Cristiano Ronaldo said there are "no limits" for Manchester United after hitting a superb hat-trick to guide the Red Devils to a 3-2 win over Tottenham.

Ronaldo netted his second Premier League treble to boost United's hopes of Champions League qualification, doing so 14 years and 59 days after scoring three in a 6-0 win against Newcastle United, marking the longest gap between a player's first and second hat-tricks in the competition's history.

After his 49th career hat-trick, the Portuguese legend has also scored a treble in each of the last 13 seasons of his club career, a run which stretches back to the 2009-10 campaign.

The Old Trafford victory lifted United into the Premier League's top four, albeit having played four games more than fifth-placed Arsenal, and Ronaldo said he was "tremendously happy" with his performance in a social media post.

"Tremendously happy with my first hat-trick since I came back to Old Trafford!" the 37-year wrote on Instagram.

"Nothing beats the feeling of being back on the pitch and help the team with goals and effort. 

"We've proven once again that we can beat any team in any given day, as long as we work hard and stand together as one.

"There are no limits for Man United! No matter what! Let's go, Devils!"

Despite United's struggles this term, the former Real Madrid and Juventus star has hit 12 league goals since returning to the club last summer, placing him top of their goalscoring charts.

However, interim manager Ralf Rangnick joked that his top goalscorer should always prepare in that fashion after his superb showing, also praising his work ethic in training.

"We were just joking a little bit," Rangnick laughed. "Maybe it makes sense to send him to Portugal for three days, then have him not train for two days, then have him back in training on Thursday!

"By the way, he performed on a similar kind of level on Thursday in training, that's why I decided after that training session, although he had been out from a week, to play him from the start. 

"Maybe we have to do that for the rest of the season."

United became the first team to hit 400 Premier League home wins after beating Spurs, against whom they have enjoyed 23 Old Trafford victories in the competition. No side has beaten another opponent more often at home in the league's history.

Paul Pogba believes Cristiano Ronaldo's return to form was just what Manchester United needed after the Portuguese star hit a hat-trick in the Red Devils' 3-2 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

Having been left out of the squad for their 4-1 drubbing at Manchester City last week, Ronaldo returned with vigour and got United off the mark on 12 minutes with a trademark strike from distance.

The 37-year-old provided timely goals for Ralf Rangnick's side, which was in need of a response as much as points. The Old Trafford crowd fed off it, which was something Pogba acknowledged afterwards.

"Ronaldo was brilliant. I think that's all we needed - a reaction," the France international told Sky Sports. "We scored beautiful goals. Even when we conceded a goal, we came back and scored again. The mentality was there again today.

"Everybody knows Cristiano - there's no need to talk about him. That's what he does. He didn't play in the last game, but he comes back and scores three goals. Everybody's happy.

"It was good today. You can hear the fans. They were pushing us and feeling it. I think today was a very good performance as a team and a very good reaction from the City game.”

Despite Ronaldo's hat-trick, it was nevertheless a volatile 90 minutes from United, with Tottenham managing to draw level twice via Harry Kane from the penalty spot and a Harry Maguire own goal.

According to Pogba though, United's mentality was definitive, especially in context of the Premier League's top four race.

"We kept believing. In the second half, we didn't get the nice passing, and the movement I think wasn't there," he said.

"We gave them a bit of confidence, that's why they scored. But we got a corner and scored the winning goal.

"It's a boost. We needed it to go again. We want the top four and they were opponents who are looking for the top four also. It was a good win and a good performance."

The win puts United in fourth spot on 50 points, two points clear of Arsenal, who have four games in hand on them.

Antonio Conte hinted Cristiano Ronaldo was the only thing separating Manchester United from a poor result after his hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Tottenham.

The Portugal star gave United the lead three times at Old Trafford on Saturday, his 81st-minute header ultimately deciding what could prove to be a key contest in the race for the Premier League top four.

The Spurs head coach lavished praise on Ronaldo and said his legendary status in football is unquestionable.

In customary Conte fashion, however, his compliments for the 37-year-old individually were laced with reproval for United collectively.

