Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur: Combined XI
Tottenham Hotspur arrive at Old Trafford on Wednesday with a spring in their step. The appointment of José Mourinho has led to three consecutive wins for the North London side, not too dissimilar to the upturn in Manchester United's form after Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed as caretaker manager last year.
While Spurs are high on confidence, United are anything but. A draw against Aston Villa at home means United have won only four league games this season, leaving them 9th on the table.
Mourinho had a positive reception at Old Trafford when he was present as a TV pundit during his 11 months without a club. It looks set to continue on Wednesday, but José being José, he would love nothing more than to prove a point to the decision-makers in Manchester. The contrasting managerial situations and the talent on the field promise to make it a tantalising tie. That being said, let's look at what a combined XI of the two sides would look like.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The four-time Player of the Year winner at United has been reliable this season without reaching the extraordinary levels that enabled him to single-handedly ensure the Red Devils remained competitive.
For the first time in a while, David de Gea has what resembles a clear, first choice defence ahead of him. While he can do better than 3 clean sheets in 15 games this season, the defence is bound to get better as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire settle in and Brandon Williams improves.
His calm presence is vital for the fortunes of this side. With a contract renewal signed until June 2023 and rumours of a move away finally subsiding, he will look to reach those stratospheric performance levels again, while hoping he won't need to.
Right-back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
United raised a few eyebrows when they spent a little over £52 million to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace. He won over the United fans rather quickly with his penchant for sliding tackles which are timed almost perfectly. The United faithful have been used to seeing Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young at right-back. It is no wonder that his defensive ability has been a breath of fresh air.
He has carried on from where he left off at Crystal Palace, rarely beaten 1-v-1 against a winger, he has held is own on the right flank. Improved positioning has meant that he needs to tackle less than he did before, he isn't afraid to get into a duel. Nicknamed 'The Spider', he is certainly living up to his moniker.
However, a United right-back is expected to contribute offensively. With no attacking contribution in sixteen starts this season, he needs to improve on the ball. At 22, he has age on his side to go on and become one of the best right-backs United have ever had.
Centre-back: Toby Alderweireld
Toby Alderweireld is one of the many key players linked with a Tottenham exit because of a contract which expires at the end of the season. There was a €25 million release clause which wasn't activated by any suitors as Alderweireld would prefer to leave for free at the end of the season so that he has more say in which club he goes to while bagging a bigger signing-on fee.
While Vertonghen was frozen out by Pochettino, Alderweireld has been ever-present for the North London side this season. Coveted by Mourinho during his time in Manchester, it is no surprise that he has started all three games alongside Davinson Sanchez since the appointment of the Portuguese.
While Spurs have conceded six goals in the three games, they will only improve. A spell under Mourinho before he makes the switch is bound to make him a better defender.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
United haven't had a leader in defence who is comfortable on the ball since the departure of Rio Ferdinand. It is fitting that the £80 million signing from Leicester who ticks all the boxes took the number 5 jersey previously worn by Ferdinand.
While he is yet to transform the defence in the manner Virgil van Dijk did at Liverpool, you can see the building blocks already in place. Solskjaer has already pointed to his leadership qualities, mooting him as a future United captain. His presence on the left side of central defence allows Lindelof to play on his preferred right side.
Although a tackle success rate of 63% needs improvement, he has made key recoveries and interceptions for United while being a strong aerial presence at both ends. The Red Devils can safely build a defence around him.
Left-back: Danny Rose
It is difficult to pick a left-back in two sides who have been defensively frail with no player standing out. With Luke Shaw injured and Brandon Williams only recently beginning to start games, Danny Rose takes the spot simply because he has been a regular feature for Tottenham this season.
For all his apparent shortcomings, Pochettino trusted him in the Champions League final last season and continued to pick him over Ben Davies this season. He has been solid and dependable so far and should improve under Mourinho as the season progresses.
