Belfast Telegraph

5 talking points ahead of Manchester United's clash with Tottenham

Manchester United host Tottenham on Sunday as both sides look to underline their credentials for finishing in the top four.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at five talking points ahead of the match.

Poor form must be temporary

Manchester United have certainly endured a disappointing start to the season but their stuttering form could soon prove irretrievable. United are sixth but nine points behind fourth place and 13 adrift of Chelsea at the top of the table. They may already be out of the title race and if they lose to Tottenham, Champions League qualification would also appear at risk of slipping away. That would crank up the pressure on Jose Mourinho, who has overseen just one victory in eight in the league. Mourinho needs wins and fast.

Harry Kane out to prove a point

Tottenham were always going to improve with Harry Kane back in the side but few predicted the striker would find form quite so quickly. Kane has seven goals in six games since he returned from an ankle injury at the start of November and it is no coincidence Spurs have also rediscovered their attacking groove, scoring eight goals in their last two matches. United were reportedly keeping a keen eye on Kane's contract negotiations earlier this season and now he has signed a new five-year-deal, who would bet against him reminding the Red Devils of what they could have had?

United's dodgy finishing

Mourinho insists United are playing well but are being let down by a combination of bad luck and wasteful finishing. To some extent the statistics support his theory. In their last three league matches, United have managed 39 attempts at goal but scored only three times, with each game ending 1-1. It does not bode well for this fixture against Tottenham, who boast the best defensive record in the division so far and will be even more resilient with Toby Alderweireld back.

Toby Alderweireld in, Eric Dier out

Alderweireld came on in the 68th minute against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday to make his first appearance in seven and a half weeks. The Belgian has been out with a knee injury but such is his influence on Tottenham's defence, he is likely to start at Old Trafford. That would be a major boost to Spurs but it also creates a dilemma for Mauricio Pochettino. If Alderweireld plays alongside Jan Vertonghen, does Eric Dier move back into midfield instead of Victor Wanyama or on to the substitutes' bench?

5. Title challengers or fighters for the top four?

Neither of these teams have looked particularly convincing title challengers so far this season. Both have struggled desperately for cutting edge, with Tottenham particularly blunt without Kane and United creating chances but failing to finish them off. The temptation is to assume both will be fighting for the top four rather than the title at the end of the campaign but a strong run over Christmas could see that soon change. Victory could kick-start a pivotal month.

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