Manchester United host Tottenham at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, looking to record a fifth straight win in the league and keep the pressure on early leaders Chelsea.
Robin van Persie’s late penalty at Anfield last Sunday meant that United had won four on the bounce, and after a disappointing opening weekend defeat to Everton, the Red Devils look to be finding some form.
Add into the equation the fact that Chelsea travel to an impressive Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime, and the Reds could well be on the summit if they can secure three points against Spurs; something which has been a regular occurrence at Old Trafford in recent seasons.
In fact to find the last time Tottenham won at Old Trafford you have to go way back to 1989, a staggering 23 years ago. They have come close on numerous occasions, with the standout fixture being the infamous 0-0 from the 2004/2005 season, when Roy Carroll spilled a hooked effort from Pedro Mendes, and the ball clearly crossed the line, however the officials didn’t see it.
That incident basically sums up Tottenham’s fortunes at United since the Premier League began, and last season followed the same script. Spurs played attractive football but were ultimately outplayed, as goals from Danny Welbeck, Anderson and Wayne Rooney gave United a comfortable victory by three goals to nil.
A similar score line on Saturday would be an excellent result for the Reds, especially considering the wealth of talent at Andre Villas-Boas’ disposal, and not only would it boost confidence, but it would send out a clear message to the rest of teams challenging for the title, that United are desperate to win back their crown.
However it won’t be an easy task. Spurs are unbeaten in six games in all competitions and in Jermain Defoe they have a striker in form. Add to that the attacking flare of Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele and they look very dangerous. Last time out they edged past QPR, defeating their London rivals 2-1, although United will obviously provide a much sterner test; one that could encapsulate the new Tottenham.
Team Selection Thoughts
At the start of the season everyone expected David de Gea to go from strength to strength and make the number one spot his own, especially after his brilliant performances for United towards the end of last term. However after one glaring mistake against Fulham, he was replaced by Anders Lindegaard, whom after a number of steady performances, seems to be Sir Alex’s favourite between the posts. Now, to maintain solidity and continuity Lindegaard has to keep his place in the league, otherwise United will be back in a similar position to last season when the keeper was changed virtually every week; a scenario that won’t help the Red Devils at all in their quest for a 20th title.
Defensively, United were dealt a massive blow this week, with the news that Nemanja Vidic will be out for around 2 months after suffering a knee injury. The Serbian had only just returned this August after rupturing his cruciate knee ligaments in the Champions League last season, and everyone hoped he would be able to form another successful partnership with Rio Ferdinand. This now places a lot of expectation and pressure on the likes of Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, who despite being more than adequate replacements for Vidic, are young and much less experienced than United’s captain and leader. Rafael and Evra should continue at right and left back respectively, with the former scoring a wonderful goal on Sunday to haul United level. He should develop, and kick on from here, to make the right back spot his own.
In midfield, there is a major doubt over Antonio Valencia who was pictured at Carrington on crutches, after injuring his ankle against Liverpool. The Ecuadorian won United the penalty that decided the match and has been increasingly influential as the season has wore on, making his absence, should he be ruled out, detrimental to United’s attacking prowess. Ashley Young remains sidelined, giving Nani, who was hauled off at half time against Liverpool, another chance to impress. The tricky winger was exceptional during the Euro’s, but for one reason or another he just hasn’t performed yet. Saturday is the perfect stage to make his mark.
Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher all started and impressed in Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Newcastle in the Capital One Cup, although they could find themselves on the bench come Saturday evening, if Sir Alex fields the same central triumvirate that ended the Liverpool match. Shinji Kagawa never really got into the game, Michael Carrick was composed and Paul Scholes shone as usual, lifting United’s tempo and assertiveness. The diminutive playmaker has, on more than one occasion this season, changed the game for United and remains as influential as ever. The longer he continues the better.
Up front the Red Devils finally received some good news regarding injuries, as Wayne Rooney returned to first team action against Newcastle. With van Persie finding the net and Rooney back, United look formidable going forward and hopefully now the pair can strike up a partnership. Welbeck and Hernandez provide exciting options from the bench should the Reds be in need of a spark.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of tottenhamhotspurs.tv and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Manchester United vs. Spurs is one of the fixtures on the calendar that we truly dread. We never, ever, EVER get anything at Old Trafford. However, we have a good a chance of taking points this weekend. Problem is, we’ve said that before and we never do.
