Usually, mid-week clashes don’t pique the interest of neutral fans as the late kick-off times aren’t ideal, but on Wednesday, the Premier League clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United is one most will stay up long after the midnight toll for.
Spurs, chasing the top-four after effectively being ruled out of the title race a while back, cannot afford to drop any more points and they are the side with most to lose from this encounter, but the stakes are high for the big-spending Red Devils as well.
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United made quite the stir when they signed a certain and made him their No.7 and with Manchester City threatening to pull away at the top, Jose Mourinho’s men will not settle for anything less than three points on their trip to the English capital.
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Both sides have plenty of outstanding talents to call upon, but we highlight the 5 players who are most likely to settle the outcome at Wembley Stadium:
Alexis Sanchez (Manchester United)
It’s going to take some getting used to, but Sanchez is a Manchester United player.
And Tottenham fans will certainly not forget his Arsenal past as they are expected to boo every touch of the Chilean’s on Wednesday.
The winger’s debut (in the FA Cup against lower-league Yeovil Town) went off reasonably well, but a visit to Wembley will prove to be a stiffer test of his credentials.
Considering his mammoth wages, the pressure will be on the 29-year-old to immediately start delivering the goods as the Red Devils bid to trim the gap between themselves and the runaway leaders that are Manchester City.
Sanchez doesn’t have a fixed position as of now and with his versatility could see him play anywhere across United’s forward line, which already boasted the superlative talents of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.
How he combines with the aforementioned players will prove key to United’s fortunes, for there can be no excuses for Jose Mourinho anymore.
Away games such as these will go someway towards proving the considerable outlay that United are spending is justified and one can expect Sanchez to be at the heart of all the visitors’s forays.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
It may get staid, but Spurs are heavily reliant on their star striker and if he goes missing, which he rarely does, they are odds-on to lose.
Yes, they have a host of top stars, but none quite like their homegrown one who loves seeing the back of the net bulge more than anything.
After another season of scoring goals, with scant reward apart from personal accolades, Kane may just be on the verge of departing North London for good.
For despite all the talk of their project with rebuilding a stadium and keeping an exciting squad, players want to win titles, especially since their careers are so short.
Their manager is clearly tempted of a move to Madrid and could their No.9 follow suit as well in the summer.
Spurs, currently in fifth place, can’t afford to slip any further in the top-four race and this tie at Wembley is key if they want to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and the reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner will have be firing on all cylinders.
United may have the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League, but it’s mostly down to their superb goalkeeper David de Gea and the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will be braced for an difficult evening against their in-form compatriot.
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Speaking of vaunted strikers, one would be remiss if they forgot to mention United’s burly Belgian, who contrary to public perception, has had a productive first season at Old Trafford.
He has, however, not lived up to his billing in big clashes (against direct rivals) and at Wembley, he will seek to salvage his reputation.
The signing of Alexis Sanchez will relieve some of the goalscoring burden off his broad shoulders, but now there’s a very real threat of getting overlooked on match days as well.
For the Chilean is quite capable of leading the line as a ‘false-nine’ and Lukaku is no longer undroppable.
Considering he’s still relatively young (24), the Belgian has time to prove he’s the real deal but his poor record against the top-six this season speaks for itself and it’s high time he delivered in a big way in a massive game for the Red Devils.
Up against him will be countrymen Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, two men who know plenty about the United frontman, and it will be an interesting battle, if nothing else, to see the three contest for the ball.
How he links up with Sanchez and Co. will likely determine United’s fortunes, for if they can click, it’ll be nigh impossible for even Spurs to deny Jose Mourinho’s men three points.
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
A big question mark hangs over Alderweireld’s fitness as he is poised to make a comeback from a long-term injury.
By far the best defender Spurs possess, perhaps even the finest in the English top-flight, the former Atletico Madrid man is among the main reasons why Maurico Pochettino’s men have employed such a stingy defence the past couple of seasons.
At 28, he’s undoubtedly in the prime of his career and while Pochettino might not want to throw him in the deep end immediately, the Argentine tactician has no choice for this United side will leap at any potential weakness and make you suffer.
Apparently, he’s been stalling on a new contract, and if he really wants the bumper pay rise or a move to greener pastures, a standout performance against a high-profile team such as United would serve his purposes extremely well.
The leader in their three-man backline alongside Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez, Alderweireld could not have returned at a better possible time and all eyes will be on his duel with fellow Belgian Romelu Lukaku once the game kicks off at Wembley.
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
Despite Jesse Lingard’s stellar form of late, United quite rightly felt that that the opportunity to sign Alexis Sanchez on a relative bargain was too good an opportunity to pass on.
So where does Sanchez fit in with the likes of Lingard?
Considering the Chilean is a free spirit and is virtually the only undroppable attacking player the Red Devils possess, it may be a question of how best to fit the rest with him.
Anthony Martial has been in fine fettle as well, making him a sureshot starter, which would leave one starting spot in United’s front-four available as Romelu Lukaku is a lock to feature as the central striker, at least for now.
So that leaves Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Lingard competing for one spot, either on the wing or down the centre.
Rashford started the FA Cup game on Friday and has regularly been utilised as a substitute in Premier League games, which would suggest that it’s between Mata and Lingard and while Mourinho would be inclined to include the latter, the competition for places just went up several notches with the Chilean’s arrival.
The misfiring Henrikh Mkhitaryan was effectively a non-starter towards the end of his ill-fated tenure at United, but now the hardworking Lingard will have to be producing match-winning moments on a weekly basis just to keep his place in the side.
Ideally, Lingard should start alongside Sanchez, Martial and Lukaku, but it all depends on what kind of formation Mourinho opts for.
Either way, the United Academy product, a fan favourite due to his antics on and off the pitch, will be under pressure to deliver as he seeks to cement his status as a United regular.