedly upset club vice chairman Ed Woodward failed to land any of his summer transfer targets, most notably in central defence, and that contributed to United’s horrid 3-2 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion on Aug. 19.

The pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – centre backs whom Mourinho wanted and United (1-0-1) got for a combined £60 million – both endured a torrid time in the opening 45 minutes when they conceded all three goals. Lindelof was directly responsible for the first and Bailly committed the foul that resulted in a penalty for the third.

As opposed to late last term when Mourinho excoriated his players, the Portuguese manager held his tongue publicly after the match, saying “please don’t ask me to go in this direction because it’s not good for me.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba, who would have been one of those players Mourinho likely would have criticised given he lost possession 28 times versus Brighton, created his own swirl of post-match controversy by saying “My attitude wasn’t right” to MUTV.

The midfielder, who has converted penalties in United’s first two matches, is also getting stick for failing to keep his agent Mino Raiola out of the media’s eye. Raiola got into a social media dust-up with ex-United midfielder and BT Sport pundit Paul Scholes, who criticised Pogba’s lack of leadership in the defeat.

Raiola shot back Scholes “wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill,” and sarcastically suggested he should become United’s sports director. Pogba failed to help matters Thursday by making a shushing motion on an Instagram post while unveiling his new line of adidas footwear to mark France’s World Cup title.

Mourinho was then at his tetchy best in Friday’s pre-match news conference, which lasted all of four minutes and 19 seconds. He confirmed his relationship his Woodward as fine by responding “of course” to the question, told reporters to take up Pogba’s comments with the midfielder, offered little about how the squad trained during the week, and only conceded Spurs will be a “difficult match, against a team that last season finished top four, so difficult match.”

The most newsworthy portion was learning Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia all are training with the first team. Sanchez was a surprise omission last week due to a muscle injury, while first-team regulars Matic and Valencia have yet to make their season debuts.

Valencia would be a welcome sight at right back, where both Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young struggled to cover ground in the opening two matches. Matic could provide a needed counterweight to Pogba, taking his customary spot in front of the back four and forming a diamond with him, Fred and striker Romelu Lukaku as Sanchez and either Marcus Rashford or Juan Mata roam the flanks.

Things were humming along nicely for Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0), who put aside the chatter of standing pat this summer with victories over Newcastle United and new boys Fulham. Harry Kane freed himself of the August albatross by finally scoring his first league goal in the first month of the season to cap a 3-1 win over the Cottagers on Aug. 18.

Yet all those good feelings were wiped away with the news keeper Hugo Lloris was charged with drink-driving in the early hours Friday in west London. The talisman of France’s World Cup winning side quickly released a statement through the team in which he wanted “to apologise wholeheartedly to my family, the club, my teammates, the manager and all of the supporters” and added “I take full responsibility for my actions and it is not the example I wish to set.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has yet to say whether the charge will lead to him benching his No. 1 keeper for this match. There have been reports Lloris will be stripped of the captaincy, which would be given to Kane – who wore the armband for England at the World Cup.

Last weekend’s win over Fulham saw Spurs at full strength save Heung-Min Son’s absence as he plays for South Korea in the Asian Games. Lucas Moura filled that spot and scored the opening goal of the match, and Kieran Trippier – a key cog in England’s run to the semifinals in Russia – scored the match-winner with a well-taken free kick.

This match could also make Mourinho wistful for Spurs centre back Toby Alderweireld, who was one of the players on his summer wish list. He became the most realistic option before the transfer deadline after United were priced out of signing Leicester City and England international Harry Maguire.

The Belgium international had wanted out of north London due to a lack of playing time – due to both a hamstring injury and the fallout of a contract standoff – but Alderweireld got his first start against Fulham as part of a 3-4-1-2 set-up and is expected to be in the first XI again versus United. Based on Pochettino’s comments after the victory over Fulham, the relationship between the pair appears to be merely professional at best.

“I won’t talk about him, I’ll talk in general always,” Pochettino told The Times. “I want players committed with the team. Players that are not happy, from my point of view, can leave. Then it’s different if they can negotiate with Daniel (Levy) or not.

“But if they are going to be here, I want full commitment. If not, tomorrow we can find a solution. I am so tired of talking about this.”

United have won four on the trot at home – the last three by 1-0 counts — over the Lilywhites and carry a 384-minute shutout streak there since Christian Eriksen scored the winner in Tottenham’s 2-1 victory to ring in 2014.

Spurs have a track record of abject misery at Old Trafford, winning only two of their last 30 matches (2-4-24) in all competitions. And for all the talk of distractions and dissention around Manchester United, Mourinho’s men did win their last four matches versus top-six sides last term.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are slight 6/4 favourites, while Tottenham Hotspur have 15/8 odds to win. The draw is the long shot of the trio carrying 11/4 odds. Since punters expect both teams to score (Yes is a slight favourite at 3/4 over No at 21/20), United are 4/1 favourites to win such an outcome while Spurs are close behind at 9/2.

Punters also seem to be leaning toward a 1-1 draw as that is getting 3/1 odds, followed by a United victory and over 2.5 goals (16/5) and a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals (17/4). Those who feel United can record a fourth consecutive 1-0 scoreline at Old Trafford can get 21/5 odds on that outcome with under 2.5 goals and 7/1 odds on that exact outcome.

Kane leads the line for first-time goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Lukaku (9/2). Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente is a surprising third option at 11/2, edging out both Sanchez and Rashford at 6/1.

Kane and Lukaku also lead the anytime goal-scorers list at 5/4 and 7/4 respectively. Llorente is again third at 2/1, closely followed by Sanchez (21/10) and Rashford (11/5).For those who believe Pogba will score for a third straight contest via penalty or otherwise, the France international checks in at 3/1.

PREDICTION

It may be too early to label this a must-win game for Manchester United, but there is a very real urgency not to lose this contest. Falling six points behind Manchester City after three matches will only fan the flames of panic and sharpen the knives around Old Trafford, and if you thought Mourinho was at his cantankerous best Friday, you can imagine what he would be like with two losses in three out of the blocks.

Getting Sanchez back would be nice, yes, but Matic could wind up being the swing vote in this match should he be ready to go. If Lindelof and Bailly can’t handle the pressure from Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray, how are they going to cope with Kane and Dele Alli while Christian Eriksen supports both through the middle? Matic is an enormous security blanket for the two young centre backs, a role neither Pogba nor Fred fully figured out working in tandem with Andreas Pereira.

The fact two players needed to do it while Matic has been recovering speaks volumes to his importance.

Lloris’ status cannot be fully addressed until Pochettino announces his decision, so there is little to debate for the time being. The between the lines message from Pochettino when discussing/not discussing Alderweireld’s status is the Spurs’ boss seemed ok with chairman Daniel Levy’s decision to stand pat over the summer.

While this goes completely against the arms race the Premier League has become since the most recent television deal, it’s still an interesting long-term gamble that could determine if Spurs are in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal-like holding pattern fighting for a top-four spot or whether Unai Emery’s Arsenal and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea can overtake them, even as early as this season.

Given how Mourinho does his best work when the outward appearance is he’s cornered, expect United to bare their teeth in a cagey match. Even with Matic, one gets the sense Mourinho’s squad are still not capable of a full-on 90-minute performance in the back without at least one glaring mistake, and Spurs’ defence has also switched off at times.

Predicted Final Score: Manchester United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 3 Previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)