It was this very fixture little more than two years ago that saw Jose Mourinho turn to the TV cameras and raise a silencing finger to his lips.
Manchester United had just beaten Tottenham 1-0 to maintain their 100 per cent home record and keep the pressure on table-toppers Manchester City – a scenario that now feels like a distant memory.
Mourinho had been criticised for a defensive 0-0 display at Anfield and subsequent defeat at Huddersfield, but it was not the first time he has silenced his critics and nor is it likely to be the last.
He returns to Old Trafford tonight, almost a year after being dismissed, in charge of Tottenham and with a point to prove.
It is the kind of occasion that Mourinho typically rises to: an opportunity to show he was not to blame for United’s failings, that he is not the managerial dinosaur some would label him as.
In many ways, his point has already been proven. The club’s struggles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have ensured Mourinho’s record as United boss is still the best of any manager since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013.
Mourinho’s win percentage of 58.3 per cent is higher than David Moyes’ 52.9 per cent, Louis Van Gaal’s 52.4 per cent and significantly better than Solskjaer’s 35.5 per cent since he became permanent manager; even adding the Norwegian’s 14 wins in 19 games as caretaker only brings his percentage up to 50.0.
Mourinho also delivered silverware in the form of the EFL Cup and Europa League and finished second in the Premier League in the 2017-18 campaign, an achievement he hailed as his best in management.
It was a questionable statement at the time, perhaps borne out of frustration of the criticism his team and tactics received, but that has only grown more apparent as United continue to stutter.
The bounce the club received from Solskjaer’s temporary appointment has long since evaporated and United have won just six of 22 league games since he was named permanent manager.
Solskjaer under fire
With the team ninth in the table and two points closer to the relegation zone than the top four, the pressure is beginning to mount on Solskjaer, whose 18 points from 14 games this campaign is on course to be worse than the 26 from 17 games that led to Mourinho’s sacking last season – and with a derby against Manchester City to come this weekend, too.
In fact his run of 26 points from 22 league games since becoming permanent boss is worse than the 35 points Mourinho took from his final 22 league matches, Van Gaal’s 37 and even Moyes’s 36.
For comparison, the recently sacked Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino had 28 and 25 points respectively from the 22 league games that led to their dismissal at Arsenal and Tottenham.
Mourinho may not have ultimately been the heir to Ferguson’s throne, but his tenure produced the best spell United have had since he retired. A win over his replacement tonight could be one of the final nails in Solskjaer’s coffin.
The Humble One
Speaking to media yesterday, he said he was expecting a “nice reaction” from the United fans and insisted he was not the “enemy”. It is often what Mourinho is not saying that can be heard most loudly, with the insinuation that perhaps the blame for the club’s troubles lies higher up the hierarchy.
The Portuguese has led Tottenham to three straight wins, including back-to-back 3-2 Premier League victories over West Ham and Bournemouth, since replacing Mauricio Pochettino.
There are still defensive issues to work on, but it is a side that looks reinvigorated in attack. Dele Alli in particular has improved, scoring three of the 10 goals since Mourinho took over. He had only scored two in the 10 games previous and seven in the whole of last season.
But more than just maintaining his winning start to life at Tottenham, a victory tonight is an opportunity for Mourinho to hit back at those who have questioned his ability to adapt to the modern game, to rub his return to the top in the faces of Ed Woodward and the United directors who held him responsible for their shortcomings, and to ultimately revitalise his career in the stadium where he announced himself on the world stage 15 years ago.
It was at Old Trafford that Mourinho earned himself global acclaim by engineering Porto’s Champions League round of 16 victory against the English champions. He would of course take them all the way that season.
This time he returns to Old Trafford as the away manager once more, armed with players he wanted to sign for United and a squad that reached last year’s Champions League final.
It is early days in his Tottenham career and there will be questions regarding how long he can remain the self-proclaimed “humble” one, particularly if Spurs endure another trying period.
For now, though, his sole focus will be on beating United, and with that, the possibility of ending the stay of the man who replaced him.