Match Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United


By Sleepy

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.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Formation

Credit: This11

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).

Ryan Giggs Passing Heatmap v Sunderland

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 Passing Heatmap v Manchester United

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.

Modric Tackles Heatmap v Manchester United

Credit: Guardian Chalkboard (Click To Enlarge)

In Summary

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.
Discuss in the Stretford End Arising forum.

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  1. That has to be the best preview i have ever read

    Bravo indeed hope there is more to come tho i’d prefer them soley for spurs and not utd tho 😉

  2. Spurs likely to tire..??Are you sure..??You played your first team v Liverpool whilst Spurs beat Charlton with 9 first team regulars rested.Also the way we spray the ball about at home its odds on you will tire long before us,just ask the European Champions if you dont believe me.!!3-1 Spurs Bale 2 & VDV

  3. Great Blog, very well written with excellent analysis, nice reference to the Jonathan Wilson article too.

    I have never known as much hype to be focused around this fixture. I guess it’s because Tottenham are now, thankfully, a Top 4 team. Plus the ubiquitous Beckham factor has given it another dimension, at least in the eyes of the media.

    Hopefully it’ll be a classic game, with both teams going at it with attacking football for the whole 90+ minutes.

  4. Simon, hopefully the analysis I provide supports my “tire” theory…I expect Spurs to come at us with full-throttle, perhaps even get an early goal – but United’s forte is soaking up the pressure and timing their attacks with precision.

    Cheers j much appreciated…and hopefully you enjoyed a Beckham-less blog! 🙂

  5. Spurs are not likely to tire after having rested nearly their first eleven last week. It goes to show just how far the knowledge of the author extends to as Kaboul cannot play as he is suspended.

    I’d say let the talking stop and we’ll see how Man Utd cope with our pace and movement. They’ve been extremely lucky to keep their unbeaten run but I’m thinking the luck will run out on Sunday…

  6. One thing I should point out is that it is more than likely that Nani will start in his favoured position; Just dont be surprised to see Giggs and Nani vary their approach according to the “feel of the game”, or indeed switch occasionally. In fact at times, 4-2-3-1 may seem more apt with Rooney dropping deep and linking with the narrow Giggs/Nani…..

  7. Nik, Being a Tottenham supporter I’m not as aware as yourself about United’s formations which they have used this season.
    I guesss you’re saying that you’ll have a front 4 of Giggs , Nani, Rooney, and Berba.

    Tottenham’s front 5 will be Bale and Lennon on the wings, with Modric and van der Vaart in centrally attacking positions , with Defoe playing off the shoulder of the last defender.

    Both teams have fluid attacking styles.

    This game promises to be full of rapid counter attacking football, both sides blessed with pace and vision. The offensive capabilities of both sides are obvious, but hopefully it’ll be a match where the likes of van der Vaart, Berbatov, Modric, Rooney, Nani, Bale et al can express themselves to the max. The vision of the individuals on display will be unbelievable.

    Don’t get me wrong,I’d love a long overdue Tottenham win, but as sheer football entertainment it should be a classic.

    Both clubs have long had philosophies which demand this kind of football.

  8. Bit biased there. Spurs are the ultimate counter-attacking team of the moment. Blackpool perhaps next. I don’t know where the 2-3 prediction has come from but if anything this could well be a home win. Otherwise Utd would be lucky to get a point. Will be a cracker of a match!

  9. Hi J, Fergie is indeed torn between what is basically a 4-4-1-1 system (or 4-2-4 in full flow), and the 4-5-1 which is typicaly deployed away in Europe or at the likes of Stamford Bridge and The Emirates. My guess as well as hope would be that he sticks to the Berba-Roo partnership that has served us so well in games such as Liverpool, Blackburn, Sunderland etc, and a system that was applied well against Spurs at OT where Berba played slightly deeper than the ‘9’, Hernandez. Carrick did a splendid job on VDV that night, and in tandem with Fletcher I see no reason why they cant be trusted tomorrow to provide the cover needed in front of the defence to soak up the expected attacking pressure from the home side.

    However don’t be surprised to see the following line-up, perhaps even Scholes thrown in for good measure in order to assert dominance in midfield:

    Should be a cracker either way!

  10. I think both teams are a bit weak in defence – it will be a question who is better marshalled. Gomes & Hutton are the biggest worry for spurs, if Charlie gets the nod & Gomes has a good’un I can’t see us losing

  11. Good preview. I agree with you that midfield battle will be key. I think SAF will go with 4-5-1 and play Anderson in the midfield with Carrick sitting and Fletcher on Modric.

    More here –

    Would be tough on Berba but i think it will be just Rooney up front.

    I think a 442 would probably be better for United as Spurs can be very open and are not the best defensively but SAF usually goes on the defensive with 4-5-1 in the big away games.

    I reckon 1-1

  12. I just think hed be missing a trick if he didnt capitalise on the combination play of berba-roo. And I certainly wouldnt want Rooney out wide as per Brum, he is dreadful there in a 4-5-1. If Fletcher and Carrick sit in as per Liverpool it will be fine. We thrive at WHL; Even with the aforementioned, by sitting deep halting the thong of attacks, Utd should pick Spurs off – Carrick to Giggs will be a familiar sight who look to release Roo/Nani, whichever we play.

    That said, I know the probability is with 4-2-3-1.

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