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Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Preview
While the shelf life of most Jose Mourinho-coached teams is three seasons, it is clear that the honeymoon is still going through his first three matches in charge of Tottenham Hotspur.
But the reaction from the Manchester United faithful at Old Trafford will be the most-debated talking point heading into Wednesday's matchup against the last club he most recently directed before taking over in London.
Mourinho was the third United manager following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but in the end, did little better than predecessors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. "The Special One" directed the Red Devils to the 2017 Europa League and Carabao Cup titles, but his distant runners-up finish to eternal rivals and centurions Manchester City the following term - ending 19 points adrift -- was nothing to write home about.
And his ill-fated 2018-19 season was cut short in December, with Mourinho often at loggerheads with United vice chairman Ed Woodward regarding player recruitment in the transfer windows. Though often reluctant to bring those differences public, Woodward did admit it happened on more than one occasion.
"It is true that we didn't sign a centre-back in the summer of 2018 and it is true there was a difference of opinion on one or two players between the manager and the recruitment department," Woodward told fanzine United We Stand according to The Independent.
"Sometimes I have to be one who delivers the 'no', which isn't easy. Our natural tendency is to back the manager in every possible circumstance. But we have to listen to the recruitment experts too."
It can be argued that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - currently under fire himself with a spate of underwhelming results despite United's aggressive moves in this past summer window - has done little to improve the club's standing after being tabbed as Mourinho's successor. United (4-6-4) are ninth in the table on 18 points and far closer to the drop than they are to table-toppers Liverpool, who are a staggering 22 points clear of their rivals.
United are unbeaten in their last three matches but have played to draws in the last two following a 2-2 stalemate at home versus Aston Villa on Sunday. Marcus Rashford contributed to an own goal by Villa keeper Tom Heaton, while centre back Victor Lindelof gave United a short-lived lead in the 64th minute via header.
"It's not just the second time, it's been quite often this season that we've either turned a game around or had the lead and not been able to see it out," Solskjaer lamented to MUTV. "But we don't just want to see it out, we want to go for 2-0, 3-0 or - like today - 3-1. Then again, they got a corner straight away and they are a big side, and worked a few different, clever ones. Today we just couldn't get up and play them offside quick enough."
The good news for Solskjaer is reinforcements may be on the way for this match in the midfield. Scott McTominay looks to be set to return after missing the last two matches due to an ankle injury. Paul Pogba's status is more uncertain, with the World Cup winner having been limited to just five league matches and six overall with an ankle injury.
While Andres Pereira did provide the cross that led to United's first, both he and Jesse Lingard have not given the club the same type of bite in midfield McTominay and Pogba provide, especially with the former's calming presence in front of the back four.
Where to deploy Pogba while at United was a constant source of vexation for Mourinho, who also rarely saw eye-to-eye with the mercurial France international in the final months of his run at Old Trafford. If anything, the new Spurs boss appears to have learned those lessons and applied them to positive effect with a player of similar talent and temperament on Spurs - Dele Alli.
The 23-year-old, who has also dealt with his share of injuries this term while struggling to live up to the promise of his stellar 2017-18 season in which he totaled 14 goals and 15 assists in all competitions, has been rejuvenated by the change in managers. Alli has three goals and an assist in Spurs' three matches since Mourinho's arrival, and his brace on either side of halftime Saturday powered the Lilywhites (5-5-4) to a 3-2 victory over Bournemouth.
"Now I don't need to speak about him because everyone speaks and speaks so well," Mourinho said of Alli, who has been involved on seven of Spurs' 10 goals in the last three matches. "I think it's better for him to listen to it and to realise that people love him when he plays in the way he is doing.
"I find him a good guy in the group. He's a group guy, not really this kind of selfish person who thinks and speaks only about himself. Not at all. He's a Spurs boy, a group boy. The group is a good family. They have very good empathy between them. I just feel that now it's self-esteem coming up and lots of confidence to play."
Mourinho was given a warm reception upon his return to Old Trafford earlier this season, but that was as a pundit for Sky Sports in contrast to Wednesday's appearance as opposing manager. Some reports have stated Mourinho will seek out some of United's backroom staff he keeps in contact with while also hoping - how ever unlikely - that he can keep the intrigue to a minimum.
If there is one area of concern for Spurs in the transition to Mourinho it has been seeing out matches. Tottenham's two league wins have been needlessly exciting considering they had 3-0 leads after the 70th minute in both matches before conceding twice on both occasions.
On the flip side, Mourinho's feisty nature may make him the perfect manager at the perfect time to allow Spurs to record back-to-back league wins at Old Trafford for the second time in the Premier League era. Tottenham were denied a historic unprecedented league double after an emphatic 3-0 victory there last season over Mourinho and United, losing 1-0 in the return encounter at Wembley in January on a 44th-minute goal by Rashford.
Harry Kane opened the scoring in the win at United in the 50th minute before Lucas Moura added a brace with markers in the 52nd and 84th minutes. Tottenham still have a dismal track record at "The Theatre of Dreams" with a 3-4-24 record in the Premier League era, though all three victories have come in their last seven visits (3-0-4).
Updated December 2, 2019