"We are talking about a player that not only this night showed to be a top, top player. Don't forget Cristiano and [Lionel] Messi are the best two players in the world in this era. Before it was [Diego] Maradona and then Pele," Conte told Sky Sports after the match.

"You know very well that when you play against this type of player, they are decisive. I think honestly that without Cristiano Ronaldo tonight for United it wasn't a good night.

"It's a difficult stadium, a difficult atmosphere and I guess a strong team like United, I think we didn't deserve to lose the game. We have to understand where we can improve."

Ronaldo got the Red Devils off the mark on 12 minutes, with a trademark screamer from outside the penalty area as the Tottenham defence backed off.

Conte's side equalised through a Harry Kane penalty and, after Ronaldo struck again from Jadon Sancho's cross, they levelled for a second time through Harry Maguire's own goal.

Ronaldo was eventually on hand to provide the winner, though, heading in from an Alex Telles corner as Conte bemoaned Spurs' inability to manage the game.

"I think we played a good game, but at the same time I think we needed to show more experience to manage some situations," he said.

"The experience you don't buy. You improve your experience after these types of games. We have many young players in the team and hopefully after this game they have the possibility to learn.

"We have to continue to work in many aspects and improve our level if we want to reach the level where we fight for a top place and for sure we have to improve."

Cristiano Ronaldo has spent so much of his career rewriting the history books that a hat-trick against Tottenham on Saturday was just another reminder of his "genius".

Genius was the word used by Roy Keane after Saturday evening's treble at Old Trafford secured a 3-2 win that could yet be a major lift for a United side who still face a tall order to finish in the Premier League top four.

Arsenal, two points behind fourth-placed United with four games in hand, remain favourites for that slot, but Ronaldo's performance against Spurs was a signal the Red Devils could still force their way into those positions at the season's end.

Keane said on Sky Sports after the final whistle: "Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game. To score that many goals at the highest level - international goals, big games in the Champions League... today obviously it was Spurs. What more can you say? The guy's a genius."

There is a theory that Ronaldo is now the world's all-time record goalscorer, overtaking Josef Bican, an Austrian-Czech striker who was prolific in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Official records from that time can be difficult to ratify, and Czech FA experts have previously put Bican's figure at 821 goals rather than the often-stated figure of 805.

Nevertheless, there is much that can be stated with conviction, and Opta data outlines just what a performance this was from Ronaldo.

– He has now scored a hat-trick in each of his last 13 seasons, and this was his 49th club career hat-trick.

– Having spent nine years at Real Madrid, and then three with Juventus, Ronaldo has reacquainted himself with the English game this season. It had been 14 years and 59 days since he scored what was his only previous Premier League hat-trick, against Newcastle United, making it the longest such gap in the competition's history.

– Teddy Sheringham is the only player to have scored a Premier League treble later in life. Sheringham was 37 years and 146 days old when he scored three for Portsmouth against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003. Ronaldo was 37 years and 35 days, so to break Sheringham's record he will have to remain in the Premier League next season.

– Tottenham boss Antonio Conte was quick to praise Ronaldo after the final whistle, and it was little wonder; Ronaldo became only the second player to score a top-flight hat-trick against a team managed by the Italian, following in the footsteps of Giuseppe Rossi in October 2013 for Fiorentina against Juventus. Rossi, coincidentally, was a United player for a large part of Ronaldo's previous spell at Old Trafford.

– Ronaldo has scored in each of his last seven appearances against Tottenham in all competitions. Indeed, he has netted more goals against Spurs than he has against any other English side in his career (14).

– At 2-2, there was a threat to United's astonishing run of 301 Premier League games without defeat when they have held a half-time lead at Old Trafford. Ronaldo's intervention staved that off emphatically.

– United have now won exactly 400 Premier League home games, becoming the first team to reach that milestone. Some 23 of those wins have been against Tottenham, which is more than any side has beaten another at home in the Premier League.

– Ronaldo is now the joint-second top scorer in the Premier League this season with 12 goals, albeit he is a distant eight behind runaway leader Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.

Ralf Rangnick admitted it is "a challenge" to manage Cristiano Ronaldo after he savoured the Manchester United striker's hat-trick in Saturday's 3-2 win against Tottenham.

