The emotional resonance might have taken a hit if Jock Stein had shunned the fans and instead proclaimed ‘football is nothing without the narrative’, but he would still have had a point.

It is all-encompassing, ever-changing, and demands to be fed weekly with declarations of imminent glory or impending doom. Good teams set it themselves, bad teams allow the ruthless watching world to set it for them, but it's always there. In narrative terms, this Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur is a veritable feast. There were roughly three weeks, last season, between United winning the Carabao Cup and Antonio Conte going nuclear after Spurs surrendered a three-goal lead away at relegation-bound Southampton.

Erik ten Hag, after a decidedly shaky start, began to exude the quiet confidence of a man well on his way to solving the impossible puzzle that the Premier League’s one-time dynastic rulers had become. Not only did they beat Newcastle United comfortably to bank a first trophy since 2017, they ousted Barcelona from the Europa League while losing just one Premier League fixture in over three months.

Tottenham went on to sack Conte, then also sack the guy asked to fill in for a few weeks while they looked for his successor, thus ensuring that Cristian Stellini will, for the rest of his life, think twice whenever anybody asks him to do them a favour. Spurs, as it happened, eventually did themselves a long overdue favour in hiring Ange Postecoglou.

Things could hardly have gone differently for Spurs and United since, and therein lies the power of the ‘the narrative’. What has transpired in the months that followed confirm that it really is pointless trying to guess what will happen next in this silly little game of ours.

The tectonic shift in outlook from North London to Manchester has an awful lot to do with Postecoglou, a man who revels in treating the narrative surrounding him with the same simmering contempt as an ill-thought-out question at a press conference. As it was when he crossed the world from Yokohama to Glasgow, Postecoglou’s Tottenham appointment was laughed out of the building in some quarters.

But had they paid attention to his consistent track record in confounding expectation, then they may have chosen to stifle those chuckles, just a little bit. After 20 games, Spurs are just six points off the Premier League summit, and only one behind last season’s runaway top two in Manchester City and Arsenal. They’ve swapped the misery of Conte’s joyless football for a swashbuckling style that somehow even drew plaudits after a 4-1 defeat to Chelsea, in which Postecoglou’s team were reduced to nine men.

Postecoglou is a manager who has once again bent the narrative to his will, and he’s done it without Harry Kane, or having two of his best players in James Maddison and Micky van de Ven available for an extended period. They probably won’t win the league, but it’s been some turnaround.

The reversal at Old Trafford in the space of a year is just as stark, only not for the right reasons.

Its origins can be traced back to only a week after Ten Hag tasted silverware at Wembley, travelling to Anfield the following Sunday to taste utter humiliation in a 7-0 annihilation. United trudged on to grind out third place in the table, an impressive feat considering how abjectly they started the campaign, but something other than a wholly undignified amount of goals was lost at Anfield that day. It shattered the notion that Ten Hag had mended United’s fragile psyche.

A poor summer transfer window was the catalyst for a slide back into the pit of mediocrity they’ve pottered around in ever since Sir Alex Ferguson rode off into the sunset after 26 years. Where Postecoglou set his own narrative, Ten Hag has, increasingly desperately, been fighting against the one now thrown at him for months on end.

Old Trafford has been a graveyard for a startling majority of those who have dared enter since 2013, chewing up players and managers alike before spitting them out onto the scrapheap. For a time, Ten Hag threatened to be the man to buck the trend, to show legions of fans that with the right coach with the right philosophy, a swift turnaround in fortunes was not an entirely delusional belief.

Now, though? Ten Hag is near-constantly teetering on the cliff edge, finding his balance for a brief moment before a stray wind/3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth has him frantically wobbling once more. It’s an unsustainable position, surely, but the former Ajax manager appears increasingly helpless in railing against the narrative that seems to get all Man United managers in the end – a bad start, a period of promise, and then an a slow, inevitable march down the road to nowhere.

A lack of available players has been blamed for United’s many ills this season, but Spurs treatment table has hardly had a quiet season, either. Ill-fitting player profile has been blamed for Ten Hag’s failure to inspire anything like the exhilarating football conjured up by his Ajax side, and while that is not a crime in itself, it is a damning indictment that he has imprinted minimal discernible identity onto United in 18 months, whereas it took Postecoglou only a few months, at most, to turn Tottenham into the most exciting team in the Premier League.

So, while there are only three points on offer at Old Trafford on Sunday, there is so much more underpinning this fixture. The manager controlling his own narrative against the manager being swept up by the same one which carried away his predecessors.

Should Tottenham inflict a 10th league defeat of the season on Ten Hag, they will race 11 points clesr of United. And while that won’t kill off their Champions League ambitions completely, it is only January, it will put those aspirations on life support.

For Postecoglou, victory would hammer home the growing suspicion that his team are not going away at the Premier League’s sharp end, and keep them on a path which looks a whole lot like sustained recovery. Ironically, it’s about where United found themselves around this time last year.

How Ten Hag must wish he could go back there.