It is set up to be an exciting end to the Premier League season, but dark clouds loom overhead for Man Utd and Spurs. Jason Pettigrove looks at why the two clubs are receiving so much criticism for their struggles.
Two of the most storied clubs in the English top-flight currently look nothing like their old selves.
Although Tottenham haven’t exactly been flush with trophies over the last decade, there was a period under Mauricio Pochettino where the North Londoners had a real identity.
Antonio Conte is attempting to bring that back but results over the past few weeks have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that even one of the world’s best coaches has his work cut out.
The Italian has arguably been hamstrung by Daniel Levy’s insistence on keeping a tight hold on the purse strings, whilst still expecting the squad to be challenging for the highest honours.
It almost worked under Pochettino, was never going to be successful for Jose Mourinho and only if Conte is willing to accept the limitations placed upon him from above, will Spurs be in any position to build from next season onwards.
-Nutmegged for the opener.
-Performs 'dummy' to help set up City's second.
-Gets booked wiping out De Bruyne after getting skinned.
-Key deflection for City's third.
A day to forget for Harry Maguire.
— BetVictor (@BetVictor) March 6, 2022
Ralf Rangnick at least has the buy-in from the Manchester United board for his vision.
Whether the German stays in the Old Trafford hot-seat or not, and whether there’s a number of squad changes in the summer, the style of football isn’t going to change.
Unlike Conte, his contemporary isn’t having to shoehorn certain players into a style that may or may not fit at White Hart Lane.
Though it will take time to implement properly, Rangnick is putting the foundations in place and will ensure that any newcomers to the first-team squad will fit the style rather than vice versa.
It’s an example similar to when Johan Cruyff totally revitalised FC Barcelona. Everyone from La Masia to their first XI played in the same way, and the fruits of Rangnick’s labour can already be noted, even if results haven’t been as desirable as he might like. That’s ok if progression can be seen.
Progression is something that Conte has hinted Tottenham aren’t doing, and his frustrations were laid bare in an emotional post-match interview recently.
How, for example, in the space of four games, can Spurs comprehensively beat both Man City and Leeds but also lose to Burnley and Middlesbrough?
Perhaps the worst is yet to come for the North Londoners too. Aside from Man United in their very next fixture, none of their following five assignments (Brighton x 2, West Ham, Newcastle and Aston Villa) are going to be a walk in the park.
Furthermore, with no guarantee that Conte won’t walk in the summer, Levy can hardly expect the likes of Harry Kane et al to commit long term. Particularly after another season without silverware.
United do have some tough fixtures too, and their humbling this weekend at the Etihad shows again just how far they have to go as a club to claw themselves back to the Premier League summit.
However, a clear plan as well as a manager and a board that are not for turning, not to mention a two-point cushion over the North Londoners, gives the Red Devils a head start over their rivals for a Europa League spot.