Ronaldo gave United the lead on three occasions, and they eventually managed to cling on after a thumping header from the 37-year-old in the 81st minute again tilted the game the way of the hosts.

He struck an opener from 25 yards, sprinted to get on the end of Jadon Sancho's cross for his second, and delivered a performance that left Ronaldo's admirers purring in appreciation.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was imperious, but it has not always been that way during his first season back at Old Trafford.

Before this game, Ronaldo had just one Premier League goal in 2022, and there have been questions raised about whether he will remain a United player next season.

Rangnick was asked about what it takes to manage such a superstar figure, who reached 807 career goals on the way to sinking Antonio Conte's visitors, who twice equalised through a Harry Kane penalty and Harry Maguire own goal.

"It is challenging, and it is a challenge with a player like him," the United interim manager told Sky Sports. "But he showed today that he's still got the quality to play for a club like Manchester United.

"But he's also a part of the team and if we want to be successful at the end of the season, we can only do it together."

Ronaldo missed the Manchester derby last week with a hip flexor injury. Former United captain Roy Keane was among those who asked whether there was perhaps more behind Ronaldo being sidelined for that game, a suspicion Rangnick has denied.

The German was floored by how good Ronaldo was against Tottenham, a real throwback to his peak years at Real Madrid.

"At least since I arrived, his best performance," Rangnick said. "Not only because he scored three goals, two brilliant goals... he was also energetically good.

"He was part of the whole team when we had to defend, and we had to defend a lot. Top performance by him, but also by the rest of the team."

There is a theory that Ronaldo is now the world's all-time record scorer, overtaking Josef Bican, an Austrian-Czech who was prolific in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Official records from that time can be difficult to ratify, and Czech FA experts have previously put Bican's figure at 821 goals rather than the often-stated figure of 805.

Rangnick is more concerned with what Ronaldo is achieving in the present day.

"I didn't expect him to score three goals, but I expected him to score, that's why I decided to play him even though he only resumed training on Thursday," Rangnick said.

"His training session on Thursday was so good, that's why I [decided to] bring him from the start and not have him on the bench, and in the end, it was the right decision.

"He didn't train for a week, and I wasn't sure if his hip flexor was good enough to let him play.

"I had a conversation with him before the training session on Friday, and he told me that he's fully fit and he can play, and that's why he started."

Manchester United great Roy Keane hailed Cristiano Ronaldo's superb display after the 37-year-old's hat-trick downed Tottenham at Old Trafford.

United were twice pegged back by their rivals for the top four during an absorbing contest, but Ronaldo's 81st-minute header sealed just his second treble in United colours and a crucial 3-2 win for the hosts.

The Portugal legend has now scored in each of his past seven appearances against Tottenham in all competitions, and his 14 goals against Spurs represent his highest tally against any English club.

Speaking on Sky Sports after the match, former United captain Keane labelled the striker a "genius" and said Ralf Rangnick's team needed to keep their talisman beyond the end of this season.

"Ronaldo looked angry today, he played with a lot of aggression," Keane said. "He's obviously upset with whatever happened last week [missing United's 4-1 loss to Manchester City], but he showed today what we have seen over the years. 

"The guy's a genius, his three goals were fantastic. He brings so much to the team, why people think he cannot bring goals or value...

"For as great as he is, the next challenge for Ronaldo is to make this United team compete again for league titles. 

"Ronaldo is a huge part of the rebuilding of the club. When he's producing like that, you need Ronaldo in your team. 

"Ronaldo has been doing this throughout his career, he's been doing it for years. I think he can do it for another season."

One-time Old Trafford team-mate Gary Neville called Ronaldo's performance "magical", but he did not hold back in his criticism of United's "awful" defensive performance, having now conceded 40 times in the Premier League this season.

"Manchester United are not very good, I have to say," Neville said. "But there are moments in the game that are magical.

"The fans are buzzing because they've seen Ronaldo, they feel like they've seen something special.

"But in terms of the performance, if Spurs get a late winner, United fans are going home and saying how bad we are today. It wasn't a great performance.

