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United v Tottenham Hotspur: De Gea dropped

Ed August 8, 2015 Tags: , Matches 6 comments
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New season, new challenges, new expectations. Familiar opponents. Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford on Saturday kicks off the Premier League season – a campaign in which the pressure is firmly on Louis van Gaal to stimulate a strong Manchester United performance. After spending £230 million acquiring new players, since joining the club last July, Van Gaal has few excuses left.

United’s short pre-season tour of the USA was tightly micro-managed by the Dutch coach. Commercial arrangements shelved, fixtures moved and flying time greatly reduced. All in the name of a strong start this season.

Indeed, Van Gaal’s grip on the club is now strong and the hierarchy has responded with another influx of talent: five players that patch some of the more significant holes in United’s squad. At least three – Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay – will start for Untied against Spurs at Old Trafford this weekend.

United comfortably won this fixture last season during a golden period in which Van Gaal’s side not only beat Spurs, but Liverpool and Manchester City with some flair and attacking verve. Still, that momentum fizzled out in the final month of the campaign and memories also remain fresh of Tottenham victories at Old Trafford in both 2012 and 2013. No longer can United simply turn up and expect a north London collapse in Manchester. Sir Alex Ferguson’s old rallying cry, “Lads, it’s Tottenham,” no longer applies.

Nor have too many in Van Gaal’s entourage forgotten United’s calamitous start to last season – home defeat to Swansea followed by just 13 points secured in the opening 10 games of the campaign. The Dutchman’s determination to start the season strongly prompted not only pre-season reorganisation, but early moves in the summer transfer market. Not least because United faces two winnable, but pivotal, fixtures against Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifier this month. After just four games on tour, United cannot afford to be undercooked heading into the opening fortnight of the new campaign.

Still, Van Gaal has more than one headache with which to contend. Goalkeeper David de Gea is reportedly not in the right frame of mind for Saturday’s fixture, with a mooted transfer to Real Madrid still not resolved. The Spanish club is yet to meet United’s asking price or offer Sergio Ramos as part of the deal. It is a saga that could go right up to the transfer deadline on 2 September, and with all sides at an impasse, there appears to be little momentum towards a speedy resolution.

It says little for United’s planning that one of the world’s finest goalkeepers will sit in the stands on the opening day of the new campaign with a freshman replacement facing the most daunting fixture of his nascent career. Van Gaal is seemingly not in the mood to offer de Gea any leeway.

“The player has to manage this situation,” Van Gaal said in his defence on Friday. “I think when it is September 1 then there is already a decision made, because then the transfer period is over and then we have to manage the new situation. That may be easier, but I don’t know, we have to see and wait, and observe. I am the victim, the fellow players are the victims, the club is the victim.

“We have observed and seen him in training sessions, we have seen him in matches and he is not the David de Gea of last year. This is the most important match, so I want players who can only focus on the match and he is not capable of doing that.”

Either way, de Gea’s situation will be resolved within the next three weeks. Meanwhile, Van Gaal is seeking to add two further players – a defender and an attacking player – to his squad. Pity, it would seem, that neither is in place before the campaign proper begins.

“The squad is still in process because we are living in a crazy football world,” he added. “The transfer period is still going on and the competition is starting. Di Maria, we have solved that problem, but it is a big loss because I want attackers with speed and creativity. He is one of those players. We have to look for that kind of player.”

Meanwhile, Spurs’ manager Mauricio Pochettino has augmented only his defensive options over the summer, acquiring Toby Alderweireld from under Southampton’s noses, Kevin Wimmer from 1. FC Köln and Kieran Trippier from relegated Burnley. It is, however, the retention of star striker Harry Kane that is Pochettino’s greatest coup. United’s interest in the Englishman is very real.

Pochettino’s side has enjoyed a muted pre-season in the USA and Germany, losing to an MLS All-Star XI and Real Madrid, before defeating AC Milan.

“We are feeling good after victory against Milan in the Audi Cup and I’m very excited,” said Pochettino. “But Manchester United have improved a lot, signed a lot of good players, and it is a tough game for us.”

Indeed, whatever Van Gaal’s challenges, it is a fixture that United should win.

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 12.45pm, 8 August 2015

United subs from: Johnstone, Lindegaard, Blackett, Evans, Jones, McNair, Herrera, Januzaj, Pereira, Schweinsteiger, Valencia, Hernández, Wilson

Spurs subs from: Lloris, Davies, Fazio, Trippier, Wimmer, Yedlin, Carroll, Lamela, Lennon, Mason, Pritchard, Townsend, Soldado

With de Gea not considered for selection, Sergio Romero or youngster Sam Johnstone will come in for a club debut. Johnstone has been loaned out to Doncaster Rovers and Preston North End over the past two seasons and was expected to return to the Lancashire outfit for the coming campaign.

New signing Bastian Schweinsteiger is not yet match fit, but fellow recruits Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian will start in midfield and at right-back respectively. Schneiderlin is likely to feature alongside Michael Carrick as two holding players in a 4-2-3-1 system.

In defence Van Gaal is set to pick Luke Shaw and Darmian at full-back, with Daley Blind continuing his experimental deployment in central defence. Chris Smalling could oust Phil Jones from the starting line-up, with the latter having suffer a poor summer tour of the USA. Marcos Rojo is not yet match fit after missing the pre-season tour.

Memphis, Juan Mata and Ashley Young are set to provide attacking support to lone striker Wayne Rooney, with the youngster James Wilson the only viable striking alternate. Javier Hernández is not yet match fit after suffering a fracture to his collarbone over the summer.

Meanwhile, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochetino Tottenham could select goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who is fit again after suffering a fractured wrist in the summer, although the Frenchman has not factored in much of the pre-season programme. New signing Alderweireld will start in a back-four, with Wimmer and Trippier on the bench, but Ryan Mason, Roberto Soldado and Andros Townsend face fitness concerns.

Match officials
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: J Brooks, E Smart
Fourth Official: A Marriner

Head-to-head
United – 85
Draw – 49
Spurs – 48

Last meeting
United 3 – 0 Spurs

Prediction
United 3-2 Spurs

£1 bet club
Rooney, Memphis and Kane to all score @ 16/1

United v Tottenham Hotspur: Reds enter decisive period

Ed March 14, 2015 Tags: , Matches 8 comments
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Biggest game of the season? Quite possibly. For so many years Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford had the air of a gimme; three points for Manchester United, time to move on to bigger and better things. No longer, with Louis van Gaal’s side now in a five-way “rat race” with the north London side, Arsenal, Liverpool and Southampton for Champions League football next season. After Manchester City’s defeat to Burnley on Saturday that race may well pull in six teams before March is out.

Crucially, defeat in the FA Cup to Arsenal last week has knocked confidence at Old Trafford. United’s last chance of silverware this season shattered, rivals’ boosted in the process, and at the worse possible time to boot. Following Sunday’s fixture with Spurs in Manchester, Van Gaal’s side faces Liverpool, a resurgent Aston Villa, City and Chelsea in a period that will decide the club’s fate this season. It was always thus; one reason among many that United’s run of 22 matches with just two defeats through the winter was a little misleading.

