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The inside track on United with Simon Peach of the Press Association

Posted on 10 December 2016  - 11:00

Simon Peach follows Manchester United everywhere in his role as Chief Football Writer for the Press Association - including this week's trip out to the Ukraine. Fresh off the plane, here is Simon's assessment of Jose Mourinho's men ahead of Sunday's cracker at Old Trafford.

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Simon Peach
Chief Football Writer, PA

simon_peachYou have watched United week in, week out for the Press Association, what have you made of their form this season?
Simon: "United's swagger and energy has returned since Jose Mourinho's appointment, but a lack of consistency and goals has seriously dented their Premier League campaign. They have looked solid enough in the cups, reaching the EFL Cup semi-finals and Europa League last-32, but a lack of cutting edge has harmed them in the league. United have won only one of their last eight Premier League matches - a run that has seen six draws, including four in succession at home. If this is to be a successful season, they need to start killing off teams."

Below: Paul Pogba

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Naturally, a lot was made of Paul Pogba’s return to United and that big price tag - how has he performed?
Simon: "When you make somebody the most expensive player in the world, there is a level of expectation that is always going to be hard to match. There have been flashes of Pogba's undoubted quality, but he is still finding his feet. Mourinho has yet to find the best way of harnessing his talent like Juventus managed, but it is hard to believe that he will not eventually shine at Old Trafford. At the age of 23, he certainly has time on his side."

Below: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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There are a lot of fascinating match-ups in this fixture - De Gea and Lloris, Ibrahimovic up against Alderweireld/Vertonghen back together, both sets of full-backs who will look to push on and, of course, Pogba and Dele Alli. What do you see as the key battle?
Simon: "I am fascinated to see how United's misfiring attack fares against Tottenham's miserly defence. The likes of West Brom and Crystal Palace have notched more than United's 19-goal haul, while Spurs boast the tightest defence in the Premier League. The return to fitness of Toby Alderweireld, a player I rate among the best centre-backs in Europe, should make life tough for United, although shackling Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be easy. The 35-year-old has netted seven in his last six matches in all competitions, but admitted after scoring in Thursday's Europa League win at Zorya Luhansk that balancing domestic and continental exertions was 'killing' him."

Below: Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates his goal against FC Zorya Luhansk

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How is Jose Mourinho likely to line-up at Old Trafford? Are there any players definitely missing?
Simon: "Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw remain out through injury, but Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian look set to start having been rested for Thursday's trip to Ukraine. Eric Bailly's return to fitness after the knee injury that ruled him out for six weeks gives Mourinho a decision to make in the heart of defence given how well Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have filled in. The United boss also has continued headache of how to shoehorn his attacking players into the most effective line-up. Henrikh Mkhitaryan's man-of-the-match display in Odessa underlined his credentials."

Below: Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho last season

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Finally, what do you make of Spurs’ form and how do you see this game panning out?
Simon: "After such a memorable campaign and with so many rivals making big changes in the summer, it always felt like this season would be tougher for Tottenham. That said, given the injuries Spurs have had to deal with, I have been impressed by the manner in which Mauricio Pochettino has kept things ticking over. Only seven points off the top, I am only expecting things to improve. Whether Pochettino, a manager I have seen in close quarters covering Southampton and Spurs, can get his first win at Old Trafford remains to be seen, but given United have had to travel back from Eastern Europe, this looks a good chance."