"Manchester United's biggest problem is not Cristiano Ronaldo. Their defending is awful. Every team that comes here creates bags of chances."

Cristiano Ronaldo sank Tottenham with the first hat-trick of his second Old Trafford spell as Manchester United won 3-2 to boost hopes of a top-four finish.

At 37 years and 35 days, Ronaldo became the second-oldest player to score a Premier League treble, with only Teddy Sheringham having managed the feat later in life.

After missing the Manchester derby last week, Ronaldo was back and in the mood for this one, opening the scoring with a stunning long-range finish before giddily restoring United's lead after Harry Kane levelled from the spot.

A twist arrived with 18 minutes remaining when United captain Maguire turned the ball into his own net, but a thumping Ronaldo header spared his skipper any post-match apologies.

Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the Manchester United team to face Tottenham on Saturday after missing the derby drubbing, but there was no Bruno Fernandes.

The absence of Ronaldo for last Sunday's 4-1 defeat to Manchester City sparked a fresh wave of speculation about the 37-year-old's United future.

It was put down to a hip problem by interim manager Ralf Rangnick, but former United captain Roy Keane was among those who questioned whether that told the full story.

Ronaldo's Manchester derby absence came after a run of one goal and zero assists in 10 games for United in all competitions this calendar year. That compares to 12 goals and three assists in his opening 19 games upon returning to United from Juventus at the end of August.

He was restored for the visit of Spurs, but Portuguese compatriot Fernandes was surprisingly not involved, three days before United tackle Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.

Rangnick said: "Bruno is ill, unfortunately. He couldn't train yesterday and is therefore not available for the game. Hopefully, he will be back for Tuesday but, today, he is out."

NFL legend Tom Brady, a friend of Tottenham striker Harry Kane, was at Old Trafford for the game.

There was a United start for Marcus Rashford, whose own future has been cast into doubt by reports suggesting he could seek a move at the end of the season. He replaced Anthony Elanga, while Edinson Cavani was named on the bench after recent fitness worries.

Goalkeeper David De Gea featured for the home side after a COVID-19 false positive, while Raphael Varane was back from a coronavirus absence to start alongside Harry Maguire in central defence.

Rangnick told MUTV: "We had a false positive test on David De Gea last night. We then decided to have a second test that was negative and then a PCR test that was negative again, and that's why we can play him after all."

Kylian Mbappe looks set to end one of the biggest transfer sagas of recent seasons by penning his deal with Real Madrid next week.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker will reportedly move to Santiago Bernabeu on a free transfer at the end of the season.

It will mark the end of a lengthy pursuit by Los Blancos, despite the Ligue 1 club's efforts to keep their star man.

 

TOP STORY - MADRID CLOSING IN ON MBAPPE

Mbappe will confirm his future in a matter of days by putting pen to paper on a contract with Real Madrid, claims Marca.

The France international was pursued by Los Blancos last year, but instead remained with Paris Saint-Germain to see out the rest of his contract.

That expires at the end of this campaign, and despite PSG's resistance, the forward will confirm his future at Santiago Bernabeu with a free move before the month is up.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City have locked a deal in place for the capture of Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to the Daily Mail. City look to have beaten off several European rivals for the Leeds-born Norway international, and are now set to discuss personal terms.

- Scotland international Kieran Tierney is set to be the subject of a move from Madrid, claims 90min. The Arsenal star has helped form the bedrock of a Gunners revival this term and his performances have not gone under-the-radar when it comes to Los Blancos and their interest.

- Antonio Conte is willing to consider an extension at Tottenham, providing the club can show that they have "vision", says the Guardian. The Italian has endured a topsy-turvy tenure so far in north London, but remains one of the most respected coaches in the game.

- Crystal Palace star Conor Gallagher is unsure where his future lies following his success on loan at Selhurst Park this season, according to ESPN. The Chelsea man is with the Eagles on a year-long deal, and has picked up England honours during his tenure.

- Atletico Madrid are thinking about a move for Barcelona's Sergi Roberto. According to Fichajes, the midfielder is frustrated at his lack of consistent game-time and LaLiga's champions could swoop for him.

