The fight for the runners up spot behind Manchester City will intensify on Saturday lunchtime, when second placed Manchester United host Spurs in third.
Jose Mourinho parked the bus at Anfield, then forgot to put his attack back into gear at Huddersfield. Meanwhile Mauricio Pochettino had a much smarter idea when facing Liverpool: attack them. His boys tore through the mirage that is the Reds’ back line, and they are in fine form at the moment (last night’s cup exit aside).
Although United had a wretched record in the big six mini-league last season, they did at least win this fixture. They scored the only goal, and were then able to keep Spurs at bay.
The visitors only had three shots in the box, and United blocked two of them. So, it’ll be fascinating to see how Saturday’s match plays out if Spurs score first.
Shot map from Manchester United (orange) 1-0 Tottenham (blue), 11th December 2016
Are Tottenham likely to bag the opening goal though? You can get 13/10 if you think it’s on the cards. It’s never easy to take the lead against a Mourinho team; Jose’s United have only conceded first in the league 12 times since he took charge, and only Chelsea (with 11) can better that.
Only the Blues from London and The Reds of Manchester have scored first more often than Spurs in the same period though. I wouldn’t say Spurs scoring first is a certainty by any means, but they’re more likely than most will be when playing United. The home side are priced at 8/11 if you want to put your money on them taking the lead.
Which player is going to break the deadlock in this one? In last week’s column, for Spurs vs. Liverpool, I suggested Dele Alli was due a goal, and sure enough he got one. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and any idiot has a fair chance of scoring against Liverpool, but even so, Alli scored as predicted.
For once, nobody here is really on the brink of scoring though; neither side has a goal-less player who has had shots worth even 0.4 expected goals this season.
It’s no surprise to see Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane as favourites to score the opening goal, at 4/1 and 9/2 respectively. After having a least three shots in his first seven league matches this season, the Belgian has only had a total of three in the last two. He didn’t have a single pop at goal in his 25 minutes against Swansea in the Carabao Cup either.
Man Utd two up in the #CarabaoCup and now brings Lukaku on. Mourinho keen to pad out his stats for the next time someone calls him negative
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 24, 2017
Even by elite striker standards that doesn’t make him due a goal, as the best only score around one in six of their goal attempts. But as he’s at home, and takes the soft penalties United get, I’d back him ahead of Kane this week.
The match referee, Jonathan Moss, is prone to awarding spot kicks; only two current Premier League refs with over 100 games to their name give penalties more frequently.
If you really want to go through the looking glass of conspiracy theories, United have won nine and drawn one of their ten home games with this ref, including a 1-0 win over Spurs in 2015.
Last week, I tipped both teams to score at Wembley, and so it proved. This week my suggestion is to go the other way. No, not to ignore what I have to say, but to bet both teams won’t score. Here’s why.
This table shows how many league matches teams have played where both sides scored since the start of last season. As Spurs have conceded the fewest league goals in that period (with 32) and United are only one goal behind, it makes sense to see them close to the bottom. It also makes sense to take the 11/4 punt that both teams won’t score.
It’s a shame you can’t combine that in a double with a bet that there will be fewer than 2.5 goals. Bookmakers, eh? Still, it’s probably worth a punt on its own at 4/5.
Since Mourinho took over at Old Trafford, 28 of their 47 matches have seen fewer than three goals, which is the most in the division.
That’s only one fewer than the totals of Chelsea and Manchester City combined. That’s entertainment, Jose. And people say he’s just Tony Pulis with money – the cheek of it.
Mourinho and Pulis arm in arm, off home to mate and create the biggest thunderbastard manager lovechild imaginable.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) May 18, 2015
A lot will depend on who scores first. But if United take the lead, I can see a similar match to last season, and both of the previously mentioned two bets will probably come in.
If you agree with me, United to win to nil at 13/5 looks a great bet. For the sake of the watching millions though, let’s hope Spurs score first. United might actually be forced into doing something then.
* All odds correct at time of posting.