Neil Humphreys: United v Spurs a battle of two philosophies (Boring v Brilliant)
Mourinho faces humiliation if Red Devils play it safe again
Without a ball being kicked, Tottenham Hotspur have already humiliated Manchester United once.
They eviscerated Liverpool last Sunday to prove that there's more than one way to skin a defensive carcass.
If Spurs win at Old Trafford today, particularly with Harry Kane missing through injury, Jose Mourinho will suffer a second humiliation, one that he may not recover from in the long run.
The United manager knows only one way to play against the top six.
He parks buses and panders to no one. His ability to play for certain results remains second to none, but tactics evolve. The game moves on.
Mauricio Pochettino is proof of that. For the Spurs coach, the tactical whiteboard is a starting point, nothing more.
Selections are never set in stone. Formations are fluid. He keeps everyone guessing until kick-off.
Against Real Madrid and Liverpool, Pochettino rotated players and positions. He sent Spurs out with a different tactical approach in both games, a bold endeavour considering he lacks United's resources.
But Mourinho just isn't wired that way. His innate conservative nature raises a collective eyebrow at Old Trafford, but rarely a pulse.
Against Liverpool, he offered a cure for insomnia. United managed one shot on target in one of the worst matches of the season.
Against the same opposition, Spurs got behind Liverpool's defence five times in the opening half an hour. They scored twice and rattled the woodwork.
Tottenham are as intoxicating as United are insipid. Both sides are built in their manager's image.
The Red Devils are slow, methodical and predictable. Spurs are fast, intuitive and inventive.
In the league standings, both sides have 20 points, separated by only goal difference, which underlines the magnitude of today's fixture.
The encounter is about competing philosophies and perhaps a little soul-searching among United fans.
Tottenham are demonstrating that the Mourinho way is no longer the only way.
His minor variations on 4-2-3-1, with at least one holding midfielder rarely stepping across the halfway line, has served him well since his earliest days at Chelsea.
But tactical evolution and coaching success go hand in hand, one influences the other; younger men introduce fresh ideas, older men suddenly seem stale.
Managers who spanned different decades and sustained their dominance can be counted on two hands. Those who did so at different clubs can be counted on a few fingers.
If Mourinho is at risk of being left behind, then he is in fine company. In the history of English football, just four managers have won the league title with two different clubs.
United must have been aware of that statistic when they hired the Portuguese reactionary and if they weren't, then they certainly are now.
Despite having the same number of points, the aesthetic gap between United and Tottenham is a chasm.
Spurs are a pleasure to watch. The Red Devils feel like a punishment, as if supporters must pay penance for all that success under Sir Alex Ferguson. The Mourinho era seems like a self-flagellating test of their devotion.
In recent games against Liverpool and Huddersfield, United scored once and conceded twice. In recent games against Liverpool and Huddersfield, Tottenham scored eight and conceded just once.
Pochettino doesn't believe in parked buses, any more than he subscribes to a specific template. But he always advocates an attacking spectacle. Whether it's Real Madrid or Stoke on a wet Wednesday night, Spurs never sit back.
And that presents a serious problem for Mourinho today.
Should he succumb to temptation and do what he was born to do, he could well suffocate Tottenham and pinch a point.
But the result would hardly be a vindication for his insufferable tactics. On the contrary, it would have little bearing on the title race and may serve only to underline the end of the old United.
In fact, each swashbuckling Tottenham performance provides further evidence that the natural, long-term successor to Sir Matt Busby and Ferguson might be sitting in the opposite dugout.
Pochettino champions youth, speed, invention and versatility, playing qualities typically associated with the archetypal United line-up.
So the onus is on Mourinho to ditch the stereotype, the one-paced play, the sideways possession and whatever else remains of Louis van Gaal's tainted reign. He has an incentive to attack a Tottenham side that will miss Kane.
But no one's holding their breath.
United's midfield injury list, which includes Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick, already gives Mourinho the excuse to throw in Nemanja Matic and Daley Blind to strangle the contest.
Obviously, he wants to avoid defeat.
But if United don't play to win, then that's something else entirely for a coach with a net spend of £250 million (S$450m).
An evening of anti-football may turn Old Trafford into an anti-Mourinho audience.