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford could decide to leave at the end of the season but has told Ralf Rangnick he is "still happy" at Old Trafford, the interim boss said.

Rangnick says he is working to get the best out of the 24-year-old England international, although reports have suggested Rashford may seek a move away from the club he has represented throughout his senior career.

He was reportedly unhappy after being left out of the starting XI for United's 4-1 defeat to Manchester City last weekend.

After hitting double figures for goals in three consecutive Premier League campaigns, Rashford has scored just four league goals in 18 appearances this campaign, and has seen just 867 minutes of game time in the English top flight.

Speaking ahead of United's Saturday clash with fellow top-four hopefuls Tottenham, Rangnick, who earlier called for the attacker to carry his training performances into games, insisted Rashford has not said anything about wanting a move.

"I spoke with him yesterday [Thursday] and the day before yesterday," the 63-year-old said, according to several UK newspapers. "I don't know anything about that.

"He didn't say anything to me, he said to me that he is still happy and that he wants to perform on a high level for the club. There was no mention of him not being happy here.

"The window is closed right now. Even suppose he and his agents or his family at one stage of the summer think about maybe going to another club, well, then he can do that, but in the summer.

"Now the window is closed. It's got nothing to do with tomorrow's game or the game on Tuesday [against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League]."

Despite leaving Rashford out of the line-up for last Sunday's defeat, even in the absence of both Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo, Rangnick insists he rates the one-time teenage prodigy highly and wishes to help him to grow.

"I like Marcus as a player," he said. "I've had a few in the past in former clubs where they had problems at one stage, but it's our job to help him, to get the best Marcus Rashford that he can be.

"This is my job right now, and I'm putting all my energy and time into that to achieve that."

Ahead of their clash with Spurs, United are winless in their last three games in all competitions, recording two wins and a draw. They have not gone longer without a win since a run of six winless games in September and October 2019.

Edinson Cavani says he has struggled "mentally" with missing so much football due to injury problems this season.

The Uruguayan has made only 19 appearances for Manchester United in his second campaign at the club, with his regular absences becoming a source of frustration among fans.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick suggested last week that Cavani ruled himself out of the Manchester derby, which was not the first time the German alluded to such a situation.

Rangnick also said last month that Cavani "said he's just not available" for the Premier League game with Southampton after noticing a groin problem in training.

Certain sections of the United support and media have accused the club of pandering to the Uruguayan, with Cavani allowed to miss the start of the season and then granted permission to return late from international duty in early February.

But the thigh injury Cavani has suffered with in recent weeks has also seemingly been frustrating for the striker, who Rangnick confirmed on Friday is in contention to face Tottenham this Saturday.

Speaking to United's official website, Cavani said: "Yes, I've been unfortunate to be out through injury, and for a longer period than I'm used to.

"I've never been used to spending this length of time on the sidelines. It's something that I'm finding very difficult, something which is very tough.

"Mentally, it's not easy either, because when you're not used to it, it really is extremely hard to take on board what is happening and seeing your team-mates each game going out on to the pitch, either for training or to play in a match, and you can't be joining them out there.

"It's hard to take, and it's really frustrating that you're feeling like that, and it makes you a bit anxious and really keen to be wanting to be fit and ready as quickly as possible."

Cavani last played for United on February 8 in the 1-1 draw at Burnley. He has scored just two goals this season.

Antonio Conte is looking for Tottenham to continue improving when they travel to Manchester United as the two teams battle for a Champions League place.

After hammering Everton 5-0 on Monday, Tottenham sit just two points behind the fifth-placed United with two games in hand and are looking to strike a huge blow in the top-four race on Saturday.

Conte has won four of his six meetings with United in all competitions, most recently winning the FA Cup final 1-0 against them as Chelsea coach in May 2018. However, the Italian has lost on both of his visits to Old Trafford.

Ahead of the crucial clash, Conte spoke about the improvements made by his team recently and suggested that the Red Devils' struggles had offered hope for his team in the battle for the top four.

"I think we've improved, and we are improving through our work every day," he said. "We're ready to understand what our level is now.