Little wonder that many supporters believe it is time for Van Gaal to live up to a lofty reputation. After coaching Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich to silverware, United’s apparent demise may just be the Dutchman’s greatest challenge. And yet, after months of seemingly indecisive tactics and an ever-changing strategy, United’s manager appears no closer to the optimal formula for success with United than when he walked into the job last summer.

In typical fashion Van Gaal rejects the notion that he has been indecisive over the course of the season, despite switching between multiple formations and using more players than any other club in the division. “I don’t think that is fair,” said the Dutchman this week. “There was a lot of education we had to do.”

There is precious little time for learning now though, with his side beginning a pivotal few weeks. Spurs’ visit will set the narrative – positive or otherwise –  for a “decisive” period.

“You are right. It is very decisive, the coming matches,” said Van Gaal on Friday. “Of course, after a defeat at home, it is also to see the reaction of the team. We play against a very good team in Tottenham. We are so close with a lot of clubs. We can be second or third. It is not a big difference I believe.”

The Dutchman holds few excuses for failure now, although he is without four players for Tottenham’s visit. Robin van Persie is absent with an ankle injury, while Jonny Evans and Angel Di Maria are suspended. Marcos Rojo suffered a minor thigh strain against Arsenal and may not be risked.

Although it has become a fruitless undertaking predicting Van Gaal’s starting formation – let alone selection – the Dutchman is now seemingly set on a 4-2-3-1 system, with Wayne Rooney likely to be deployed as the lone striker. Is the absence of Evans and United’s manager is likely to pair Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in central defence.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, Premier League, 15 March 2015

Rafael da Silva may start his first game since January after coming through an Under-21 fixture in midweek – a match in which Victor Valdes, James Wilson and Radamel Falcao also played.

Van Gaal denied that the experience was “humiliating” for the Colombian striker, who is now highly unlikely to remain at United beyond the close of the season. Falcao has scored just four times this season and was substituted after 70 minutes of the Under-21’s draw with Tottenham on Tuesday night.

“I have 25 players and all of the players can play the next game,” said van Gaal. “I have to maintain the rhythm of the game with every player. I have read about the ‘big humiliation’ for Falcao, but also Valdes was playing and Rafael as well. Michael Carrick has also played for the second team this season.

“That shows the professional attitude of the player, but also the management of the club. It is not a humiliation, it is a professional attitude. In a training session, you never reach the intensity of 90 minutes. Of course, the second team level is lower but that is also good that a player from the first team is playing much more minutes at a lower level, because then he can build up his confidence.”

Meanwhile, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino enjoys a fully fit squad. The Argentinian will choose between Danny Rose and Ben Davies at left-back, while two from Mousa Dembele, Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason will form a central midfield partnership. The latter pairing was the subject of praise from former Red Paul Scholes this week.

Pochettino has come through a difficult start to the campaign to find his side within reach of the Champions League this season despite a flat net transfer spend over the past 12 months. Indeed, Pochettino’s consistency of strategy and formation despite a relatively modest summer lies in stark contrast to Van Gaal’s unsettled outlook.

Despite being dumped out of the Europa League last month Pochettino’s men have enjoyed a run of just two league defeats in the past 10 fixtures. It leaves Spurs three points behind United with, says the Argentinian, the confidence to attack at Old Trafford.

“I am brave. I never think in another way. My football idea is always to concentrate on the opponents’ goal, so why should I change?” says the Argentinian. “My football is about trying to have the ball, playing attacking football and damaging the opponent. This is my feeling, my idea, and I need to translate those ideas to the team.”

It is, one might say, a philosophy. One built on Harry Kane’s goals and the attacking instincts of Danish midfielder Christien Erikssen.

Van Gaal, meanwhile, is yet to fully translate his ideas into a team that is too often less than the sum of its considerable parts. That is a formula that cannot last much longer.

Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Carrick, Blind; Januzaj, Fellaini, Young; Rooney
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Mason, Bentaleb; Townsend, Eriksen, Lamela; Kane

Subs from
United: Valdes, Lindegaard, McNair, James, Blackett, Valencia, Herrera, Mata, Wilson, Falcao
Tottenham: Vorm, Yedlin, Dembélé, Kaboul, Fazio, Stambouli, Davies, Chadli, Adebayor, Soldado

Head-to-head
United 84 – Draw 49 – Tottenham 48

Officials
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: S Beck, H Lennard
Fourth Official: R Madley

Prediction
United 1-1 Tottenham

£1 bet club
Draw @ 13/5
Running total: (-)£0.50

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Spurs v United: Louis bemoans fixture pile-up

Ed December 27, 2014 Tags: , Matches 9 comments
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Welcome to England. Manchester United’s second game inside 48 hours is a phenomenon only of the game’s birthplace; unquestionably a novelty for United manager Louis van Gaal. Still, the Reds travel south for Sunday’s fixture against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in good spirits, having notched up a seventh win in eight fixtures in dispatching Newcastle United on Friday. Not that everybody was pleased. Van Gaal, in keeping with his growing reputation on these shores, remains far from happy with England’s festive football programme.

United’s easy victory over Newcastle at Old Trafford took the Reds’ points tally to 22 from the past 24 – and a position comfortably inside the Champions League qualification positions, although some 10 points shy of Chelsea at the head of the Premier League. It should make for renewed confidence in Van Gaal’s camp, with half of the league season now completed and momentum squarely with the Reds.

Yet, victory over Newcastle also served to underline United’s inconsistency – great at home, far less so away from the safety of Old Trafford. White Hart Lane will, thus, pose a real test, both of United’s title ambitions, if any remain, as well as Van Gaal’s call for greater consistency. After all, while Mauricio Pochettino’s side has lost a quartet of home Premier League games this season, the Lilywhites have also secured victory in the past four matches.

“I am hoping that we come out of this busy festive period with some consistency which will carry us into the second half of the season,” said Van Gaal on Friday. “It is team spirit that I am looking for. It’s not about one or two players doing very well in a match, it’s about the whole team performing.

“There have been one or two blips along the way, but gradually we are getting better all the time, which is pleasing. Since I started managing in the Premier League I have come to learn that there are no easy sides to play in the league.”

Van Gaal’s preparation is aided neither by the short turnaround between fixtures or continued injury problems. Marouanne Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj, Marcos Rojo and Angel di Maria all miss Sunday lunchtime fixture, although Chris Smalling could start.

In defence the Dutchman is likely to persist with a back three until Rafael da Silva and Like Shaw are ready for first team action. The Brazilian made his long-awaited comeback as a second-half substitute against Newcastle on Friday, while Shaw could make the bench at White Hart Lane.

