The Premier League returns next week and football fans across the country can breathe a sigh of relief. And we’re straight into the action as Manchester City take on Arsenal at the Etihad and Tottenham host Manchester United in the first round of games.
The latter presents an interesting match-up as neither Spurs nor United have had the chance to field their strongest sides in 2020. United have long been without World Cup-winner Paul Pogba, while Tottenham star man Harry Kane has been plagued by injury this season.
Their match up as football returns gives fans a chance to see both sides at potentially their best again, with United unbeaten in 11 and Spurs looking to push for a Champions League spot.
But Tottenham face an unfamiliar challenge against the Reds. This is the first time they’ve played Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side since they signed Bruno Fernandes in January.
He has transformed United since his arrival. The Portuguese has given Solskjaer’s side a creative outlet so often missing for the club in recent years, and the presence of a dedicated defence-splitting creative midfielder means they are no longer over-reliant on counterattacks.
He’s been brilliant and took home February’s Premier League Player of the Month award for good measure. So far, so good then, but how will he be after three months out during a global pandemic against a top-six side? Spurs will get to find out next week. And up against Fernandes, two Spurs players will have the chance to prove their worth to Jose Mourinho as the manager continues to work out his best XI.
Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp could be tasked with stopping the magician Fernandes, an unenviable task after three months out of the game, but one that could be the making of either player or both.
Winks, as the more established member of the first team, looks set to take on the challenge, and history suggests Mourinho will deploy him tight on Fernandes.
Mourinho has history of stifling his former sides’ best players. When he was United manager, he produced a tactical masterclass when he had Ander Herrera man-mark Eden Hazard out of a match against Chelsea.
Herrera produced perhaps his best performance in a United shirt, nullifying the brilliant Hazard and helping United run out 2-0 winners.
Mourinho may need Winks to do the same to United next Friday. Fernandes was the man in form before the season was halted and he must be stopped if Spurs are to have any chance of putting the brakes on a confident United side.
Simply put, with Fernandes, Solskjaer’s men are a top side. Stop him and you reduce them to the lacklustre United team that is all too familiar in the post-Fergie era.
Whether it’s Winks or Skipp who takes on the job, both should relish the challenge. Mourinho has his first chance this summer to put his stamp on Tottenham and will be keeping a close eye on who is expendable and who is crucial going forward.
The man who stops Fernandes will certainly fall into the latter category and make Mourinho a happy man if his former side leave north London with nothing.