"They [United] lost the derby [4-1 at Manchester City last week], and you know very well the importance of this type of game. But, we have to try to give continuity, to think of ourselves, not of others. We want to show our progress. 

"It's an important game on Saturday, [against] a team that is fighting this season for a place in the Champions League. Normally they stay regularly in this position, but this season they're struggling a lot.

"For this reason, we have to try to give our best to stay very close to the top of the table. Then, at the end of the season, we'll see what happens."

Conte's arrival at Spurs has brought dramatic improvements in their attacking play. In their last two outings, Spurs registered 4-0 and 5-0 wins over Leeds United and Everton, and are looking to net at least four goals in three consecutive league games for the first time since February 2004.

Meanwhile, Conte was again asked about the situation facing his former club Chelsea, whose owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the British government in response to Russia's war on Ukraine.

The Italian, however, suggested that players and coaches cannot be held responsible for the actions of their owners, only for their own performances.

"In every situation, you have to take responsibility," the 52-year-old said. "When you work you have to take responsibility.

"I think this is a type of problem. The job is a player and for me my job is a coach. This question could be also for other sports, not only for football. 

"The moment the club decides to put you in charge, me as a coach or as a player, the most important thing is to take responsibility to give your best for the club."

Conte, who lifted the Premier League and the FA Cup during his two-year spell at Stamford Bridge, was also keen to stress that the publicity surrounding Chelsea's ownership should not detract from their past successes.

He added: "We are talking about four or five years ago. We're talking about a fantastic club, with an owner that made this club big.

"Don't forget that in the period he was the owner, Chelsea won everything, but it was for Chelsea. 

"I think also we have seen other Russian owners in other teams. Not only in football but in many sports."

Cristiano Ronaldo is available for Saturday's Premier League meeting with Tottenham, but Ralf Rangnick is unsure if the forward is happy at Manchester United.

The Portugal international was left out of United's squad for last weekend's 4-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City after sustaining a hip injury in training.

However, United great Roy Keane questioned if that was really the reason why Ronaldo was absent at the Etihad Stadium amid reports he had been dropped by Ralf Rangnick.

Ronaldo flew to Portugal to work on his fitness and Rangnick confirmed on Friday that the 37-year-old is now back in training and is expected to play a part against Spurs.

"He resumed for training yesterday," Rangnick said at his pre-match news conference. "He trained the whole training session and I expect him to train today as well. 

"He trained well, like the rest of the group. I would've thought he was available tomorrow.

Ronaldo's Manchester derby absence came on the back of a run of one goal and zero assists in 10 games for United in all competitions this calendar year.

That compares to 12 goals and three assists in his opening 19 games upon returning to United from Juventus at the end of August.

Asked about reports that Ronaldo travelled to Portugal without informing the club, having grown frustrated at Old Trafford, Rangnick attempted to draw a line under the matter.

"It doesn't make sense to look back on what happened the last six or seven days," Rangnick said. "For me what is important is what happens today and tomorrow. 

"I haven't asked him if he's happy at Manchester or at this club. For me it's important he's fit again.

"He resumed training yesterday and we shall see which formation and which will line-up we will play with tomorrow."

Ronaldo has been involved in seven goals in his last five league games against Tottenham, both scoring and assisting against them in three different matches in this run.

As well as having the five-time Ballon d'Or available, Rangnick confirmed Edinson Cavani is back from injury and Raphael Varane has recovered from coronavirus.

However, full-back Luke Shaw will miss out after again testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, while central midfielder Scott McTominay is doubtful due to a calf injury.

United have won just two of their last six league games, seeing them drop out of the top four at the expense of Arsenal, who are one point better off with three games in hand.

They will be aiming to get back on track as they seek a third straight league win against Spurs for the first time since a run of four between April 2009 and October 2010.

"We are fully aware about the importance of tomorrow's game and the game on Tuesday against Atletico Madrid," Rangnick said. 

"The most important game is the game tomorrow against Tottenham – we have to win that game. 

"We've had a good week of training and the players are fully aware about the importance of the game. The focus has been there, as well as the togetherness in training."

There really isn't much to split Manchester United and Tottenham right now.