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney will be retained in the midfield role from where the Scouser scored twice on Friday. Rooney may be finding his feet in the position – given the coaching required by Van Gaal between recent fixtures – but he was far more effective against Newcastle than in United’s draw with Aston Villa. Rooney’s ability to burst forward, rather than seek and retain possession, was the key to the Scouser’s effectiveness against the Geordies.

In attack Radamel Falcao could drop to the bench if the Colombian is yet to fully recover from Friday’s match, with James Wilson ready to come into the side. Indeed, the United manager again bemoaned festive fixture congestion, with his side unable to complete a full training session before Sunday’s game.

“I cannot prepare my team like I have to prepare,” he said. “We have team meetings, we have a training session always 11 against 11, simulating the opponent, we cannot do that now. We have to play within 48 hours. Uefa and Fifa say it’s forbidden to play within 48 hours, but, OK, it’s England.

“Players need 48 hours’ recovery time for a number of reasons. The physicality of a competitive match puts great strain on a player’s body so they need to fill up their energy stores due to the fatigue on their muscles and this can only be done by resting. On top of that we also need to prepare the players mentally and tactically. That is not an easy task.”

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, White Hart Lane, Premier League, 28 December 2014

Meanwhile, Pochettino’s side is on a high after winning four matches in succession, including three in the Premier League. The north London side has now taken 30 points this season to match rivals Arsenal, with each seeking Champions League qualification next season, but neither guaranteed a place.

The Argentinian’s side secured another, if fortunate, victory on Friday at Leicester City, although it almost came at the expense of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’ fitness. The French international suffering a cut to his mouth in the win, but should be fit to face United. Ryan Mason is also in the frame to play after featuring  as a substitute on Boxing Day.

Still, history hardly favours the home side, even if the Londoners have beaten United twice in the past four fixtures between two of England’s great clubs. United hasn’t lost at White Hart Lane in 13 Premier League meetings since May 2001.

Not that Van Gaal cares much for history or, it seems, the English tradition of piling fixtures up at this time of year. It may take yet another win for the gruff Dutchman to warm to the idea of playing matches less than 48-hours apart, even if his players remain on a high.

“The signs have been good in recent weeks,” midfielder Michael Carrick told ManUtd.com. “We beat Newcastle and now have two big away games. They will be a good test for us to see where we are at. We’re continuing to look up. We’re not satisfied with third.

“Going to Tottenham is always a tough game and to go there two days after the Newcastle match at 12 noon makes it very tough, but we go there confident.”

Teams
Spurs (4-5-1): Lloris; Walker, Fazio, Vertonghen, Rose; Lamela, Mason, Bentaleb, Chadli, Eriksen; Kane
United (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Jones, Smalling, Evans; Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Young; Mata; Van Persie, Wilson

Subs from
Spurs: Vorm, Stambouli, Chiriches, Paulinho, Soldado, Townsend, Davies
United: Lindegaard, Blackett, Shaw, McNair, Rafael, Anderson, Pereira, Falcao

Head-to-head
Tottenham 48 – Draw 48 – United 84

Officials
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: S Bennett, S Long
Fourth Official: L Mason

Prediction
Spurs 0-1 United

£1 bet club
Rooney to score in 0-1 win @ 35/1
Running total: £(-)7

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Preview: United v Tottenham Hotspur

Ed December 31, 2013 Tags: , Matches 14 comments
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It is just a month since United last faced Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, but the contrast in fortunes could hardly be more stark. Following a 2-2 draw between the sides at White Hart Lane, David Moyes’ Reds lost successive matches against Everton and Newcastle United, prompting an over-zealous charge of crisis at Old Trafford. The crisis, if there ever was one, quickly dissipated as United won six matches on the spin in all competitions.

Meanwhile, the north London club sacked manager Andres Villas-Boas following a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool. Spurs had won the three preceding games, to leave an open question of perspective, with the sides locked on 34 Premier League points a month hence.

New Spurs manager Tim Sherwood has since led the Londoners to league victories over Stoke City and Southampton as the competition for Champions League places intensifies. In a more open season than many anticipated neither United nor Spurs are guaranteed a place in Europe next season.

Tottenham remain inconsistent under Sherwood, where league victories have been permeated with defeat at West Ham United in the Capital One Cup, and a disappointing home draw with West Bromwich Albion. Yet, the new man has sought to stamp his authority on the team since signing an 18 month contract at White Hart Lane, taking the oft-repeated criticism faced by Villas-Boas – of tactical over-complexity – and introducing a simplified approach in a familiar 4-4-2 formation.

Indeed, Spurs represent United’s toughest opponent of the festive period, with Sherwood likely to deploy two forwards at Old Trafford. The former England midfielder is keen to take the game to the hosts despite preaching a measure of caution in recent days.

Still, it is United that remains the form side coming into the New Year’s Day clash at Old Trafford, with Moyes’ outfit having secured victories over Aston Villa, West Ham United, Hull City and Norwich City over the festive period. Victories that have taken a vulnerable side from mid-table to contenders for European qualification, if not quite favourites to retain the Premier League.

“I like to play with risk,” said Sherwood after Spurs’ 3-0 victory over Stoke City on Saturday.

“There is going to be tougher tests ahead and we know that. We have to try to find the right formula to perform against some of the bigger teams. We have to assess what Man United are coming with. We know they’re going to be very, very good.

“They always are and have been ever since I was in football. We know we have to give them respect but we can’t be lambs to the slaughter. We need to make sure we go out there and impose ourselves on them as much as we can.”

Spurs will do so without key midfielder Paulinho, who will miss the next month with an ankle injury sustained against Stoke, while Jermain Defoe is out with a hamstring problem. Kyle Walker returns following suspension, but Younes Kaboul, Sandro, Andros Townsend and Jan Vertonghen remain sidelined.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Old Trafford, 1 January 2014, 5.30pmMoyes has injury problems of his own to overcome, with strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie likely to miss the clash, although Antonio Valencia returns from a one game suspension. Rooney has a groin problem, while the Dutchman is not likely to return until United’s Premier League clash with Swansea City in January.

Yet, in the absence of senior pros it is perhaps Danny Welbeck that has shone brightest over the past month. The Longsight-born forward has scored four goals in the past five matches, including United’s winner at Norwich. However, Welbeck hit the net just once between September and mid-December highlighting both the 23-year-old’s inconsistency in front of goal and the limited number of chances proffered in the player’s favoured central striking role.

“I think he’s stepped up again and has a big season ahead,” said United manager Moyes on Monday.

“Danny’s an important player and one of the boys to come through the Academy system. He’s a versatile player as well as a very good player. We can use Danny in several positions. He can play in the middle or on the left.

“With the second half of the season to go he should certainly be looking to score 20 goals – and we need him to do that. When you don’t have Wayne and you don’t have Robin you need people to step up to the mark and in quite a few games recently he’s done that for us.

“Danny’s hoping to go to the World Cup with England and play a part and I think Roy Hodgson sees him as an important part of his team. We see him as an important part here too and if he keeps producing goals it will be great.”

