Match Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United

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By Richard Evans

Introduction

Manchester United head to White Hart Lane on Sunday knowing that victory could act as a catalyst in their quest for an historic 20th league title.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will know how their title challengers have fared, as City take on Bolton at the Etihad on Saturday, but whatever the outcome in that match, the Reds will understand the significance of three points in the capital.

Fortunately for United recent results against Spurs suggest that they will at least avoid defeat. The Red Devils haven’t lost to Tottenham since May 2001 and are unbeaten in their last 25 meetings in all competitions, winning 19 and drawing 6.

The first meeting this season between the teams followed the same script, as United ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Old Trafford. Danny Welbeck, Anderson and Wayne Rooney all found the net, as United laid down a marker to their potential title rivals.

This game has, more often than not, produced goals, and there have been one or two classics down the years, albeit mostly in United’s favour. The 5-3 at White Hart Lane is the first that springs to mind, as Tottenham blew a three goal half time lead, with a masterful second half display from Sir Alex’s men leaving Spurs speechless. More recently Man United repeated a similar trick when the Reds were vying with Liverpool for the title. In April 2009, Tottenham found themselves 2-0 up at Old Trafford going into the break, and looked certain to secure victory. However Ronaldo scored a contentious penalty and United were rampant, adding four more to hand the Reds a stunning 5-2 victory.

The Red Devils head into Sunday’s encounter unbeaten in six league games, and will face Spurs full of confidence, after Ryan Giggs’ 90th minute winner garnered all three points at Norwich.  Harry Redknapp’s side will be looking to avenge their 5-2 humbling at the hands of Arsenal, knowing another defeat could be very damaging to their top four aspirations.

Team Selection Thoughts

David De Gea has been in magnificent form in recent weeks and produced a fine performance away at Norwich, making saves that kept United in the game. After a shaky start to the season, which was understandable, he is starting to show why he was so highly rated, and if he keeps performing  like he did on Sunday, the Reds won’t concede many goals before the end of the season.

At the centre of defence, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans seem to have developed a good understanding and the pair have performed well together in recent matches. In light of Nemanja Vidic’s injury, Evans has stepped up to the plate, and has arguably had his best season as a United player. The pair will have to be on top of their game on Sunday with the movement and pace of Adebayor and Saha who will look to drag them out of position.

Patrice Evra should start at left back once more but he will be in for a very difficult game if Aaron Lennon is selected on the right, with the pacy winger having caused the Frenchman numerous problems in recent matches. Right back will be contested by Rafael and Phil Jones, with Chris Smalling a doubt after suffering a nasty head injury at Wembley on Wednesday night. Whoever starts at right back could be up against Gareth Bale who is doubtful, but should he play, the full back will have their work cut out dealing with his speed and directness. Rafael has favoured preferably in previous meetings against Bale, so if selected the young Brazilian will hope to continue his good form in what could be an intriguing contest.

In midfield United have been dealt a blow with the news that Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia won’t make the trip to London, although there are plenty of options for Sir Alex.  Ashley Young and Nani will probably occupy places on the wing, as the Reds will look to counter attack quickly, although the manager may want more experience and play Giggs on the left again, using Young as an impact player from the bench. Scholes and Carrick will probably start in the middle and their passing game will have to be at the highest level to compete with the likes of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

Wayne Rooney returns to the squad and may go straight back into the action, but he is unlikely to be partnered by Dimitar Berbatov who will probably start against Athletic Club on Thursday in the Europa League. The other striking berth will either be handed to Welbeck or Hernandez, although Sir Alex will probably favour using Hernandez as a sub bearing in mind his knack of scoring crucial late goals.

Opposition View

Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of tottenhamhotspurs.tv and asked their thoughts on the upcoming match and more:

Sunday’s Match

If you weren’t called Manchester United, I would really be excited about Sunday’s game. However, our luck against United is awful: refereeing decisions, last minute goals, disallowed goals etc. As much as we’d like to think Spurs have come on as a team, we never get a result against your lot. We couldn’t manage it last season at the Lane when United were down to 10. The duck will have to be broken at some point but a win on Sunday seems unlikely judging by recent performances against Arsenal and Stevenage, unfortunately. Our home record is pretty decent this season, but then so is United’s away form.

Spurs have injury concerns over Bale, Walker, and van der Vaart. It is also true, though, that Redknapp tends to feed us all misinformation when it comes to injuries. I would be surprised if Bale played but I do expect to see Walker and van der Vaart (but who really knows). It is important for us to find our width again. We have sort of gone away from playing two true wide men and instead have let Bale roam a bit more. We are a much better side when we play Lennon and Bale out wide.