Ahead of Saturday's game at Old Trafford, the Red Devils are two points better off in the Premier League table but having played two matches more. Just a single goal separates them in the goal difference column, too.

They have each won three of their past seven league games, they are heavily reliant on two players scoring the vast majority of their goals, and even their managers, although on very different contracts, are facing uncertain futures. If you stood between the dressing rooms prior to kick-off, you wouldn't be surprised to hear "Lads, it's Tottenham" and "Lads, it's United" bellowed simultaneously behind the closed doors.

Of course, this could be a hugely important fixture beyond deciding which team is playing slightly less mediocre stuff. The top-four race in the Premier League looks likely to run into the deciding matchdays in May, and a win this weekend for either side would give them a huge boost.

It could also offer some clues as to which of Ralf Rangnick and Antonio Conte has so far done a better job, because that, too, is a very difficult question to answer.

Since Rangnick replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager in late November, United have played 14 in the Premier League, won seven, drawn five and lost two, giving them an average of 1.86 points per game. They have scored 21 goals and conceded 14.

Their victories have come against Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Norwich City and West Ham. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

Roughly a month earlier, Conte stepped in for the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo, who lost his job after Spurs were beaten 3-1 at home to United. 

In 16 games under the Italian, Spurs have won nine, drawn three and lost four, averaging 1.88 points per game. They have scored 31 times and conceded 16.

Their wins have come against Leeds United, Brentford, Palace, Everton, Leicester City, Manchester City, Norwich and Watford. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

We told you it was difficult.

Such distinctly average form has not helped to paint a clear picture of either manager's efforts. Spurs will go into this game in a better mood, of course, given they just thrashed an awful Everton side 5-0, while United were humiliated in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City. Still, it's only been a couple of weeks since Conte suggested he might have to resign as he just couldn't handle the thought of more defeats, while United had just scored six across consecutive wins over Brighton and Leeds. Inconsistency is the only constant where United and Spurs are concerned.

There have been definite improvements, though. For one thing, despite Raphael Varane's injury troubles and the overbearing scrutiny on Harry Maguire every time he draws breath, United's defence has got better since the shambolic final weeks under Solskjaer.

In their opening 14 league games this season, United conceded 22 goals – the fifth-most in the division – and kept only two clean sheets. Under Rangnick, they have let in 16 goals – four of those coming at City last weekend – and kept five clean sheets (we are excluding own goals here). They are facing a similar number of shots, roughly 13 per game, but their expected goals against figure has improved from 21.43 to 18.35, suggesting that, under Rangnick, they have limited opponents to more speculative attempts. They have also cut down a deeply worrying number of mistakes: before Rangnick, they committed a league-high 12 errors leading to shots, which has fallen to just three since the German took charge.

Defensive improvement has not been quite as clear under Conte. Although they have conceded as many goals (16) in Conte's 16 matches in charge as they did in 10 under Nuno, Spurs' xGA figure has increased from 15.48 to 19.01, indicating that their seven clean sheets have owed something to Hugo Lloris and a little luck (again, that figure ignores own goals). And while United's error count has dropped, Spurs have committed 11 leading to shots, the second-worst figure in the Premier League since Conte's return. It would be enough to make the former Chelsea boss tear his hair out, if... no, we won't go there.

What about at the other end? A much-discussed issue under Rangnick, and the reason behind all those draws, has been United's inability to take chances. Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, has only scored one goal in 2022. The numbers highlight an obvious problem: in the league under Solskjaer, United exceeded their expected total this season by just over four (excluding own goals); under Rangnick, they have underperformed by 4.4.

Yet their problems in attack are not for the want of opportunities. Since Rangnick's arrival, only Man City and Liverpool have created more chances and attempted more shots in the Premier League, and only Man City and Spurs have generated more 'big' chances. The problem is that only 68 of United's 208 most recent shots have been on target, and only Liverpool have attempted more from outside the box in that time. When the going gets tough, the shooting gets desperate.