Elsewhere, Moyes must assess the fitness of a squad facing its third match in six days. Michael Carrick will start in central midfield having completed the match against Norwich, while Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher all remain in contention. In Rooney’s absence Shinji Kagawa could start, in what has been a largely frustrating season for the Japanese playmaker.

Victory could take United into the top four for the first time this season – reward for a fine set of recent results. In fact, six wins on the bounce represents United’s best winning streak since a period in August and September 2012 that ended with a 3-2 loss at home to Tottenham.

Should the pattern be repeated and Spurs win at Old Trafford the old charge of ‘crisis’ is unlikely to be heard, but the risk to United’s ambitions this season will certainly be felt.

 

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Old Trafford, 5.30pm, 1 January 2014

Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Kagawa, Januzaj; Welbeck, Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidić, Buttner, Zaha, Anderson, Giggs, Fletcher, Young, Hernández

Spurs (4-4-2): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose; Lennon, Dembélé, Capoue, Eriksen; Soldado, Adebayor. Subs from: Friedel, Chadli, Naughton, Fryers, Bentaleb, Fredericks, Veljkovic, Holtby, Lamela

Head-to-head
United 76 Draw 41 United 36

Officials (all Serbian)
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistants: M Mullarkey, D Can
Fourth Official: N Swarbrick

Prediction
2-1

Matchday Forum discussion

Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v United

Ed November 30, 2013 Tags: , Matches 3 comments
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Strange game, football. Manchester United’s visit to White Hart Lane is always eagerly anticipated. Yet, with the home side coming off a chastening defeat to Manchester City last weekend, and United securing an unlikely 5-0 victory in the Champions League on Wednesday, there is a little added intrigue in the air ahead of Sunday’s clash.

There can be little doubt that Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas is under increasing pressure having spent some £100 million on new players last summer. The north Londoners restored some pride in beating Tromso on Thursday, although Spurs’ 2-0 victory in Norway will do little to dampen the groundswell of criticism now surrounding Villas-Boas in his second season at White Hart Lane.

It is no time to look at history for home fans. Spurs haven’t beaten the Reds in north London for more than a decade, leaving home supporters to be forgiven for fearing the worst come Sunday lunchtime.

Meanwhile, United’s domestic form has been anything but consistent, on show once again in a dispiriting draw at Cardiff City last weekend. United’s midfield has rarely been more static and the frustrating inability to hold on to a lead the result of a total lack of defensive composure. On to Leverkusen on Wednesday and the vibrancy with which United attacked brought easily the finest performance of David Moyes’ Old Trafford reign.

Such is football.  The beautiful game is always a strange bedfellow to a predictable narrative.

“We have to get a better level of consistency,” admitted the Scot, whose first 20 games have brought 12 victories, five draws and three defeats.

“I look around the Premier League and that’s been quite noticeable throughout really. Arsenal are the one side who have shown a real consistency as we’re about to go into December. They’re the one side who has shown that. We have dropped some points we shouldn’t have done and we have to try to eradicate that.

“There’s a bit of us still being a work in progress really, us trying to work together to get everything we want to be correct, and we’ve still got a bit to go on that. The best is to come and I still think we can continue to improve and progress.

“There have been moments that have shown we are beginning to come right back into form. Midweek certainly showed what we are capable of when we are playing well .”

Victory in Germany brought to 11 United’s unbeaten run, although a pattern of winning and then drawing has seemingly set in. It leaves Moyes with the manager’s dilemma: stick with the side that hammered Bayer, or rotate in the knowledge that Everton arrive at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12pm, 30 November 2013Moyes will again be without midfielder Michael Carrick, although star striker Robin van Persie will return to the squad. The Dutchman has missed games with toe and groin problems in recent weeks, leaving Moyes to make a late call on whether van Persie starts against his old rivals.

Meanwhile, captain Nemanja Vidić is likely to feature after being given the all-clear to play again following concussion. Phil Jones is set to retain a role in midfield where Moyes has a choice to make between retaining the quartet that functioned so well in Germany or rotating to keep his troops fresh ahead of Wednesday’s match.

Ryan Giggs is likely to be involved two days after turning 40, although the Welshman may return to the bench with Marouanne Fellaini available in the centre of United’s midfield.

Yet, Moyes most pressing choice is whether to retain Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa as an attacking pair even if van Persie is fit to return. Should the Dutchman earn a recall Kagawa will drop back into a wide role once again – a frustrating move for the Japanese no doubt.

There is, after all, no chance the Scouser will drop out, despite playing in 17 of United’s fixtures this season. Indeed, Moyes seemingly has little predilection for resting the former Everton player just yet.

“There will be times when we do have to look after him. At the moment he doesn’t need it. But I will be looking for any signs of a dip,” said Moyes.

“He is a boy who continually gets better in the games he plays. I just want to make sure I keep him playing as well as he is doing. I look at a lot of other clubs and they have played their players continuously. It’s just at United here we’ve got a squad, we can rotate them, we have got other options.”

Whatever the selection there is little doubt that United must now find greater consistency. Arsenal’s victory over Cardiff on Saturday stretched the Gunners’ Premier League lead over the Reds to a full 10 points.

Still, with 25 games remaining in the campaign nothing is yet decided, although further points dropped on Sunday will undoubtedly increase the pressure on Moyes despite that fantastic European result.

“People always write Manchester United off. Remember last year people were saying the same then, but in the end we won the league,” said vice-captain Patrice Evra.

“Every game, every year is a challenge playing for Man United. We didn’t make the most of the Arsenal win and that was why we were so disappointed about the Cardiff draw.

“We have not lost for a long time and we want to keep winning and keep winning. If we had won at Cardiff it would have been a bit easier going to Tottenham, but now we cannot afford to lose at White Hart Lane. The draw against Southampton and Cardiff plus the defeat at home to West Brom – if we had won those matches we would be top of the league, and that is why we are so frustrated.”

Meanwhile, Villas-Boas will recall a host of regulars after making nine changes for the midweek Europa League victory. However, Christian Eriksen, Danny Rose and Harry Kane remain on the sidelines, while Emmanuel Adebayor faces a late fitness test.

Whatever the selection the Portuguese simply cannot afford another reverse, lest the former Porto and Chelsea coach should once again find himself without a Premier League employer.

“I am very happy for the players to have bounced back from the defeat against Man City,” the Spurs manager said. “The opponent we have on Sunday is the biggest that we can have, but to prepare for that game it was important to get back to winning ways.”

It is a run that should come to an end on Sunday, with United full of confidence on the journey south. Then again, stranger things do happen in football. Not least in the past week.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12pm, 30 November 2013

Teams
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Kaboul, Dawson, Vertonghen; Paulinho, Dembélé; Townsend, Sigurdsson, Lamela; Soldado. Subs from: Friedel, Chiriches, Holtby, Lennon, Defoe, Adebayor

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Jones, Fellaini; Valencia, Kagawa, Januzaj; Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Rafael, Ferdinand, Anderson, Cleverley, Nani, Young, Giggs, Hernández, van Persie

Head-to-head
Spurs 47 Draw 47 United 84

Officials
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: J Collin, P Bankes
Fourth Official: J Moss

Prediction
0-1

Matchday Forum discussion

Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v United

Ed January 19, 2013 Tags: , Matches 253 comments

There is something in Manchester United’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur this weekend that evokes memories of classic games of the past. The romantic’s choice, as the cliché goes. Hackneyed though the tale has become, seven United victories in the past 10 fixtures between these two sides tells a story not of a fierce rivalry, but the Reds’ dominance over the north London club in recent years.

