Suppose Tottenham and United were tied on the Premier League table after 5 or 10 matches. Would Spurs still be a half-goal favorite for a head-to-head showdown at Wembley on the sabbath?
Maybe, maybe not. More likely a sportsbook would post an Asian handicap of (pk, – ½). If Tottenham scored first in the match, live odds would be likely to fluctuate as bettors waited for United to score, as English announcers like to put it, “the ee-kwul-eye-zah.”
But obviously, that’s not the scenario on Matchday 22.
Spurs killed United 3-0 at Old Trafford on August 27th, helping to send the Red Devils spiraling downward under the controversial skipper Jose Mourinho. French midfielder Paul Pogba and other MUFC stars were splashed with snark by tabloids on a daily basis as supporters took sides on who to blame for the club’s listless play. The squad struggled to beat mid-level Premier League teams like Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton while losing to Manchester City, Liverpool, and even West Ham.
Meanwhile, Tottenham is teetering toward a potential challenge for the league title.
Manchester United sacked Mourinho on December 18th, installing Ole Gunnar Solskjær as caretaker manager. Things immediately turned for the better on the soccer pitch. United has scored 14 goals in 4 Premier League matches since the change in the manager’s chair. David de Gea posted a clean sheet against Newcastle last week as Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford tallied in a 2-0 result.
No doubt the Red Devils are in a feeding frenzy, playing like a squad of athletes loosed from a prison block. Pogba scored twice in a 3-1 win over Huddersfield at Old Trafford last week. But there are a pair of factors still holding United’s betting odds where they are as the match with Tottenham approaches.
United is (+225) in the 3-way moneyline next to Spurs’ (+115) for Sunday’s battle.
Will United’s defenders be overwhelmed against a highly-motivated Spurs team led by Harry Kane? Will it even matter if the deluge of goal-scoring continues?
United we Canned
I doubt that MUFC will experience much “reversion” in winter and spring 2019. The club has the talent to contend against any EPL side you want to mention, and the Red Devils’ biggest problem is that the poor effort over the first half of the season has put them too far behind on the table.
But there’s no doubt Tottenham poses a different level of competition that the clubs Manchester United has been blowing away in the past 2 weeks.
United’s selection of forwards and attacking midfielders is excellent, with Fred and Nemanja Matić as support alongside Pogba. Jesse Lingard has 4 goals in 17 Premier League apps so far, and none in the Champions League, but he looks joyful on the pitch once again and is always a threat to make plays with the ball. It’s really the backline, not the attack, that could potentially cause United to slip against a Tottenham or a Liverpool.
Solskjær is trying different combinations across a 4-back formation. Victor Lindelöf is still young but talented, and a member of the Sweden National Team. He took a yellow card at St. James Park but helped United hold the Magpies to 3 on-target shots and 1 corner. Phil Jones takes his share of criticism but moved the football well against Huddersfield in Eric Bailly’s absence due to a red card.
Harry Kane and his supporting cast have had their share of run-away wins against lesser foes on recent Matchdays. Spurs beat Cardiff City 3-0 on New Year’s Day as Kane scored in just the 3rd minute.
Tottenham had an absolutely banner week leading up to the easy victory. The club beat Arsenal 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the Football League Cup, then soared over Everton and Bournemouth by a combined score of 11-2. South Korea National Team captain Son Heung-min scored twice against Cherries at Wembley.
But Heung-min is leaving to play in the Asian Cup just as a sour result has reminded Spurs supporters that not all is peaches and cream (or Cherries) on the pitch. Last Saturday, Kane scored early again as Tottenham took a 1-0 lead over visiting Wolves, but then the other shoe dropped as the Wanderers scored 3 times in the 2nd half against keeper Hugo Lloris and a backline led by Toby Alderweireld.
My spell-checker hilariously thinks Alderweireld’s name is “Toby Underwear,” and while the defender did not undress against Wolves, his dignity was stripped away just a little as opposing striker Raúl Jiménez scored the winner with about 10 minutes left to play.
Wolverhampton has embarrassed several top-notch clubs in the Premiership in 2018-19 and is bound to surprise a few more. The loss probably doesn’t portend a downturn in what could turn out to be an historic season for Tottenham.
But it does remind us that Spurs were not originally thought any stronger than United headed into the season. Analysts conveniently forget that Kane was not considered on par with Messi or Neymar when the World Cup began and that his club was not touted as a favorite to win the table in 2019. The team is still vulnerable to upsets at home, and United is arguably a deeper attacking side in some respects.
Betting on the Breakout
Is United a smart upset-special pick on the moneyline? Probably not. Kane and supporting midfielders like Christian Eriksen can whip up a lot of ball possession and nifty passes against a backline that still faces questions as the Red Devils face a daunting (perhaps impossible) climb in the EPL.
But for one evening, 11 on 11, United is still a quality threat to take down a favorite on the road – especially with a happy group of athletes playing for a manager they respect.
I’m loving Manchester United against the (+0.5) goal spread given that de Gea is one of the few goalkeepers who can potentially out-play Lloris even if Tottenham controls more of the play and attempts more dangerous shots in 90+ minutes.
Finally, the best bet of all might be the Over (3). Given how each attack has been flying high while each backline is having its ups and downs, there are at least equal chances of a very high-scoring or low-scoring result on Sunday.
A high-tempo fixture with dangerous strikers and midfielders roaming around the box equals at least a 60% chance of the total going over 3 goals in the showdown between world-class forward lines.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.