Centre Midfield: Harry Winks
A product of the Tottenham academy, Harry Winks has made huge strides in the past couple of years. A neat and safe passer, he makes key defensive contributions while being effective in transition. His high energy levels enable him to have a big impact on games for club and country.
He has continued in the same vein this season. A passing success rate of 90.1% shows that he rarely loses the ball while linking the defence to the midfield from deep. With approximately 0.7 key passes and 1.1 dribbles per game, he has been used to progress play by Pochettino and now Mourinho.
He may be the answer to England's creativity issues from midfield and become what Jack Wilshere had the potential to be.
Centre Midfield: Scott McTominay
Before his injury, Scott McTominay won the United Player of the Month award for September and October. Such has been his impact that United didn't feel Pogba's absence as much as everyone thought they would have.
His primary role was thought to be in defensive midfield. He took more responsibility after Pogba's injury and became a proper box-to-box midfielder. His contribution of 3 goals and 1 assist from central midfield is vital for a side which is struggling to score goals as freely. With an average of 3.6 long balls per game, he looks to switch the play for his side and keep the attack moving.
That he has been fouled 2.7 times per game shows how brave he has been on the ball. His leadership qualities have also been noted as he shouts orders to more senior players while organising the team on the pitch.
Solskjaer mentioned in a presser that he expects one of Pogba and Mctominay to be back on Wednesday. On current form, United fans would be forgiven to hope that the Scottish international makes the cut.
Left-Wing: Marcus Rashford
The use of Anthony Martial as a centre forward has allowed Rashford to play on the left and then dart in. With 10 goals and 4 assists this season, the academy lad has been key in keeping United afloat.
He has been ever-present for Solskjaer this season, even leading the line due to the injury-enforced absence of Martial. At the age of 22, he already appeared for United an astonishing 203 times. He is a senior squad member by virtue of how long he has been with the first team. He is expected to continue in the same way and really kick on from here.
There have been occasions where has missed chances, but as long as he keeps scoring, the missed chances will be less of an issue.
Attacking Midfield: Dele Alli
Even before Pochettino was sacked, Dele Alli had shown improvement in his form over the past month or two. The general despondency was such that it was clubbed with everything negative around the club. However, Mourinho's appointment has changed the perception in a matter of less than two weeks.
Alli was one of the first ones Mourinho gave an individual pep talk to after this appointment. In what will surely be another famous soundbite from the Portuguese, he told Alli to 'Be Dele. The real Dele.' It has worked wonders as he has 3 goals and 1 assist in the last 3 games.
The Portuguese also said, "A number 10 for me is an eight-and-a-half when the team loses the ball and the number 10 is a nine-and-a-half when the team has the ball. Who is my perfect number 10? Wesley Sneijder and Deco.
Mesut Özil was very good at Real Madrid as well." Allowing Alli to express himself will get him the response he needs and find his next great number 10.
Right Wing: Son Heung-min
Son's season had been marred by the horrendous injury suffered by Andre Gomes as the two players collided while going for the ball. The picture of Son in tears is now famous as you could see how much it affected the South Korean international.
Even in a season where Spurs have underperformed, Son has delivered with 9 goals and 7 assists as a wide forward. He is such a lethal finisher, good with both feet and a hard worker, that Mourinho couldn't mould a better wide forward for his system even if he tried.
He has carried on in the same vein for the Portuguese and his performances will have a huge say in where Spurs finish this season.
Centre Forward: Harry Kane
Harry Kane is as close to a guarantee as you have of scoring goals in the Premier League. After managing Rashford and Martial, who are inconsistent in front of goal and Lukaku, who had trouble delivering in big games, Mourinho will be delighted to have an old-fashioned centre forward who is greedy for goals.
The Spurs frontman has scored 13 goals and 1 assist this season, not letting the side's under-performance slow him down. His ability to finish half-chances is second to none and he will continue to plunder goals under a manager who will relish utilising him in a way which will benefit the team.
It is clear that Mourinho values Kane's opinion as one of the leaders in the dressing room. Their relationship will be key for any success that Spurs have in the future.Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:13 IST