Tottenham’s trip to Manchester United Sunday could be among the most important matches of the season for both teams. Spurs’ 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers this past weekend earned them their game-in-hand victory, taking them three points off United’s hold of the crucial Champions League earning position of fourth place. With a mere 10 matches left until the season concludes in May, both Spurs and United are in desperate need of a hot streak.

A competitive field has made both teams’ resurgence after difficult first halves of the season a true struggle. The remainder of the Spurs’ season offers hope; of the teams currently above them, Spurs have only United and Manchester City left to play. With losses in the FA Cup and Europa League, they are free of the burdens of a crowded schedule. Most importantly, they appear to have found a settled lineup. In the three games beginning with the League Cup final loss against Chelsea, they’ve only made one change to their starting XI, swapping Ben Davies for Danny Rose at left-back in their last game against QPR. Mauricio Pochettino has shuffled his center back pairings all season long, seemingly unable to decide on some combination of Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul, Federico Fazio and Eric Dier. The young Englishman, Dier, has enjoyed a run of games recently and has been promising, while Fazio’s quality performance against Manchester United when they last played in December might earn him a start this weekend. You can likely expect to see Dier as a regular in the lineup for the remainder of the season.

United’s lineup woes this season have left the team fractured at times. Big money signings from the summer along with several former starters in United’s XI have struggled with injuries or prolonged dips in form. Their FA Cup quarter-final match against Arsenal ended with a 2-1 loss and was made worse by the red card and suspension received by record signing Ángel Di María. An under-21 game against Tottenham’s reserve team last Tuesday ended 1-1, despite the fact that several prominent United players, including Radamel Falcao, Rafael and Adnan Januzaj, either started or featured as substitutes. Two results fail to tell the whole story, of course. Indeed Louis van Gaal’s experiments with his lineups, particularly the back four, have ended up producing efficient if unconvincing displays over the past several weeks that have kept them in contention for a top four finish. As they say, the best teams need to know how to win ugly. The conclusion to United’s season, however, will put that theory to the test – half of their 10 remaining games are against Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Their meeting in late December resulted in a lopsided draw, United commanding the first half while Spurs were resurgent in the second. It was the kind of match typical to the packed winter schedule in England – tired legs anticipating the next game three days later. Sunday’s contest, with both teams well rested, will likely be more representative of the two sides’ abilities. Pochettino’s energetic press will be in full effect, but the real question is how United will respond. Van Gaal’s tactics are harder to pinpoint. Made famous by the possession-based approach he honed at Ajax before helping spark Barcelona’s revolution in the late 90s, in recent years he’s adopted a more pragmatic approach. In last year’s World Cup, his Netherland’s team played to its strengths and expertly dismantled reigning World Cup champions Spain. Lacking the types of players for a possession-based approach, he instead opted to rely on a densely organized defense set behind a counterattack of speedy Arjen Robben and goal-hungry Robin van Persie. The tactics were not airtight, but it did earn the Dutch national side third place in the competition.

At United, Van Gaal had the opportunity to mold a team to play to his liking. His transfer market purchases suggested that he prioritizes versatility. Di María, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind can all play multiple positions with considerable competency. This at once allows a high degree of tactical pragmatism – being able to customize a starting XI to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses – as well as the midgame fluidity between defense and midfield, midfield and attack that he encouraged at Ajax and Barcelona. It is, to some degree, a melding of the two philosophies. That it has not quite gelled in an aesthetically pleasing way yet is no surprise, and indeed might strangely be working in United’s favor recently. Pochettino can reasonably guess the types of tactics he’d face when playing Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea, but anticipating United’s mishmash of styles and players might prove a bit trickier.

The one technique Spurs know they can expect are long balls aimed at Marouane Fellaini’s well-coiffed head. Surprisingly, this is a holdover from the tactics David Moyes brought with him from Everton. The midfielder is the perfect deep-lying target man: his height and technical skill allow him to bring down long balls to pass off to more attack-minded players ahead of him like di Maria or Wayne Rooney. Combined with pacey fullbacks like Shaw and converted-winger Antonio Valencia, United play a rather direct game designed around rapid transitions from defense into attack.

Spurs will likely not be too enthusiastic to fall into the trap of pressing high up the pitch to attack United, especially away from home. They will, however, count on Valencia’s relative lack of defensive discipline to get balls over to Nacer Chadli or Christian Eriksen as he drifts left from his number 10 role. Tottenham’s midfield will be busy containing Fellaini, but it might ultimately be Pochettino’s own pragmatic choice to re-introduce the formidable aerial ability of Fazio that will really nullify the Belgian.

The match will be a tight affair, without doubt. These are two teams undergoing dramatic rebuilding, albeit in very different ways. A win for either side Sunday means one step closer to Champions League qualification, but it will also go a long way to validating the approach taken by Van Gaal or Pochettino.