Yet, Spurs’ victory at Old Trafford in September adds spice to Sunday’s return in the capital. It was the first Tottenham victory at United in 27 attempts, ending a 23-year wait for a victory at the Theatre of Dreams.

The Londoners’ ability to break at pace unsettled United’s back four last autumn, with André Villas-Boas’ outfit taking advantage of the Reds’ openness in midfield. United will surely be more compact against the Portuguese manager’s outfit this time around.

Indeed, Spurs’ run of four victories in the past five matches has lifted Villas-Boas side into the top four – the Londoners are now favourites to secure a Champions League place next season ahead of rivals Arsenal, and an in-form Everton side.

Impressive stuff, especially given Villas-Boas’ difficult start to the season, with supporters and the media piling pressure on the Portuguese manager from the start of the campaign. No longer; the cloud of doubt has lifted and Spurs will be chasing a first league double over United since the 1973/4 campaign.

But with Wayne Rooney now fit, and Robin van Persie in irresistible goal-scoring form, United will call on the what Villas-Boas calls the best strike partnership in the country. He’s not wrong, of course. Still, it is Spurs’ firepower, even without the absent Emanuele Adebayor, that will concern Ferguson this weekend, especially given United’s continued propensity to leak goals.

“I’ve watched quite a few of their games and their form has been consistent,” said Sir Alex on Friday.

“I think Spurs have done well this season .They’re in good form and I think they’ll challenge for the top four. Villas-Boas has Spurs in the way he wants them and I think there are signs they’re playing how he wants them to play. That’s what a coach wants to do – get his philosophy across.”

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League, White Hart Lane - 4pm 20 January 2013

Click for full size teamsheet

Yet, United’s record at White Hart Lane, where Ferguson’s side hasn’t suffered defeat in more than a decade, belies the Londoners annual challenge for a Champions League place. After all, Spurs’ traditional attacking style at home often plays into United’s hands.

“We have a fantastic record there,” adds Ferguson. “It’s a stadium that’s old-fashioned, football-wise, like Aston Villa and Everton. There’s always a good atmosphere and we enjoy playing there. But we can’t take anything for granted. We have a hard game on Sunday. We have to perform.”

Injuries will play a part in that performance, at least in the back-four where Jonny Evans is again absent. Captain Nemanja Vidić could partner Rio Ferdinand, although Ferguson will certainly be concern about the hosts’ pace in forward areas.

In midfield Anderson could make his first start of 2013 after completing an hour of United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford last week. Nani, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa will compete for two places on United’s flanks, with Ashley Young still unfit.

Meanwhile, one man who will not make the trip south is Scot Darren Fletcher, who misses the rest of the campaign following surgery this week. Fletcher, who has made 10 appearances this season, underwent the operation to cure a persistent bowel condition.

The midfielder’s continued absence surely places into doubt whether he will ever play for the club again, although the party line remains that Fletcher will return for the 2013/14 campaign.

“This improves Darren’s prospects of returning,” adds Ferguson.

“He had to change his game and he hasn’t been the Darren Fletcher of three or four years ago in the games this season. Instead, he was sitting in front of the back four and he did well. That could be his role in the future. When he comes back, and I hope he does, it will be in a different role.

“It was something we thought would happen anyway. He tried his best to cope with the condition with the treatments he was using but, in the last couple of weeks, it’s come back. This operation will hopefully solve the situation.”

Meanwhile, Scott Parker will start for Tottenham with Brazilian Sandro set to miss the rest of the season after sustaining a serious knee injury. Adebayor is at the Africa Cup of Nations leaving Villas-Boas to pick Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey in attack.

Still, with Gareth Bale having given Ferdinand a chastening experience at Old Trafford earlier this season, and Aaron Lenon having a good head-to-head record with Patrice Evra there is plenty for Ferguson to consider.

Will the United manager continue this season’s open, attacking, approach that has brought 56 Premier League goal? With Rooney and van Persie having proven so effective the chances are in the affirmative. Another classic in the offing – put your house on it.

Match Details
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Premier League, White Hart Lane – 4pm 20 January 2013

Possible teams
Spurs (4-4-1-1): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton; Lennon , Parker, Dembele, Bale; Dempsey; Defoe. Subs from: Friedel, Assou-Ekotto, Caulker, Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Townsend, Carroll, Livermore, Falque

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra; Anderson, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Smalling, Büttner, Scholes, Cleverley, Nani, Welbeck, Powell, Macheda, Giggs, Hernández

Officials
Referee: C Foy
Assistants: S Beck, M McDonough
Fourth official: L Mason

Form
Spurs: DWWWWD
United: WWWDWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 7, Spurs 1, Draw 2
Overall: United 84, Liverpool 46, Draw 47

Stats

  • Gareth Bale has been a genuine threat again this season, taking 72 shots at goal with 63 per cent on target according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.
  • On the opposite flank Aaron Lennon has notched up 28 dribbles this season, placing him fourth in the Index;
  • Mousa Dembele has been a real start in his début season with the club, notching up another all-action performance against QPR last week with 5.84 miles covered at Loftus Road;
  • In defence Jan Vertonghen is the leading percentage tackler in the Tottenham squad with a 75 per cent success rate from 64 attempted challenges, as well as 27 clearance and 74 interceptions;
  • United’s Robin van Persie is again leading the Index this season, with 26 combined goals and assists contributing to the United cause;
  • Patrice Evra has discovered a rich vein of goalscoring this season, although Nemanja Vidić was eventually credited with the Frenchman’s goal last week – Evra has also whipped in 35 crosses and is second only to Michael Carrick for passes completed in the opponent’s half with 449;
  • Carrick excelled in the victory over Liverpool last weekend and was also the hardest runner on the pitch, covering 6.5 miles;
  • Wayne Rooney is down on goals this season, but offers a healthy shot-to-goal ratio of seven and a shot accuracy of 67.3 per cent from 49 attempts.

Prediction
2-4

Smoke and blank mirrors

Ed September 30, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 55 comments

After seven games where Manchester United has deceived more than flattered this season there was perhaps no surprise that the Reds came unstuck at Old Trafford on Saturday. After all Tottenham Hotpsur has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the past week, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have picked up points and not plaudits in the campaign to date. No surprise either that Ferguson’s side began Saturday’s match in much the same fashion it had spent much of last weekend’s fortuitous victory over Liverpool: disjointed and lacking in urgency.

