I t beggars belief that a bloody nosed and shell-shocked Solksjaer is still able to drag his broken regime to White Hart Lane this weekend. At any elite institution serious about winning trophies, he would have been hung drawn and quartered that very evening but at a club which prefers to romanticise about the past rather than take a strong step forward into the modern game, United seem to be ridiculously proud of the fact that they are willing to give their manager a chance to turn it around.
It is beyond question that the players 'downed tools' last Sunday despite arguments to the contrary. Some fans find it unfathomable that a group of players can give anything less than 100% effort to the cause and on the other hand you have fans who believe players get together and deliberately concoct plans to get managers fired. The truth is often more nuanced.
When players lose faith in a manager and his gameplan, there is an apathy which permeates into their effort levels, leading to slower reaction times, sloppy decision making and an involuntary unwillingness to put their bodies on the line in life and death 50/50s. They start to drift off and think about things other than football and the collective bond which is needed for 11 men to act as one brain and body on the pitch dissipates. That is what we saw last Sunday rather than a masterplan to get Ole sacked.
As for Spurs, there too seems to be a disconnect present between the team and the manager. A disconnect that has been all too present since Harry Kane was reintroduced into the starting lineup. When your captain has sought to move away all summer and does not really want to be there... not to mention he is a tactical hindrance and a bad fit in terms of the manager's usual modus operandi, is it any great surprise that they also seem dysfunctional?
In terms of selection issues going into this game, Solskjaer surely has to recall Cavani. This almost certainly means that Sancho and Greenwood, arguably two of United's most naturally gifted players will find themselves on the bench with Ole bound to select the egotistical but productive trio of Bruno, Rashford and Ronaldo. One can't help feel that whilst all three put up solid individual numbers, they do not really make the team, a 'team' in the same way that Mane, Firmino and Salah operated in their prime. Spurs have no major selection issues.
Without further ado, let us dive into the tactics that will decide Saturday's encounter.
Since dropping Delle Alli, Spurs have become more prominent in possession. The key man in this evolution has been the resurgence of Ndomble who despite playing as a number 10 averages 88.9% in possession - in stark contrast to Bruno Fernandes who has a 76.2% passing accuracy. At times he drops deeper than Skipp or Hojberg to collect the ball of the centre backs and adds style to what was a rather functional build up phase.
Paradoxically, because all of Spurs midfielders average close to 90% passing accuracy, a lot of teams seem to have given up on pressing Spurs in possession and that has lead to Spurs not really scything their way through enemy lines. This can lead to a lot of stagnant ball circulation ball in their own half rather than pinning an opponent down in the attacking third which could be a reason why Kane has not had many touches in the final third.
Touching upon Kane, he would not be the first English player to be malfunctioning since the Euro's but in truth, one could argue that he was also failing to catch the eye during the European Championships themselves. He is not moving as well as he used to, and his box presence is non existent at the moment with only 0.10 shots on target per game. He is quite frankly hindering the Spurs offence in current form but is United's leaky backline the perfect tonic for his troubles?
On paper Maguire and Varane should be kyptonite for Kane, between them possessing the athleticism, intelligence and aerial ability to keep the Englishman quiet but as we know football is not played in theory. In practical terms, one could argue that Kane even in his current state has more to play for than they do which is not really saying much.
The main dangerman however is Son Heung-Min who has also looked out of sorts but gave Man City a torrid time when he was given the right platform. Now tactically Spurs may not be providing that for him right now, but this game pits two dysfunctional sides against each other which allows individuals to shine. Seeing as United's full backs are in disarray at the moment, perhaps the best place for the Korean in this game is in the wider half spaces.
However with Spurs now dominating possession, the question is whether they will produce enough transitional scenarios for the Korean to take advantage of? Liverpool were able to counter attack due to United's suicidal and disorganised pressing approach last week... Will Ole set them up in a low block this week? will his team actually carry out his instructions? these are all key factors in determining the Korean's influence this week.
With all rumours indicating that Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are to start yet again, Spurs must use Son and Lucas Moura to great effect in the press. The elephant in the room Kane, does make it more difficult to put in a properly aggressive press but the Englishman is intelligent and picks up pressing triggers well. That alone could be enough to win the ball off what is a very weary Harry Maguire.
Ndombele needs to sit on Fred and Skipp needs to press on to McTominay with Hojberg keeping tabs on Bruno. The more pressure this United team is under, the more likely it is going to feel the weight of last weeks defeat. The more starved that Ronaldo and Co are off the ball, the likelier that frustrations are going to kick in. However on the other hand, one could argue that Rashford, Ronaldo and Cavani thrive more on the counter attack. It is a delicate balance that Spurs need to strike tomorrow.
Whilst Cavani and Ronaldo have been effective together when United are chasing the result late into the game, I have my doubts as to whether they can be as effective over 90 minutes. Both of them have been effective due to United needing to throw the kitchen sink and pushing the full backs high up the pitch, putting crosses into the box. Can United afford to do that after last week? can they afford to do that when you have Son and Lucas Moura on the flanks ready to pounce on any aggressive positional plays?
With Rashford being one of Ole's most trusted players. It does raise the question as to what shape this attack will take, especially if Bruno is also going to start. One suggestion could be to return Ronaldo on to the flank. It is doubtful that he would track back but in terms of his crossing ability, Ronaldo on the right may not be the worst suggestion. Cavani would appreciate his delivery.
Will we see Van de Beek in midfield? potentially. It could be that Ole realises he has to change something but more likely than not he will trust the guys he believe that have delivered for him in the past. Perhaps he also believes that the losses have come from poor finishing or carelessness in defence rather than anything being wrong in midfield.
Spurs' centre back duo struggled against the physicality of Michail Antonio last week and he was able to hold the ball up in isolated positions and wait for support on the counter. United will need to utilise Cavani in the same way. He should target Romero especially who has not quite adapted to the physical side of the Premier League just yet.
Two teams who lack fluidity and are leaking goals. United can score goals even on the worst of days... usually. Spurs seem to be struggling for goals with Kane blunting the edge off their attack. On paper Varane and Maguire should be too much for him, but can this United side really stomach another fake result to keep the Norwegian at the helm for even longer?
Prediction… both teams cannot afford to lose but tactically Spurs seem to be better drilled, the players have not given up on the manager and whilst they looked impotent against West Ham, they did look difficult to break down. Against United they will have more room to play with and this could prove decisive. United are a wounded animal but one which needs to be put out of its misery sooner rather than later. It is difficult to foresee a win for the Reds here and another loss here will make Ole's tenure untenable going into the all important Champions League encounter against Atalanta.