So to White Hart Lane on Sunday for the fixture I look forward to most each season, a trip to North London which could prove to be a tricky outing. I say tricky, but unbeaten there since 2001 and with the experienced trio of van der Sar, Vidic and Rooney all likely to make their return to the starting lineup, a momentum-building Manchester United side have close to a fully fit squad for the encounter; And although Redknapp has done a sterling job at the club and generally isn’t given enough credit for his tactical nous (as Jonathan Wilson delves into here: The Question: Is Harry Redknapp winging it tactically?), unlike the majority of the British media (ok we won’t count Lawro and Harry himself!), I simply can’t see Man United losing here.
In Bale, Nani, van der Vaart and Berbatov we have four of the league’s exciting and on-form players on view – but we also have four very attack-minded fullbacks likely starting the game and this could be a key facet in what could be a very open game.
Fergie’s tactical dilemma is a familiar one: Does he seek to control the midfield in a similar fashion to the game at Eastlands this term where he played three across the middle, or stick with the fluid and direct 4-4-2 which can be so effective in away ties like this where the onus is on the home team to attack and take the game to the visitor. Thus with Scholes still not match-fit and Anderson seemingly losing a bit of form of late, Fergie may well be tempted to adopt a counter-attacking style of play with Carrick and Fletcher asked to provide defensive cover just ahead of Vidic and Ferdinand. This shape could be crucial to pressing the space in which van der Vaart likes to operate (as Carrick did so well at OT) as well as ensuring that they assist the fullbacks with the threat of Bale and Lennon from wide.
Nani could be up against the much-improved Assou-Ekotto and will look to manipulate the space in which the latter will leave as he pushes forward to join Bale. However don’t be surprised to see Nani start on the left in tandem with Evra to attack the defensively frail Hutton; with Giggs’s defensive capabilities largely overlooked he could be used to entice Bale onto his weaker foot by showing him inside as United will probably sit deeper than usual. Giggs, who will make his 600th league appearance if selected, enjoys playing Spurs (making a habit of scoring against them quite frequently) and will work from a central position when on the ball, much as he did in the recent game versus Sunderland (see chalkboard).
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Rooney’s return will see him rekindle the excellent partnership with Berbatov, who both take great credit for the application of Fergie’s slight tactical alteration; By taking it in turns to drop into ‘the hole’, three benefits are elicited: 1) They are able to create from deep. 2) They can adopt a defensive position when relieved of possession – attempting to nullify the threat of Modric for example. And 3) The centre-half pairing of Dawson and Kaboul (who was excellent at Old Trafford in the corresponding fixture) may have trouble tracking the movement of the ‘false 9’ position – thus potentially allowing Evra, Nani and Rafael success in attacking the space left by defenders who have been pulled out of position.
For Tottenham, Defoe should return to the side, and will be supported by the excellent van der Vaart in a likely 4-4-1-1 system. Expect the Dutchman to link with Bale in and around youngster Rafael Da Silva as a lot of the play was targeted down the left-hand side at OT; Rafael coped admirably in that game however both on the ground and in the air, as Fergie’s instruction seemed to be “hit the Welshman early”. Brown (a target for Tottenham) assisted late on in the game, but this was mainly due to Crouch’s introduction.
van der Vaart to the left (and centre) of the field. (Click To Enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
In midfield, much onus will be placed on Modric with Huddlestone still sidelined and Jenas and Palacios not enjoying their best form to say the least (the latter also recently bereaved); Modric has adapted well to the Premiership after a tough initiation and as well as his ability to spray sumptuous balls to both wings, his ability to make tackles and put the defensive work in often goes un-noticed. In the chalkboard, we can see that he attempted 9 tackles throughout the game (mostly down United’s right), but intriguingly, he seemed to tire in this respect, making 7 of his 9 tackles in the first 48 minutes. Modric’s link-play with Bale could be decisive, and he will also look to hit Lennon from deep as soon as possible – lest it be forgotten that it was Lennon’s fantastic display in the Carling Cup Final in March 2009 that was the catalyst for Evra’s subsequent season of poor form.
Credit: Guardian Chalkboard (Click To Enlarge)
United have the psychological edge going into the game, and crucially know when to press, when to drop and how to capitalise with possession. Spurs (as above) are likely to tire, and this fast paced game could be the ideal tonic for the visitors who will look to impart their counter-attacking forte, with Rafael and Evra joining the attack at every opportunity.
Referee: Mike Dean – refereed United at Scunthorpe and Villa. Renowned for his quick thinking and dramatic gestures, Dean is highly thought of and is fond of a penalty decision (though crucially not during the United-Chelsea encounter!).
Highlights: Correctly awarding Villa a penalty for a Brown foul on Young.
Lowlights: Giving a whole host of weird and wonderful decisions in the Spurs-Chelsea game, most notably missing what seemed like a clear red card for a late Essien challenge on Bale.
Prediction: A one-goal margin victory for the reds – 2-3 is priced @ 28/1. Draw HT, United FT is well priced at 9/2
1st yellow? Go with Hutton.
Read the thoughts of Spurs fans – Other Side Of Coin: Spurs Fans On Beckham and The Big Match.
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