United have failed to impress so far this season, even with new signings van Persie and Kagawa. There is an overly reliance on Scholes and Giggs, which is unacceptable at their age. Without Scholes, United struggle to control the midfield area. Possible absentees from United’s backline could translate into Spurs being more effective going forward than we typically are in this fixture. Aaron Lennon has been arguably our best player so far this season. He also tends to play well against Evra, which is an area Spurs could look to exploit. I also like the match up of an in-form Defoe making runs in behind a back line without Nemanja Vidic.
Our line-up will probably be (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen; Sandro, Dembele; Lennon, Sigurdsson/Dempsey, Bale; Defoe.
The Gallas-Caulker pairing is a worry against an incredibly talented United front line, but thanks to injuries we are lacking options.
Many are very pleased with the appointment of Villas-Boas, as he represents an excellent long-term leader for Spurs. If he’s successful over the next 10 years, he will still only be 44 years old and have plenty more left in him. We are excited to see what the future holds with AVB once he brings in the players he wants, and further down the line, when we open our new stadium.
Many disliked Redknapp’s non-rotation policy plus he appeared to only care about the Premier League, so in that regard we are happy with Villas-Boas, as he’s taking other competitions seriously. He is tactically superior to Redknapp, but Harry’s main strength was his ability to man manage players, which is an aspect the new manager needs to improve on, hence his troubles at Chelsea.
He is the right man to take us forward. We’ve had to adjust to his brand of football, with the high line defence and changes in our attacking transitions and movement, but once everyone gets up to speed with it I’m sure we’ll be top 4 contenders at the very least.
A top 6 finish would do nicely. Many Spurs fans are less focused on our league position as long as we see promising signs of AVB’s system implemented. Lifting a domestic cup or the Europa League would be magnificent too.
Dembele’s strengths are different to Modric’s, so he’s probably a better fit for our system. The early signs are promising with him. Sigurdsson impressed during pre-season, but he hasn’t performed well in the Premier League yet. Dempsey has done okay, but it’s probably too soon to judge. Same with Lloris (we’re very happy to have signed him though. He has the potential to become a world-class goalkeeper, if he isn’t already; he’s the captain of France after all). Vertonghen has been outstanding; he is a total footballer, looks composed at centre back, but also at left back. He can also play in midfield, so offers versatility. We expect him to become our captain real soon.
Friedel vs. Lloris?
Lloris is the better ‘keeper, and certainly the long term number one, but Friedel deserves to start based solely on his high level of performance so far this season. That said, we don’t think it will be much longer before AVB makes the switch. Lloris is utterly and completely too talented to be sitting on the bench.
Three Key Battles
Aaron Lennon vs. Patrice Evra
Down the years Evra has always struggled against the pace and directness of Lennon, and this could be an area Tottenham look to exploit on Saturday. Villas-Boas is very astute with a great eye for detail, and he will have analysed United’s weak points. If Tottenham can dominate in midfield and free Lennon then they could have some joy down the left, meaning that Evra will have to remain disciplined to ensure the tricky winger doesn’t get time and space.
Robin van Persie vs. Jan Vertonghen
United’s number 20 already has five goals to his name this season, and after eight years of North London derbies, he will know all about scoring against Spurs. The clinical striker will however face a talented defender in Vertonghen on Saturday who has impressed since signing in the summer. Chances will therefore probably be at a premium for van Persie, although he’s that prolific he might only need one.
Michael Carrick vs. Moussa Dembele
Carrick will have his work cut out against Dembele on Saturday but the midfield battle will be key, and for United to dominate the game Carrick will have to assert his authority. Dembele was allowed too much time when he played for Fulham at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and if he is afforded the same room he could hurt the Reds. He likes to run with the ball and if he gets the chance to drive at the back four in possession too often then Tottenham will create chances. Carrick will be vital in ensuring this doesn’t happen.
United have won four games in a row and considering their recent record against Tottenham at Old Trafford, a fifth win is a distinct possibility. Tottenham have many players that could hurt Sir Alex Ferguson’s men though, and if they perform on the day then Spurs could run United very close. However, with Rooney back alongside a fit and firing van Persie, the Red Devils should just about have the edge, meaning that the 23 year wait would continue. Everyone associated with United will be more than happy with that outcome.
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