We have to bounce back from last weekend and whilst the defeat knocked our confidence, the team will hopefully prove it was a one off. I will be surprised if either team run away with the victory, but can’t see either team keeping a clean sheet.

United’s main weakness is Howard Webb not officiating!!!!

Tottenham’s Season

From the start I honestly believed we had a chance of being in the top 3, so far so good, the FA Cup is still on too, but I’m concerned that we could hit a bad run that ruins our season, desperately hoping I’m wrong.

Harry Redknapp

I honestly don’t know which way Redknapp will go on this which is probably about right as reports are that he doesn’t know which way to go either. If I had to take a punt I’d say he probably will be the next England manager yes and I will be disappointed if he leaves. Having said that, our team does have weaknesses that a new manager can address (most notably, for me, actually training in set pieces). I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Jose to replace him but if that doesn’t happen I’d like Brendan Rodgers. Neither of those seems likely though. It’ll probably be David bloody Moyes.

Standout Player

I think you can credit a lot of Spurs’ success to finally getting in that athletic target man up front. Adebayor has been nothing short of awesome for Spurs. He contributes to the side in so many ways. I have been most impressed with his ability to get the rest of the team involved in attack, despite playing furthest up the pitch. He has good finish and top class hold-up ability. I really hope we find a way to sign him permanently.

Bale, Modric, Parker, Assou-Ekotto, Kaboul, Walker and Friedal have all had excellent seasons, whilst the others have performed well, but not as consistently.

Louis Saha

I was fine with the signing of Saha. The only people who are upset about it are those who wished we had signed Remy or Rossi or someone like that. You have to remember how difficult it can be to sign big names in January. I think we ended up with a guy who has proven he can score goals in the premier league and can be a real handful for defenders when he is on his game, which he has been since coming to Spurs. Even Sir Alex has said as much leading up to the match. I think he will embrace his role and turn out to be a very solid player in his short time here.

Young Spurs?

Well, obviously, Kyle Walker but I don’t think that’s any surprise. There are high hopes for Steven Caulker (on loan at Swansea) who I would expect to see both in the Spurs first team and probably the England set-up next season. He’s probably our brightest talent that’s closest to breaking through but there are a couple on the fringes, such as Tom Carroll (on loan at Derby) and Andros Townsend (on loan at Leeds) who may make it. Looking a bit younger, Harry Kane is a striker with a lot of promise as is Souleymane Coulibaly but my tip (and a lot of others on here) would be Massimo Luongo. He’s an Australian central midfielder who looks very cultured on the ball and has a lot of attributes to be a top star. We’ll have to see how he develops though.

Three Key Battles

Michael Carrick vs. Luka Modric

The diminutive Croatian has been in sparkling form this season and is one of the main reasons behind Tottenham’s success. If he is given time and space he will cause United a lot of problems with his vision and ability to strike from long range. That is why it’s imperative Carrick can impose his passing game upon the contest and also marshal Modric when the Reds haven’t got the ball. If Carrick plays well, so will United.

Rio Ferdinand vs. Emmanuel Adebayor

Adebayor has had a very good season for Spurs so far scoring eleven goals and making twelve for his teammates. His performance was brilliant against Newcastle and Rio will need to be switched on from the start if he is to keep Adebayor quiet. Not only is he good in the air, he is also very skilful, so denying him space should be the key objective.

Wayne Rooney vs. Michael Dawson

If Rooney starts he will be the focal point for the Red Devils and could prove the difference. He has run Spurs ragged before, when a 10-man United achieved a 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane after the dismissal of Paul Scholes. Rooney led the line magnificently and if he shows the form he did on that day victory will be very achievable for the Reds.

Summary

Spurs away is always a very difficult game and Sunday will be no different.  It should be very fast paced with plenty of intricate passing. Both sides need a win but they may go about it in different ways. For United the aim will be to soak up pressure before counter attacking at pace, and if they can implement that game plan effectively, then three points could be on the cards.

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5 Comments

  1. Hope SAF does not play scholes and Giggs together cause they will slow down the team considerably especially in midfield against a fast tottenham, the previous meeting our midfield was much younger. Shoul let Phil jones take a def midfield role and let Rafael and Fabio play in rb and lb instead of evra, otherwise we will have a long day at the back.

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