It is tempting to ponder whether something is not right at the Theatre of Dreams; Sir Alex certainly has much to ponder. Not least his role in failing to provide a midfield platform on which the Reds’ plethora of attacking players can effectively perform, nor addressing the worryingly complacency that has creeped into the Reds’ game.

Instead, the 70-year-old Scot offered an old-time diversionary tactic following United’s first defeat to Spurs at Old Trafford since 1989: blame the officials for the lack of injury time awarded. Was the excuse not quite so risible, supporters might find humour in Ferguson’s classic smokescreen.

Yet, it took barely two minutes for Ferguson’s bizarre midfield plan, such as it was, to come unstuck against Andre Villas-Boas’ side on Saturday, with Jan Vertongen waltzing through United’s defence to score at the Stretford End.

By the time Clint Dempsey prodded home Tottenham’s third early into the second period the game was very much afoot, despite a valiant attacking effort by the hosts in the final half-hour.

Shinji Kagawa scored a fine goal in the moments following Dempsey’s strike – and United struck both bar and post in a breathless final third – but the real damage had already been inflicted. Much of it self-flagellatory.

It was certainly not the first time this season that United’s open formation, in which the Reds’ midfield offers minimal defensive cover, has contributed to a costly performance. Nor, one suspects, will Saturday’s misshapen defensive unit be the last seen in the campaign ahead.

Yet, for all of Ferguson’s many gifts self-scrutiny is seldom one of them. In 25 years at Old Trafford’s helm the 70-year-old has rarely, if ever, admitted an error in judgement. Saturday tea-time, Ferguson’s decision to select Ryan Giggs and Nani – two of the squad’s least productive players at Anfield – wide of ball-playing Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, looked every inch a glaring error come the game’s end.

No surprise, then, that Ferguson railed not at self-inflicted wounds, but the officials who “insulted” the game by providing ‘just’ four minute’s of injury time at the end of a pulsating match.

“They gave us four minutes, that’s an insult to the game,” claimed Ferguson after United’s first home defeat of the season.

“It denies you a proper chance to win a football match. There were six substitutions, the trainer came on, so that’s four minutes right away and the goalkeeper must have wasted about two or three minutes and they took their time at every goal kick.

“That’s obvious to everyone today and it’s a flaw in the game that the referee is responsible for time keeping. It’s ridiculous that it’s 2012 and the referee still has control of that.”

In that Ferguson’s argument has some technical merit, although William Gallas and Steven Caulker defended with such determination that there is no guarantee that 40 and not four minutes of added time would have brought United an equaliser.

Indeed, for all United’s possession – 75 per cent on average and rising fast by the game’s conclusion – it was Spurs that offered the greatest cutting edge. At least on the break.

While Vertongen drifted  into United’s box without challenge for the visitor’s first, the second was a lesson in incisive attacking play. Moussa Dembélé’s pass cut through the Reds’ midfield, and Gareth Bale’s pace swept the Welshman past Rio Ferdinand, before the winger proffered an expert right-footed finish.

“The most important thing was the first half,” Ferguson admitted.

“We didn’t start, we were lackadaisical and lost a goal after two minutes, and you give yourself an uphill fight with that situation. In the second half we were terrific, it was a great performance by them, and we were unlucky not to win it. If we had held the scoreline at 2-1 for a few minutes I think we would have won the match.”

By the end Ferguson had thrown on four strikers as United chased an equaliser. Wayne Rooney’s introduction for the highly ineffective Giggs at half-time changed the balance of United’s attacking play, if not the fundamental shape.

With Kagawa now operating from a narrow left-sided position, Rooney was at his creative best 10 yards deeper than Robin van Persie. But it was 36-year-old Paul Scholes that caught the eye, commanding United’s tempo and pattern of play as Tottenham regressed into defensive entrenchment following Kagawa’s 52nd minute goal.

There were a more than a few United supporters pondering the stark change in the game’s pattern, although this had more to do with Spurs’ changing ambitions than United’s tactics.

Defeat – United’s second of the Premier League season – inevitably brings with it questions, not least the Reds’ inability to retain a clean sheet. More worrying still, this was the third occasion this season in which United has conceded at least twice. This time there were no injury excuses to fall back on, with Ferdinand and Jonny Evans starting for the second week in succession.

Nor too has Ferguson addressed the fundamental, and potentially season-defining hole in a central midfield that is now packed with ball-players, but appears ill-equipped to deal with opponents that attack at pace.

After all, this was a game that United thoroughly dominated except in the most telling aspect. The hosts hogged three times the visitors’ possession, making three-fold more passes, taking 60 per cent more shots, and forcing Tottenham to make almost four times as many clearances.

The key statistic, however, has always been goals. On Saturday, Spurs’ triple was aided on each occasion by United’s lack of defensive nous.

“This is what happens when you only play for 45 minutes,” said Patrice Evra on MUTV with telling introspection.

“The game is 90 minutes long and we deserved to lose because we only played for 45. To concede three goals at Old Trafford is not good enough when you want to win the game.”

Nor, some might add, is failing to address a very long-term weakness.

Preview: United v Tottenham Hotspur

Ed September 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 137 comments

Old Trafford welcomes Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men chasing a seventh win on the bounce. Victory over Liverpool at Anfield last weekend lifted Manchester United into the top four, although the Reds are far from hitting form this season despite a series of wins since the opening day. And with Villas-Boas promising that his side will attack, Spurs will again provide a stiff test to United’s early season title credentials.

While Spurs will offer a genuine challenge, Ferguson faces another week of mounting defensive injuries, with Nemanja Vidić set to miss two months of the season with a knee injury. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain on the sidelines. It leaves the 70-year-old Scot with only two fully fit first team defenders in Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for Spurs’ visit.

Indeed, such are the paucity of options in defence that 21-year-old Scott Wootton will make United’s bench after impressing in the 2-1 victory over Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night.

It is the third time in as many seasons that United has faced a serious defensive injury crisis, with questions now being asked not only of the Reds’ luck, but medical facilities and squad planning.

“We had bad news earlier in the week about Nemanja – it’s a blow,” admitted Ferguson at the Scot’s Friday press conference.

“We’re having a terrible time with defenders at the moment. Hopefully, we get through the next three games and the international break comes along. By that time, we should have Chris Smalling back.

“On Wednesday, we played two young boys and they did very well. Scott Wootton reads the game well, passes the ball well and, having seen him in a situation against very experienced players, he did very well. That’s a bonus for us and he’ll be involved in the game tomorrow.”

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Old Trafford, 29 September 2012, 5.30pmBut it is not solely United’s defence that will concern Ferguson after Liverpool thoroughly dominated in midfield last weekend. The Reds’ manager is likely to recall Paul Scholes to the starting line-up as United seek to gain more control, especially with Spurs now sporting Moussa Dembele – the Belgian impressed for Fulham at Old Trafford earlier this season.

