In the wake of another comically catastrophic few days at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the Lilywhites return to the capital to take on Premier League top-four rivals Manchester United on Thursday night.
While the hosts were thumped 6-1 by Newcastle United on Sunday and subsequently gave Cristian Stellini the boot, the Red Devils set up an all-Manchester FA Cup final, breaking Brighton & Hove Albion hearts on penalties.
“Wholly unacceptable” and “devastating” were the words used by a dejected Daniel Levy to describe his side’s mauling at the hands of Newcastle at the weekend, as the Magpies tore Stellini’s back-four experiment to shreds with five goals inside just 21 minutes at St James’ Park.
Just over 24 hours later, Stellini – who had only been promoted to the top job after leaving boss Antonio Conte behind – was inevitably sacked from his post, the latest in a long line of farcical episodes for the North London club as Ryan Mason takes charge for the time being once again.
Having gleaned just five points from 12 on offer during Stellini’s doomed tenure, Tottenham’s top-four chances are wilting away, sitting fifth in the rankings but six points behind Man United and Newcastle – who have both played fewer games – while Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool could also leapfrog the Lilywhites should they win their games in hand.
Mason – who many expected to take the reins when Conte acrimoniously departed in the first place – at least possesses some experience of top-level management, overseeing the end to the 2020-21 season after Jose Mourinho’s goodbye, and he takes over as Spurs strive to improve a paltry record of two wins from their last nine games in all tournaments.
Tottenham have both scored and conceded in each of their last six games since their goalless draw with AC Milan back in March, but defeat to Bournemouth earlier this month ended a five-game winning home run in the Premier League, and it would take a special case of new manager bounce for Spurs to somehow keep their Champions League dream alive.
As goalless draws go, Man United and Brighton & Hove Albion’s Wembley 0-0 was one of the more entertaining ones, with both sides enjoying several promising spells in and around the penalty area, albeit without the crucial end product.
Following 120 minutes of breathless action in the capital, it would prove to be unlucky number 13 from the spot for Brighton, as Solly March blazed his penalty over the top before Victor Lindelof kept his composure to send Man United into their 21st FA Cup final, where bitter adversaries Manchester City lie in wait.
Progressing to English football’s showpiece event was the perfect tonic to their Sevilla-inflicted Europa League humiliation for Man United, whose three-game winning streak in the Premier League has allowed them to open up a six-point lead over Spurs in fourth place, while Newcastle are only above Erik ten Hag’s men on goal difference having played a game more.
Not since Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell season in 2012-13 have Man United managed to win four top-flight games on the bounce without conceding, but the Red Devils’ form on rival territory does not make for incredibly positive reading, as they have only won two of their last six Premier League games on the road.
However, a straightforward 2-0 triumph over Tottenham in October extended Man United’s winning run against the Lilywhites to four games since their 6-1 Old Trafford humiliation, although Spurs have now experienced a taste of their own medicine in that regard.
As if the five-goal demolition at Newcastle was not sickening enough for Tottenham, the Lilywhites have been dealt a fresh blow with number one Hugo Lloris, who was withdrawn at half time with a hip problem that does not look promising, according to the Frenchman.
Rodrigo Bentancur (knee), Emerson Royal (knee), Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring) and Yves Bissouma (ankle) will welcome Lloris into the medical bay, but Lucas Moura has now served a three-game ban, while both Clement Lenglet and Ben Davies were fit enough to watch on from the bench at St James’ Park, although maybe they wish they had not.
Stellini’s fatal back-four experiment ended in disaster, so Pape Sarr – who was the fall guy at Newcastle – is sure to make way, and Mason should consider bringing Davies straight back into the team if the Welshman can prove his fitness.
Similarly, Man United also enter the midweek contest with a fresh injury concern to an integral cog, as Bruno Fernandes picked up a knock in extra time on Sunday and has since been photographed with crutches and a protective boot at home.
Ten Hag revealed in his pre-game press conference that Fernandes is doubtful, but the images do not look good for the Portuguese, who could join Donny van de Beek (knee), Alejandro Garnacho (ankle), Tom Heaton (ankle), Phil Jones (knee), Lisandro Martinez (foot) and Raphael Varane (ankle) on the injury list.
Scott McTominay is also ruled out with a knock that kept him out of the FA Cup semi-final, but the Red Devils will at least welcome Harry Maguire back from suspension. However, with Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof holding firm at Wembley, the centre-back will not waltz his way back into the XI, although the need for fresh legs after 120 minutes will benefit him.
Tottenham Hotspur possible starting lineup:
Forster; Romero, Dier, Davies; Porro, Hojbjerg, Skipp, Perisic; Kulusevski, Kane, Son
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Eriksen, Casemiro, Sabitzer; Antony, Martial, Rashford