Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday March 15, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports
The Theatre of Dreams has been putting on a series of tragedies for the past 18 months, and Monday's was a tour de force. The return of the prodigal son proved painfully dramatic, as Danny Welbeck scored an FA Cup winner for Arsenal at Old Trafford, just months after his boyhood club United jettisoned him.
To add an extra twist, the malcontent Angel Di Maria was ejected from the action as referee Michael Oliver reviewed his attempt at a dive, and gave it the thumbs down. Di Maria didn't appreciate the review, and as all performers know, you can't manhandle the critics. All the while, the enigmatic Falcao was forced to wait in the wings after fluffing his lines once too often.
So, United's hopes of silverware have turned to dust, and a place in the top four is the only remaining target. I suspect talk of manager Louis Van Gaal being under pressure is premature, and even if the Red Devils fail to secure Champions League qualification, I fully expect the irascible Dutchman to be in place come August.
Despite the fact United have rarely hit top gear this season, it's easy to overdo the talk of crisis. United are fourth, two points ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool, and just a point and a place worse off than Arsenal. They have beaten Champions League qualification rivals Arsenal, Liverpool and Southampton this season, and they have held leaders Chelsea to a 1-1 draw. United fans might not always be keen on the possession-heavy style of play favoured by Van Gaal, but the results haven't been as shabby as some might suggest.
United are trading at 2.1211/10 in the Top 4 market, and the next five games could prove critical. United face Spurs and Liverpool in successive weeks, and after a home game against Aston Villa, they take on Chelsea and Manchester City in consecutive matches. This clash with Spurs is crucial, and Van Gaal won't have the suspended Di Maria and Jonny Evans at his disposal, while there are fitness doubts over Robin Van Persie, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw.
The stinging pain of Spurs' League Cup final defeat to Chelsea was at least partially eased by last weekend's 2-1 win at QPR, a result that pulled Mauricio Pochettino's men to within three points of the top four. Indeed, since that horrific week that saw Spurs lose at Wembley and tumble out of the Europa League, they have taken a maximum six points in the league.
Harry Kane continues to carve out a reputation as one of the Premier League's most clinical strikers, and his double at Loftus Road took his goal tally for the season to 26 in all competitions. It's a truly remarkable rise to prominence, given that he'd never reached double-figures in a campaign before - the 21-year-old was previously more of a gentle breeze than a "Hurri-Kane". It's worth noting Kane has scored in each of his last six away games in the league, and if you use the Sportsbook Product, he is 2.56/4 in the To Score market.
Spurs fans have plenty to be confident about ahead of Sunday's trip to Old Trafford. The Lilywhites have lost just two of their last 13 Premier League games, and they have racked up seven away wins in the top flight, a tally which has only been eclipsed by the top two.
Tottenham's recent record against United is pretty encouraging. They are unbeaten in their last five encounters with the north-west giants, and they have won on their last two league visits to Old Trafford, so there will be no fear factor. Pochettino also has no fresh injury concerns.
United's home record is outstanding, with 11 wins from 14 games, and that explains why they are trading at 1.9420/21 to take all three points. However, Spurs are very dangerous on the road, and United were made to look defensively frail against Arsenal on Monday. The gaps that were on show against the Gunners must be closed, or a talented playmaker like Christian Eriksen could have a field day.
I don't think United have been playing as badly as some pundits think, but as a unit they haven't quite got the killer instinct they had under Sir Alex Ferguson, and man for man I don't think they are much better than Spurs. Given Tottenham's recent record against United, their post-Wembley bounce and the superb form of Harry Kane, I think 1.9420/21 is a price to be opposed.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Six of United's last nine games in all competitions have featured three goals or more, and an Over 2.5 Goals bet has paid out in ten of their 14 home matches in the Premier League. Tottenham's last nine league outings have all gone over 2.5 goals, and their last ten away games in the league have featured at least three goals. As a result, Over 2.5 Goals seems attractively priced at 1.84/5.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.84/5
Lay Manchester United at 1.9420/21