However, Ferguson is without Antonio Valencia who took a knock to his ankle in winning United a penalty at Anfield, although Wayne Rooney could make the starting line-up for the first time in a month. Nani, whose display at Anfield was described by one pundit as the ‘worst he had ever seen’, is likely to be retained if only because Ferguson has so few other options.

“Antonio Valencia is doubtful,” Ferguson added.

“He got a knock, first of all, when he went into the tackle with Agger and Johnson before he broke clear and got brought down. He got an ankle injury there. But, if he’s not okay for tomorrow, he should be okay for Tuesday.”

Lack of options in wide areas means that one of Shinji Kagawa, or more likely Rooney, will play wide against Spurs, with Robin van Persie again leading the line. The Dutchman has scored five goals in as many Premier League games this season since at £24 million transfer from Arsenal.

Better news surrounds Darren Fletcher who came through United’s cup tie with the Magpies on Wednesday. The Scot is unlikely to start against Spurs, although he could make the bench before appearing in United’s Champions League with with CFR Cluf in Romania next week.

Fletcher hadn’t started a first team match in 10 months before the outing against Newcastle, but impressed in a deep-lying role in front of the back-four.

“Darren’s in the squad for tomorrow,” confirmed Sir Alex.

“Obviously, having played on Wednesday night and contributed so well – also it was his first game of that magnitude for 10 months – I wouldn’t start him. But he may get a place on the bench and he could possibly go to Romania and play against Cluj. That could be an ideal opportunity for him. His enthusiasm on Wednesday night was fantastic. Darren sat in front of the two centre-backs and did a really good job.

“The great thing about Fletcher the other night was that his enthusiasm was fantastic. He played a great part in the victory and in a role different from how we’ve used him in the past. Darren was always the type to get about the midfield players but on Wednesday he sat in front of the two young centre-backs and did a really good job.”

Fletcher’s return will add further options in an area where United has struggled in recent seasons. Tom Cleverley and Anderson each scored in the Capital One Cup, although the Brazilian has started just two matches since January and has rarely retained fitness for any length of time. Cleverley has struggled to hold on to a first team place this season despite Scholes’ advancing years.

Meanwhile, the visitors arrive in rude health for the trip north. Villas-Boas rested most of his first team stars for the midweek League Cup victory over Carlisle.

Yet, mounting injury list aside – one that also includes Ashley Young – history is on United’s side, with Ferguson’s side having beaten Spurs on eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams. Few expect anything different on Saturday tea-time, despite the Londoners’ improved form of late.

Match Details
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 29 September 2012, 5.30pm

Possible Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Nani, Kagawa, Rooney; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Macheda, Young, Hernández, Welbeck.

Spurs (4-5-1): Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Gallas, Vertonghen; Lennon, Sigurdsson, Dembele, Sandro, Bale; Defoe. Subs from: Lloris, Dempsey, Caulker, Huddlestone, Falque, Townsend, Mason

Officials
Referee: C Foy
Assistants: A Garratt, H Lennard
Fourth Official: M Clattenburg

Form
United: WWWWW
Spurs: DDWDWW

Head-to-Head
Last 10: United 8, Spurs 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 84, Spurs 46, Draw 46

Stats

  • Goals from Rafael and Robin van Persie were enough to help United beat Liverpool last weekend – the Dutchman’s goal places the striker at the top of the goalscoring charts with five goals in as many Premier League games;
  • The former Arsenal striker has has scored five from just six shots on target – 50 per cent of the 12 attempts at goal so far this season;
  • Michael Carrick’s 6.53 miles against Liverpool was the best individual distance covered by a United player so far this season, and the 62.05 miles covered as a team is also a season high for United;
  • Meanwhile, Saturday’s visitors provided Villas-Boas with his first home win of the season when the north Londoners beat QPR 2-1 at White Hart Lane last weekend – a QPR own-goal and a Jermaine Defoe strike were enough to secure the points;
  • Defoe is the Premier League’s most prolific shooter with 28 shots at goal already this season, with 16 on target, both of which are the highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Dembele has also enjoyed a good start to his career at Spurs, having won more tackles than any other attacking player in the Index with 13 won;
  • Gareth Bale continues to rediscover his form and confidence – the Welshman’s 11 shots on target makes him the highest ranked midfielder in that category on the Index.

Prediction
3-1

Reds ride luck as pressure piles on City

Ed March 4, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

One down, 11 to go in what could become one of the closest Premier League title races in recent years. Manchester United’s 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane on Sunday was not without good fortune, but three points will increase the pressure Roberto Mancini’s side. After all, rivals will note that United’s trip to Manchester City in April aside, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team faces 10 eminently winnable games in the Premier League.

Victory against Tottenham Hotspur came despite the home side enjoying more possession, territory and shots at goal, although media summary of the hosts ‘dominating’ the match in north London is entirely not borne out in the game’s statistics.

That said, this was one of the few occasions that United was out-passed this season, with the Spurs recording more than 500 passes in north London. The hosts also attempted three times as many shots at goal, although only six of 18 found the target – a telling statistic on a day when United converted 40 per cent of chances created by the visitors.

But those are mere details. The big picture – another three points for United in a hugely difficult away fixture – is far more important.

“It’s an entirely unbelievable result,” admitted Ferguson.

“I would say that’s our hardest away game of the season. They’d only lost one game; it was their first home game, I think, against City, when they had a few injury problems. That was the magnitude of our challenge today. And, in fairness, the first half we were never at the races. It was a great performance by Tottenham and maybe we got our tactics wrong in the first half.

“In the second half we improved, we told them at half-time to get pushed up on their back four and not let them build up their play. After the second goal we played very well. We had a bit of luck, and we scored right on half-time with our first shot on goal.

“Tottenham are a very good team and this is only their second defeat at home since the start of the season. It was a massive result.”

Indeed, the advantage may now just be with United, despite City’s narrow Premier League lead. After all, with just 11 games to go United now play just one of the present top six – City – and five of the bottom half-dozen. By contrast, the Blues face four of the top six, against just two of those near the foot of the table. City retains a two point lead and a healthy goal difference advantage, but the fixture list suggests this is anybody’s game.

It’s this situation that had Ferguson confidently predicting last week that United’s trip to Eastlands on 30 April is set up nicely as the clichéd title decider. Nothing about the result at White Hart Lane will change the legendary Scot’s viewpoint.

“We showed a determination to get the result,” Ferguson added.

“We’ve played all the big teams since January, it was a really busy spell and we’ve come through that and played well in most of the games We know exactly what we have to do. You can drop surprise points and I think both sides will, but the important thing is to drop less points than our opponents. A battling performance today tells you that we are up for it.”

United faces a resurgent West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford next, followed by a trip to the Midlands to face the sinking ship Wolverhampton Wanderers. The trip to City aside, Ferguson will look only to the final day match with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light as one where United could genuinely drops points.

Meanwhile, the Blues travel to Swansea City next weekend and then face managerless Chelsea at Eastlands in a fortnight. With the mutinous Chelsea dressing room having scored victory over yet another post-José Mourinho manager, the west Londoners may well now receive the ‘bump’ Roman Abramovich is seeking.

