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Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
With more than 100 days between Premier League matches, it can be argued no player was more productive during the COVID-19 pandemic-forced recess than Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
Coming off a well-received humanitarian effort that resulted in maintaining food vouchers for some of England's poorest families, Rashford and United face former manager Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur on Friday in a key six-point belter for both sides' European aspirations.
The 22-year-old Rashford, who recalled his family's own struggles relating to food poverty, used his social media platform to make a push to extend the government's £15-per-week food voucher program through the summer. After initially balking at the request, England Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a near-revolt among fellow Conservative MPs, which resulted in his offices on 10 Downing Street providing £120 million for a "COVID summer food fund" that will help feed approximately 1,300,000 school-aged children in England.
"I don't even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020," Rashford tweeted from his official account.
In a second tweet aimed at England's MPs, he added, "This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard. I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right."
After his victory for children, Rashford - who is healthy again after being sidelined with a back injury -- can now go about helping United (12-9-8) do likewise in an empty London stadium Friday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team are fifth in the table on 45 points and caught a lucky break of sorts Wednesday when an obvious goal by Sheffield United was not overturned by VAR - the resulting 0-0 draw left the Red Devils one point better than the promoted side with nine matches remaining.
Both clubs --- along with Tottenham (11-8-10), who are another four points back of Manchester United -- continue to pursue what could be the final one or two Champions League places pending the outcome of Manchester City's appeal of their UEFA-imposed ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Solskjaer's side - one that may also feature midfielder Paul Pogba also returning from a long-term injury absence -- had been in top form prior to the league being shuttered, going unbeaten in their last 11 (8-3-0) in all competitions while conceding just two goals. United also learned they will be completing their Europa League quest in Germany, with UEFA moving the tournament to August. Their final match prior to the recess was a 5-0 demolition of Austrian side Lask on the road March 12.
Mourinho's bid for a late push to claim a spot in either European tournament for next season will be a challenge. The Lilywhites entered the recess winless in six on the trot (0-2-4) and bounced from the Champions League in the round of 16 by RB Leipzig by a 4-0 aggregate.
Like Solskjaer, the "Special One" will have a key returning player available - striker and talisman Harry Kane. The Three Lions captain, instrumental in getting Spurs to the Champions League final last term, had been sidelined since January with a hamstring ailment and is chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch.
"From an injury point of view, I'm back to normal, fully fit," Kane said to the team for their prematch guide. "It's been good to do some individual training, a lot of finishing, individual drills to work on my game and improve and I feel like I'm at a stage now where I'm looking forward to getting in some games."
Kane, who had 17 goals in 25 matches prior to his injury, has just two goals in 12 lifetime matches versus Manchester United.
The striker and Mourinho are looking to prevent United from doing the double as Rashford's brace bracketing a first-half goal by Dele Alli powered the Red Devils to a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford in December. This will be United's first match at New Tottenham Stadium, having won last season's fixture at Wembley.
Updated June 17, 2020