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High-stakes clash awaits United and Spurs

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Defeat is not an option for Jose Mourinho or Mauricio Pochettino as their teams seek to keep pace with leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Mourinho’s Manchester United and Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur begin the weekend five points behind City as they face each other at Old Trafford in Saturday’s early kick-off.

United have lost significant ground in the last fortnight, following up a dire goalless draw at Liverpool by falling to a surprising first league defeat of the season last Saturday, as Huddersfield Town beat them 2-1.

Mourinho, who accused his players of a “poor attitude” after the Huddersfield reverse, made seven changes for Tuesday’s League Cup fourth-round tie at fellow Premier League club Swansea and was rewarded with a 2-0 victory.

Most of those omitted from the starting line-up in midweek are set to be restored against Spurs, among them Romelu Lukaku, who is seeking a return to form, having gone four games without a goal after scoring 11 in his first 10 United appearances.

Mourinho is looking to get some of his injured players back quickly, although he has given no indication as to when France midfielder Paul Pogba will be ready to return from a hamstring injury sustained on September 12.

Phil Jones, who limped off at Huddersfield with a thigh strain, was among the substitutes at Swansea, and will be fit, while his central defensive partner Eric Bailly is also close to being available after suffering a groin injury with Ivory Coast at the start of the month.

Marouane Fellaini is still recovering from a knee ligament strain, though, while fellow midfielder Michael Carrick also remains injured.

– ‘Big statement’ –

United have won all four of their home league matches this season, scoring 14 goals and conceding none, and Mourinho is seeking to keep that sequence going.

Midfielder Ander Herrera said: “Tottenham are a direct rival every season. In the last two or three years they have improved a lot and they are contenders for everything; the Champions League, the Premier League and for both cups. 

“It will be a big statement if we beat them.”

Pochettino’s side should have been heading to Manchester full of confidence following the emphatic 4-1 defeat of Liverpool last weekend.

However, an unexpected home loss to struggling West Ham United in the League Cup in midweek delivered a sharp reality check to the north London club who squandered a 2-0 half-time lead before eventually losing 3-2 to the Hammers.

Pochettino fielded a much-changed side and rested in-form striker Harry Kane, but defeat undoubtedly came as a shock.

“In football, you have these kind of days and these kind of games,” said Michel Vorm, the back-up keeper who was captain for the night. “We just need to focus on Saturday and we will.

“You can’t win every game but we need to analyse this and make sure we learn from it.”

Pochettino excused his players’ performance on the basis of their demanding recent schedule but the manager made it clear he expects a reaction against United.

“It’s difficult to explain,” he said. “We must fight and be aggressive until the end. We lost the game for different reasons and now we have to be relaxed, calm, try to analyse why and then try to be competitive against Manchester United on Saturday.”

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