Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur Preview

"Lads, it's Tottenham."

Sir Alex Ferguson's infamous three-word team talk - revealed in Roy Keane's autobiography - summed up the previous relationship between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

United lost just one Premier League home game to Spurs in the entirety of Ferguson's tenure - and were almost as dominant on their trips to north London.

But a glance at the Premier League season shows United dominating Spurs is no longer the status quo, and in fact Ferguson has singled out a Lilywhite player for special praise for his breakthrough performances this season ahead of Sunday's crunch clash at White Hart Lane.

"It's a hard one to take in - for one of the greatest managers ever to compliment you like that, it means a lot and it's a huge honour," said Tottenham's Dele Alli, whom Sir Alex last week described as the most talented English midfielder since Paul Gascoigne.

"It has been crazy (the season). I've always been quite confident in my ability and I knew where I wanted to go. ... It's a bit of a dream come true, it's one of those ones where I'm still waiting to be woken up, but like I say anything can happen. You could go out there and, god forbid, get an injury on the pitch or in training."

Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham go into this contest knowing they could be trailing Leicester City by as many as 10 points over the final six matches come kickoff Sunday since the front-running Foxes play earlier in the afternoon.

Spurs (17-11-4) were held to a 1-1 draw by Liverpool last weekend, but could welcome back Erik Lamela and Jan Vertonghen from injury absences, while Clinton N'Jie has returned to training following a lengthy lay-off.

Visitors Manchester United (15-8-8) have won their last two meetings with Spurs, ending a run of five games without victory against the north London side, but haven't picked up three points at White Hart Lane since 2012.

Louis van Gaal's side have won four of their last five games to move within one point of neighbours Manchester City in the fourth and final Champions League spot with seven matches remaining. United also have an FA Cup quarterfinal replay at West Ham United looming Wednesday.

Defence has been the basis of United's solid season, with only Sunday's hosts conceding fewer goals than the 27 the Red Devils have shipped, but Anthony Martial admits his teammates are wary of facing Tottenham's in-form striker Harry Kane.

"He's a top player and he's also still only young," Martial said of Kane, who has scored 22 league goals this season to better the tally from his breakthrough campaign. "He had a great season last year and he's underlined just how good he is this time around. He's a quality player who is very entertaining to watch.

"Spurs are a team who defend well with a lot of aggression and stay compact as a unit. They have a lot of ability up top and that's why they find themselves currently in second place in the table.

Martial has scored three in his last four appearances for United and is their top scorer for the season with eight. The Red Devils have found the net just 39 goals in 31 games - their lowest tally at this stage of a season since 1990.

"It was certainly very important that we picked up a win against Everton last time out and it has put us back on track in the hunt for fourth place," Martial added. "It's now down to us to do the rest."

The reverse fixture at Old Trafford to start the season was a defensive affair with an own goal by Spurs defender Kyle Waler on 22 minutes accounting for the scoring. Manchester United, who have kept Spurs from scoring for 294 minutes in league play dating back to Christian Eriksen's goal in a 2-1 Tottenham victory on Jan. 1, 2014, are seeking their first double over the Lilywhites since 2011-12.

United are without Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw, but could welcome back Phil Jones.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.