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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Alexis Sanchez bolsters an already strong Manchester United side against Tottenham

Much of the focus will be on whether Chilean can score his first goal for United, while Harry Kane looks for his 100th in Premier League

Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez has enjoyed success against Tottenham Hotspur while at Arsenal. Paul Childs / Reuters
Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez has enjoyed success against Tottenham Hotspur while at Arsenal. Paul Childs / Reuters

Perhaps it is a fitting fixture to take place in the final few hours of the transfer window. Tottenham Hotspur against Manchester United should provide a league debut for the most stunning signing of the window.

“I can’t believe it,” said David Beckham, one of Manchester United’s lineage of distinguished No 7s. To add spice to a successor’s top-flight bow, Alexis Sanchez renews a rivalry with Spurs.

The Chilean’s best performance in his final half-season with Arsenal came against Tottenham. He was the catalyst for a North London derby triumph. Wembley has represented a happy hunting ground. He has scored seven goals at the national stadium, the most recent in last season’s FA Cup final.

An eighth would have a significance at a club where the finest attacking signings have nearly always registered an early goal. So, too, will his station. The Chilean’s debut came on the left flank in the 4-0 win Yeovil, yet Anthony Martial has excelled in that position, scoring in his last three starts before being rested on Friday.

“Good problems to have,” Jose Mourinho said.

His Tottenham counterpart reflected on the luxury of choice Mourinho has. "He's a great player, of course,” Mauricio Pochettino said.

“One more for Manchester United added to their squad. Alexis Sanchez, [Juan] Mata, [Jesse] Lingard, [Marcus] Rashford, Martial, [Romelu] Lukaku, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic: plenty of talented players and one option more, another great player."

The financial disparity mean there is a case for anointing Tottenham the underdogs. So does recent form. Whereas United brushed aside League Two opponents in the FA Cup, Spurs were held by Newport. They were nine minutes from going out.

They have drawn their last two games, costing them momentum at a point when they seemed to be surging.

Spurs kick off eight points behind United and, with a Sunday trip to Anfield, this could prove a week to dent their chances of a top-four finish.

“I don't think the key to the top four is win [on Wednesday] or win on Sunday,” Pochettino countered. “But it is important to be there and reduce the gap. There's a lot of games to play. But yes, it's so important to win games to be close and have possibility to fight to the end.”

And after initial difficulties at Wembley, Spurs have been potent of late, with 17 goals in their last five home games. United are yet to concede in 2018. It sets up the sort of occasion when something has to give. It is also a fixture that has become progressively harder.

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Harry Kane is closing in on yet another personal milestone. Michael Steele / Getty Images
Harry Kane is closing in on yet another personal milestone. Michael Steele / Getty Images

Alex Ferguson’s infamous team talk – “lads, it’s Tottenham” – is no longer valid. Its assumptions, of mentally frail opponents who could be brushed aside, relate to a former incarnation.

Pochettino’s team, in contrast, have beaten Liverpool, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at home this season. United have lost on their last two visits to Spurs, albeit at White Hart Lane, and have not won away against them since Ferguson’s reign.

Little wonder, therefore, that Mourinho eschewed mind games and was in respectful mode when he discussed Spurs. “They have some of the best players in the country, a very good manager and a very difficult opponent,” he said.

Most obviously, Spurs have Harry Kane, scorer of 30 goals in 30 games this season and 99 in his Premier League career. The division’s next centurion should benefit from the return of Christian Eriksen. A return to form of Dele Alli, a past tormentor of United, would be welcome.

Kane’s supply line is set to be strengthened, though Pochettino was reluctant to discuss Lucas Moura, the probable signing from Paris Saint-Germain.

A focus on Sanchez and Kane’s searches for a first and 100th goal respectively takes some of the attention away from Lukaku, whose record against top-six clubs, consisting of just six goals in his last 40 games, remains wretched.

Mourinho’s sole away victory against United’s peers, meanwhile was last month’s 3-1 win at Arsenal.

Lukaku will not face Tottenham’s best defender, with Toby Alderweireld still sidelined and Serge Aurier and Harry Winks are also out. But Danny Rose and Hugo Lloris are back.

United will again be without Eric Bailly and Ibrahimovic. But, as Pochettino pointed out, Sanchez is an addition to a formidable attacking armoury.