After ensuring progress into the next round of the Capital One Cup with a 2-1 win over Newcastle on Wednesday night, United now turn their attentions back to the bread and butter of the Premier League with the visit of Andre Villas Boas’s Tottenham to Old Trafford on Saturday evening.
Since their opening day defeat away at Everton, United have, perhaps ill-deservedly, picked up maximum points in the league with four successive victories, the most recent being the 2-1 victory away at Anfield last Sunday. Whilst performances have flitted between convincing and sloppy, what’s been most impressive has been the team’s resolve and resilience and the return of the ability to pick up points even when not playing at their best; a quality for which United are notorious. Whilst last season, United didn’t pick up any victories after falling behind, already this season United have won three games – Fulham, Southampton and Liverpool – after going behind; something that bears well for the rest of the season.
The Spurs game is the first of three in a week for the Reds with United travelling to Transylvania to play CFR Cluj midweek before heading to the north-east to take on Newcastle next weekend. For that reason, it will be interesting to see the manager’s team selection for Saturday’s encounter.
Last 3 vs Tottenham
- Spurs 1-3 Man Utd
- Man Utd 3-0 Spurs
- Man Utd 0-0 Spurs
After Anders Lindegaard impressed in last weekend’s victory at Anfield, he should be expecting to keep his place between the sticks with David de Gea once again finding himself amongst the substitutes. In defence, United are down to the bare bones with Nemanja Vidic joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as United centre-backs on the sidelines following surgery on his right knee which is expected to keep the Serbian out for a minimum of eight weeks. Those injuries mean that Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should start on Saturday with Michael Keane or Scott Wootton as backup on the bench. Rafael, who by virtue of being United’s 2nd top scorer in the league so far this season perhaps demonstrates the team’s over reliance on a certain Dutchman, should keep his spot at right-back whilst Patrice Evra will probably start at left-back despite another encouraging performance from Alexander Buttner against Newcastle.
In contrast to central defence, United are saturated with options in central midfield, particularly after the very welcome sight of Darren ‘football genius’ Fletcher completing 90 minutes for the first team against Newcastle although it would be a surprise if the Scotsman featured on Saturday. Michael Carrick has made a fantastic start to the season whilst Paul Scholes has continued to roll back the years with a string of impressive performances demonstrating his trademark long passing and much needed nous. Both Carrick and Scholes may start after being rested for Wednesday night’s encounter although much depends on the manager’s plans for the Cluj game. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Scholes is kept back for the midweek game where the slower pace of Champions League football allows Scholes to dictate the flow of the game. Anderson and Tom Cleverley were both goalscorers on Wednesday night and in the two games they’ve played together this season – Fulham and Newcastle – they have shown signs of reprising their partnership that proved startlingly effective at the start of last season before injuries to both players cruelly broke it up. It certainly seems the case that both Anderson and Cleverley seem to perform best when playing alongside each other than alongside any other midfield partner and the manager may well have recognised this.
On the flanks, United have considerably fewer options. With Ashley Young still not having recovered from injury and the news that Antonio Valencia was spotted leaving Carrington with his foot in a protective boot earlier on in the week suggesting that he may well miss out this weekend, the Reds seem to be reliant on Nani and Ryan Giggs for width. The Portuguese wideman has by and large disappointed this season although the injury to Valencia may see him return to his favourite right-wing berth where he has thrived at times. Another possibility is that Shinji Kagawa or Danny Welbeck are asked to play on the left as both have done already this season, although neither is really comfortable nor effective out wide.
Another positive of Wednesday night’s game was the return of Wayne Rooney, who looked both much fitter and much sharper than he had at the start of the season, from the horrific injury he suffered from Hugo Rodallega’s studs. That being said, I would be surprised if Rooney started on Saturday. Robin van Persie, already with 5 league goals in just 3 starts, is assured of his starting spot and I would expect him to fulfil the lone striker’s role with Kagawa sitting just behind him in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Predicted XI: Lindegaard, Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Nani, Anderson, Cleverley, Welbeck, Kagawa, Van Persie
After initially making a slow start to life under the stewardship of Andre Villas Boas – including frustrating 1-1 home draws with West Brom and Norwich – Spurs have bounced back with consecutive victories over Reading and QPR respectively. The additions of both Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele from Fulham have considerably helped them offset the both the sale of Luka Modric and injury to Scott Parker.
Tottenham PL results
- Spurs 2-1 QPR
- Reading 1-3 Spurs
- Spurs 1-1 Norwich
As for ever seems the case with Spurs defensively, the suspicion remains that they can be got at with William Gallas, fine player as he is, still an integral part of their defence at the age of 35. On the other hand, summer signing Jan Vertonghen has impressed and looks like he could be a coup at the reported £9.5 million they paid Ajax for his services. And in goal, the evergreen Brad Friedel – who was so often a thorn in Utd’s side during his time at Blackburn – has played so well this season that he’s keeping deadline day signing and French number one Hugo Lloris on the bench: no mean feat at the age of 41.
Spurs’s main attacking threat will come down the flanks with the Lilywhites possessing one of the best wing duos in the country in the shape of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon who has seemed to thrive since Villas Boas has made him a regular. The central midfield battle promises to be a fascinating encounter on Saturday evening with Sandro and Mousa Dembele – who was impressive in Fulham’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford earlier on in the season – striking up a burgeoning partnership and whoever makes up Utd’s central midfield pairing will have to be on the top of their games if United are going to come away with all three points.
Up front, Jermain Defoe – with four goals to his name already – has started the season off in a rich vein of form with him, like Lennon, perhaps benefiting from the confidence of his manager and the certainty of his place in the starting XI which he never enjoyed during Harry Redknapp’s tenure. Behind Defoe however, Spurs have very little depth with Emmanuel Adebayor still not having made an appearance this season due to injury although he may be fit for Saturday’s encounter. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was surely bought to add goals to the team, has flattered to deceive, failing to hit the heights he reached in his loan spell at Swansea last season.
Predicted XI: Friedel, Naughton, Gallas, Vertonghen, Walker, Lennon, Sandro, Dembele, Bale, Dempsey, Defoe
I personally always look forward to the visit of Spurs with the matchup between the two sides always promising to be an entertaining encounter with both sides committed to playing exciting, attacking football. As such, there have been some real classics throughout the years from United’s 2-1 victory on the last day of the season in 1999 which clinched the first part of the historic Treble to United’s comeback from 3-0 down at half-time to win 5-3 at White Hart Lane in September 2001. More recently, in a crucial game for United’s title hopes in 2008/09, they came back from 2-0 down at half-time to put 5 unanswered goals past Spurs in one of the best second half performances in recent memory.
As the above games suggest, the Reds have a fantastic record against Spurs with the North London side last beating United in May 2001 when a 3-1 victory gave the Lilywhites all 3 points at White Hart Lane. As for their last victory in the league at Old Trafford, you’ll have to go way back to December 1989 when a solitary Gary Lineker goal gave Spurs victory. In fairness, they should have come away with the three points in January 2005 after the infamous ‘goal that never was’ from Pedro Mendes in stoppage time of the 0-0 draw. Hopefully, United can remain a bogey team for Spurs by taking home all three points once again on Saturday.