Over the same period, they are fourth for xG and expected goals on target, which measures the quality of an attempt itself. However, the difference between the two is nearly 4.0, and 3.03 if you exclude penalties. Only relegation battlers Burnley (3.53) have had a worse such difference during Rangnick's time in England, which tells you a lot about the standard of United's recent finishing even before you take the opposition goalkeeper's performance into account. They can at least make the argument that, should they keep creating chances at this rate, their luck should begin to turn... eventually.

Spurs' attacking fortunes have felt a bit mixed under Conte. In their past five matches, they have scored three at Man City, four at Leeds and five at home to Everton but drawn blanks away to Burnley and Middlesbrough.

Excluding own goals, they have scored 28 times in the league under Conte from 30.4 xG, giving them pretty similar figures to those under Nuno (eight goals from 10 xG). The average xG value of their shots has increased a touch, though, so they can argue their attacking play is sharpening up.

That's a good sign given Spurs are chasing a couple of milestones at Old Trafford: they could score at least four goals for the third league game in a row for the first time since February 2004, while Harry Kane needs only one away goal to match Wayne Rooney's competition record of 94.

It would be quite the result if Spurs could beat both Manchester clubs away in the same season, and it would give their Champions League hopes a significant shot in the arm. As for which side is showing the best progress... well, perhaps we should let this top-four chase run its course first.

It's time for gameweek 29 in the Premier League, and for some it is a double, which will no doubt lead to panicked stockpiling of players from those teams involved.

Do not be fooled into transferring out your star player for a cheaper alternative who has twice as many games on the horizon, though. You get more points for a goal in one game than not scoring in two, after all.

As ever, there are some obvious picks, but also some less obvious ones should you be a fan of the odd differential to gain an upper hand in your mini-leagues.

So let Stats Perform lead you by the hand with Opta data as we pick four players who might just give you those precious extra points in the latest Premier League gameweek.

ALISSON (Brighton and Hove Albion v Liverpool, Arsenal v Liverpool)

Alisson is unquestionably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and has played as big a role as anyone in Liverpool clawing their way back into the title race.

Since the turn of the year, no Premier League goalkeeper with a minimum of 180 minutes played has kept more clean sheets (five), conceded fewer goals (two) or has a higher save percentage (89.47).

The Reds suffered the unfamiliar feeling of defeat against Inter on Tuesday, albeit still defeating the Italian giants in the Champions League round of 16 on aggregate, but it still took a world-class strike from Lautaro Martinez to beat Alisson.

The big Brazilian comes up against a Brighton team that always manages to make scoring goals look more complicated than quantum mechanics and an Arsenal side that has failed to score against Liverpool in their last five meetings in all competitions.

KYLE WALKER-PETERS (Southampton v Watford)

Southampton may have lost to Aston Villa and Newcastle United in the last week, but before then they were going great guns, winning six of their previous seven in all competitions (D1).

One player in particular who has stood out has been Walker-Peters, who has been getting forward to great effect from right back.

No Premier League defender has had more chance creating ending carriers this season than Walker-Peters (12), while his three goal involvements (one goal, two assists) equals his best tally in a single league campaign (three assists for Tottenham in 2018-19).

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI (Manchester United v Tottenham, Brighton v Tottenham)

Tottenham have gone a bit 'Jekyll and Hyde' lately under Antonio Conte, often following up an impressive win with an insipid defeat. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, they're coming off a 5-0 win against Everton.

While Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have rightly been getting their usual plaudits for recent form (every other game at least), Kulusevski has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water since arriving from Juventus in January.

Since making his debut in England, only Kane (six) has been involved in more Premier League goals than the Swedish winger (five - two goals, three assists).

RAUL JIMENEZ (Everton v Wolves)

It may seem counter-intuitive to look to a Wolves attacker for points given only Brighton (26), Burnley (22) and Norwich City (17) have scored fewer than their 28 goals in the Premier League this season.

They did bag four against Watford on Thursday though, including a goal for Jimenez, who has a tremendous record against Everton and is about to come up against possibly the worst iteration of the Toffees he ever has on Sunday.

The Mexican striker has scored in all five of his league appearances against the Merseyside club, netting five goals in total. In the competition's history, only Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has a better 100 per cent record of scoring against an opponent (six goals in six games against Bournemouth).

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