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#FirstTeam #PremierLeague #PreMatch #Opinion #ManUtd

United preview with James Ducker, Telegraph

Fri 11 January 2019, 15:48|Tottenham Hotspur

James Ducker, Northern Football Correspondent for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, knows the Manchester football scene inside-out - he takes a look at Sunday’s huge Premier League encounter at Wembley in our latest ‘Preview from the Press Box’.

The Solskjaer effect

James: “There has been an enormous bounce for United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He’s very at home and steeped in the club's culture having spent 11 years as a player and then four as a coach. He has a strong grasp and understanding of the values there and that makes a difference. Solskjaer wants to play on the front foot and his style of football chimes with the way United want to play football. He exudes positivity. It’s understandable why United turned to him and he’s clearly enjoyed a strong start.”

This game...

James: “It’s by far United’s biggest test under Solskjaer. Clearly, the fixtures have been kind but some of those games - Huddersfield, Cardiff, Bournemouth, Newcastle – are the sort of games United have struggled with in recent seasons. United are playing 20 yards further up the field and the full-backs are pushed so much further on that the central defenders are often left two-versus-two.

"The attack has a lot more freedom, far more interplay, it’s quicker with more speed of thought and movement – more in keeping with what you’d traditionally associate with a United team. I still think there will be bumps in the road though. United have been able to play on the front foot against the other sides (they’ve faced so far under Solskjaer) and scored a hatful, but didn’t keep a clean sheet until Newcastle. The question is can they play that expansively and still be strong defensively against an attacking unit as fluid and potent as Spurs?

"This is a team massively in-form with Kane and Son both flying at the moment. There are obvious shortcomings from a defensive perspective in the United team and how they juggle that balance between being more attack-minded and still shutting Spurs out is basically what a lot of United fans are going to be interested to see. It will be a challenge.

"Luke Shaw has had a good season, Victor Lindelof has shown improvement, there are issues at right-back, Diogo Dalot has all the potential but is very raw and I’d expect Ashley Young to play at left-back (over Antonio Valencia). Ander Herrera has done well in recent weeks, Nemanja Matic’s form has improved sharply, so there is a better defensive base in midfield enabling Paul Pogba to be more attack-minded, we’re seeing the Pogba we expect to see. But the way Spurs play will ask United a lot of questions - they would ask any team in Europe a lot of questions.”

Key man

James: “I’d go for Marcus Rashford. He’s been really liberated by Solskjaer and Rashford has an enormous amount of admiration for him. Solskjaer thinks Rashford is absolutely brilliant with stacks of potential that has largely been untapped. Rashford will start up front. He has pace, speed of thought and movement and crucially the confidence to ask questions of Spurs’ back line. He has set the tone under Solskjaer with how he’s led the line and how he performs will be crucial to what United do against Spurs. Son is in outstanding form and electric on the counter, he’ll ask a lot of questions of United’s full-backs. Harry Kane is Harry Kane and he will fancy it. For me though, the dangerman from a United perspective is Christian Eriksen – a great schemer, great at finding pockets of space, great vision, great technique. If United don’t get to grips with him it will put their defence under an enormous degree of pressure.”

Prediction

James: “That’s tough - I'll go for a 2-2 draw.”