It’s all or nothing for Manchester United and Tottenham on Saturday; victory will double their chances winning silverware this season, defeat will essentially end their campaign with a few meaningless games to spare.
Indeed, both clubs will be desperate to advance from their semi-final showdown and progress to the FA Cup decider next month – but there can only be one winner, even if it requires extra time and a penalty shootout.
So, who enters this game in better form? Which manager is faced with the bigger injury problems? How could the referee influence the match and can history tell us anything about this fixture? Our match preview covers everything you need to know…
Down the years, excluding their time as Newton Heath, it’s Manchester United who have fared better during their meetings with Tottenham in the FA Cup, winning six of eight – including the last three. In fact, their last FA Cup defeat to Spurs was all the way back in 1980.
Accordingly, the Red Devils have scored more goals and kept more clean sheets, although Tottenham fans will argue there’s far less difference between the teams in terms of quality these days.
The overarching concern though, is Tottenham’s poor record in FA Cup semi-finals. The Lilywhites set a new record last year for consecutive defeats with a staggering seven, and throughout the competition’s history they’ve only won nine of twenty. United, on the other hand, have a 67% success rate upon reaching this stage of the tournament.
Neither Tottenham nor Manchester United boast a perfect record going into Saturday’s game. Across all competitions, the Lilywhites have kept just one clean sheet during their last six games, and even though they’ve scored four more goals than the Red Devils, only four of 14 have come in their previous three outings – prior to that, they were averaging more than three goals per match.
Perhaps most troublingly for the north Londoners, they enter the FA Cup semi-final off the back of a defeat to Manchester City and a draw with Brighton.
United, meanwhile, will take inspiration from the fact they beat City when Spurs couldn’t, completing that incredible comeback at the Etihad Stadium.
Any momentum from that though was quickly cancelled out by a shock home defeat to West Brom, and overall United have averaged less than two goals per game during their last six outings. A 50% clean sheet rate will please Mourinho though, and that could prove to be the difference in a semi-final.
After Michael Oliver, Anthony Taylor is probably the best referee in the Premier League right now – and that should ensure a good, fair game on Saturday.
Indeed, the 39-year-old ranks mid-table for penalties per game, yellow cards per game, fouls per game and fouls per tackle from the 20 referees to work in the Premier League this season, which suggests Taylor doesn’t have any tendencies that should particularly worry either team.
However, Taylor has handed out only one red card so far this season, and there’s two ways to look at that return from 24 games. Pessimists will argue Taylor is due one; optimisms will claim Spurs and United should be able to get away with some very physical challenges at Wembley without having to fear putting their side at a huge disadvantage by being sent off.
Mourinho only has one absentee to contend with for this weekend’s game in the form of goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who would unlikely have started this weekend anyway despite often representing United in the cup competitions. Accordingly, we’re expecting the Portuguese to bring some key personnel back into the starting XI after resting them against Bournemouth – even though he painted it as other members of the squad having a chance to earn themselves a starting berth at Wembley.
Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic are all likely to come back in, while Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba surely did enough to keep their places, having controlled much of the game at the Vitality Stadium from midfield.
That does, however, mean no start for Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial despite the young duo often having the full support of the Red Devils faithful.
Tottenham too, have a relatively clean bill of health heading into Saturday. Danny Rose, Harry Winks and Kyle Walker-Peters (late fitness test) have all been largely peripheral figures this season, meaning Pochettino can field his strongest starting XI.
That will most likely include Heung-min Son on the right – he’s contributed to 14 goals in his last 15 FA Cup appearances and has a superb record at Wembley – with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli joining him in attacking midfield. The Argentine’s trusted back four should be reunited as well and Harry Kane will almost certainly lead the line even if his form has come into question since returning from injury.
Perhaps the only real point of contention is defensive midfield, where Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama have become almost interchangeable alongside Mousa Dembele. But the Kenyan started against Brighton in midweek, suggesting Dier will return to the fold – that will be one of five changes from the side that drew with the Cherries.