Manchester United and Tottenham will contest the first FA Cup semi-final on Saturday at teatime. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action...
"Watch for Dele Alli’s runs in behind to collect long diagonals from defence."
Man Utd v Tottenham
Saturday 17:30, BBC One.
Match Odds: Man Utd [3.4], Tottenham [2.4], The Draw [3.6].
Both sides desperate to progress
Bigger sides have been accused of disrespecting the FA Cup in recent years, but there's a sense that both these sides could do with trophy success at Wembley, and will put their full resources into this semi-final.
Jose Mourinho's Manchester United have endured a disappointing campaign and winning silverware would effectively save it from being a complete non-event. Meanwhile, Tottenham have now gone over a decade without success, and for all Mauricio Pochettino's protestations that winning this competition wouldn't change anything significant, the opportunity to establish Tottenham as a 'winning' side shouldn't be underestimated. With both essentially guaranteed of their top four position, both can focus on the FA Cup.
Mourinho likely to go 4-3-3
Tactically, there are several question marks across the pitch for both clubs. For Mourinho, the major question mark this season has been about his system, but recent performances suggest that he's likely to field a 4-3-3 formation here. That means Paul Pogba being allowed license to push forward into attack, with the safety net of both Nemanja Matic and - probably - Ander Herrera alongside him, although Marouane Fellaini has sometimes been wheeled out for big matches. This gives Pogba freedom to attack, but the Frenchman has been rather inconsistent this season even when fielded in his best position.
At the back, Mourinho is likely fo field Eric Bailly alongside Chris Smalling, who has been in good goalscoring form recently. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are now established as first-choice full-backs despite being wingers, while any question about the goalkeeping position has been answered by the fact Sergio Romero, Mourinho's 'cup keeper', is out injured. David De Gea will start instead, which is a big boost.
Upfront, Romelu Lukaku is in good form, and will be supported by Alexis Sanchez cutting inside from the left. The Chilean still hasn't found his best performances at United, but has tended to play well in big games at Wembley during his time in English football. The same can be said of Jesse Lingard, who will probably start from the right with the likes of Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford being left on the bench. Lingard has habit of popping up with important goals and will sneak into clever positions between the lines.
Pochettino to stick with a back four
Pochettino seems likely to use a four-man defence here, although you can never rule out him using a three-man defence instead, especially now Toby Alderweireld has returned to the side, providing more options at the back. Nevertheless, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen will probably continue with Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier wide. Those two could become wing-backs if Pochettino wants a back three. Serge Aurier is out of form and Danny Rose out of favour.
In the centre of the pitch, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele will command the centre of the pitch, with Dier likely to watch Sanchez's darts inside and Dembele likely to go up against Ander Herrera. Dembele's slaloms forward could be crucial in Spurs' transitions.
Going forward, Son Heung-min was surprisingly omitted for last weekend's defeat to Manchester City but will surely start here and attack Valencia, while Christian Eriksen will drift inside and drag Ashley Young narrow. Dele Alli will push high up the pitch to support Harry Kane, who has returned from injury and got himself on the scoresheet against Brighton in midweek, but doesn't look entirely fit. Watch for Alli's runs in behind to collect long diagonals from defence.
Spurs in familiar surroundings
Tottenham have the benefit of 'home' advantage, and I fancy them to progress here. I'm still far from convinced by Mourinho's Manchester United, who largely defend well but are depending upon individuals for their attacking play. Sanchez hasn't performed well since his move, Pogba is massively inconsistent and I'm not sure Lingard's record of scoring in previous matches at Wembley means he's particularly likely to score here.
Spurs, on the other hand, will press aggressively and get the ball into their forward players quickly. I'm slightly concerned by Kane's apparent lack of mobility, but I fancy Eriksen and Son to get the better of their opposite numbers and cause problems. I'll back Spurs to qualify, rather than to win in 90 minutes, at [1.8].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Jose Mourinho’s men bounced back from a shock 1-0 home defeat against West Brom last time out with a 2-0 away win at Bournemouth on Wednesday evening and can now set their sights on this crucial semi final against Tottenham. A season without a trophy is never acceptable at Old Trafford and you can be sure that the Red Devils will be fully focused on getting the required result here.
It’s been a long time since Tottenham have lifted the FA Cup (1991) and while under Mauricio Pochettino they have been making huge strides as a club they really need to win something soon to confirm that they are worthy of mixing it in the Champions League and with the Premier League elite clubs. But the semi final stage of this great competition is normally as far as they get, having failed to reach the final in their last seven attempts at this stage.
It is interesting that the game will be played at the temporary home of Tottenham Hotspur and while that may give them a home feel about it due to the ticket allocation I am sure the Man Utd fans will be keen to make it a level playing field. United are yet to concede in this year’s competition, having scored 10 on-route to this stage, Spurs on the other hand had to endure two replays after drawing at Newport County (1-1) and Rochdale (2-2) in the third and fourth rounds.
Spurs won 2-0 when United visited them this season and United won 1-0 at Old Trafford but since 2012 (12 semi finals) only one semi final has not seen both sides scoring (Wigan v Milwall 2-0 2013) and I think Both Teams To Score at around [1.91] may not be a bad call in this one.