But it is to City’s trip to Arsenal that all eyes will now turn. Indeed, Arsène Wenger’s men have gone from hopeless to players in a matter of weeks. Should Robin van Persie remain fit, Mancini will know that points could be dropped at the Emirates.

Given the fixture programme the Eastlands derby could well see United having already taken over at the head of the Premier League table. Ferguson’s men may have pulled more than one rabbit out of the hat recently, but the Scot will be disappointed if United don’t put very close to maximum points on the board over the next eight games.

After all, the injury crisis that engulfed United during the winter is coming to an end, with only long-term absentees Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić set to miss the run-in. Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley will return in the coming week, while Michael Owen is available for selection and Anderson made the bench for United’s win at Tottenham.

Pressure is building though – a situation few of Mancini’s men have experienced, and certainly not as a group. Mancini, officially at least, has three Serie A titles. The first coming as Juventus was stripped of Serie A during Calciopoli, the next two with the Old Lady in Serie B. How the Italian will react during the presssure, drama and intensity of a Premier League run-in is, as yet, unknown.

Meanwhile, seven of Mancini’s players have won championships over the years: former Arsenal men Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, and Kolo Touré, together with Edin Džeko, Yaya Touré, Carlos Tévez and Nigel de Jong. But it is hard to see where Tévez or Kolo will feature during the run-in, while Nasri, Džeko and de Jong have spent more time on the bench than pitch this season. In truth, for Mancini’s most important players this is a first.

There will be swings over the next 11 games of course, but Ferguson will now be content with United’s position. That says much. For all City’s wealth, nothing buys the Scot’s experience.

“We’ve got experience. We won’t get nervous, we’re enjoying it,” Ferguson added. And on a day when United secured three points when frequently under the kosh, the Reds’ luck may be turning as well.

Remaining fixtures

UnitedCity
West Brom (H)Swansea (A)
Wolves (A)Chelsea (H)
Fulham (H)Stoke (A)
Blackburn (A)Sunderland (H)
QPR (H)Arsenal (A)
Wigan (A)West Brom (H)
Aston Villa (H)Norwich (A)
Everton (H)Wolves (A)
City (A)UNITED (H)
Swansea (H)Newcastle (A)
Sunderland (A)QPR (H)

Reds seek to close gap at Spurs

Ed March 3, 2012 Tags: , Matches 106 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will once again seek to close the gap at the head of the Premier League, with the Reds facing a daunting trip to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Manchester City side pulled five points ahead after beating Bolton Wanderers at home on Saturday, ensuring that Ferguson’s men travel south knowing a result is essential at White Hart Lane.

The omens bode well though, with United having won at the Lane seven times in the past decade, and Harry Redknapp’s side reeling from the thumping handed out by Arsenal last weekend. Indeed, with Ferguson welcoming back Wayne Rooney to the fold following a fortnight’s absence, United arrive in north London in fine spirits and reasonable health.

Despite Tottenham’s surge up the Premier League table under Redknapp’s management the side’s fortunes have suffered in recent weeks. Dropped points against Arsenal, Liverpool and City have eliminated Tottenham from the title reckoning, even if qualification for the Champions League is likely. Whether Spurs’ stuttering form is related to manager Redknapp’s trial for tax evasion, and subsequent status as favourite to take over the England job, is a valid question.

Yet, Ferguson still counts the trip to White Hart Lane as United’s “hardest” away game in the remaining dozen Premier League fixtures. With United also travelling to face City at Eastlands on 30 April, the not-so-subtle dig will have been heard in east Manchester.

“Tottenham is always a tremendous highlight for us. It’s always a tremendous game given the history of both clubs,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“It’s a very important game for us. Look at the rest of the season. You can certainly say we’re building up to what could turn out to be a title decider with Manchester City. This is our hardest away game, no doubt. Hopefully we can navigate it.

“Harry Redknapp’s added lot of players and changed things around. Kyle Walker is a tremendous full back. He has great pace going forward and there’s pace on the other side from Gareth Bale, while Rafael van der Vaart has cleverness off the front. As for Luca Modric, everyone realises what a tremendous player he is. So it’s a team full of talent and they’re having a great season.”

However, Ferguson has some tricky selection decisions to navigate, with many of his squad having played internationals during the week. While Rooney is a certain starter, both Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández appeared for their countries.

Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester United, Premier League, White Hart Lane, 4 March 2012, 4pm.Meanwhile, Tom Cleverley definitely misses out through injury and Goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard is still some way from being available despite reports to the contrary during the week.  Chris Smalling, who took a blow to the head during England’s loss to Holland, travelled but may not be risked. Winger Antonio Valencia is in the match party.

“Chicharito’s match in Miami kicked off at 1am our time on Thursday morning so we’ll have to see what he’s like when he gets back,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“He’s got another day [to recover] on Saturday, which is good news but he will still have played four games in 10 days so it’s quite a task for the lad. Danny Welbeck played almost the full game for England too, Nani played 80 minutes for Portugal and Ashley Young had a full game. Jonny Evans played for Northern Ireland so there were quite a few in action on Wednesday but we have the extra day’s recovery as we’re playing on Sunday so that helps us.

However, Ferguson may be able to call on Michael Owen, who is back in full training. The 32-year-old striker has played just four games this season, scoring three goals in the Carling Cup. Injury has once again restricted the former England international’s role at United; a pattern familiar to fans of the striker’s many previous clubs. Sir Alex is having none of it, blaming Owen’s injury record on bad luck.

“Michael has had very good preparation,” added Sir Alex of the striker who has scored just five Premier League goals in three seasons with United.

“He’s done a lot of work with the physios and is ready to join us. It’s good news. I hope he has a bit of luck. He needs that as he’s not had a lot. When he has an injury it always seems to be a long one. Hopefully he’ll be back for the rest of the season, which will help us.”

Meanwhile, Tottenham manager Redknapp should be able to call on key players Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, Kyle Walker and Ledley King after the quartet picked up injuries in the heavy defeat to Arsenal. It is a huge boost to Spurs, with the side having picked up only eight from a possible 18 points through a difficult run of fixtures. The north London side faces Chelsea next week, before nine winnable games conclude the domestic season.

However, new England captain Scott Parker is missing after being sent off in the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal last weekend.

It should make for an open encounter, with both sides desperate for the win. Indeed, former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick, who has excelled through the winter, says that United’s last-minute win over Norwich City last weekend has lifted the team ahead of the trip south, with the team also taking confidence from a strong record at the Lane in recent years.

“It is always a good game when we go to Tottenham; it is two teams that play good football and try to play the right way,” admitted Carrick, who played over 60 games for the Londoners.

“Over the years, there have been some classic games. We have a decent record down there. It doesn’t count for much on Sunday but, over the years, we have done quite well. At this time of the season, it starts getting serious. Wins and draws can make a huge difference. You saw last week how we responded and won the game and what it meant to everyone. We will be looking to do the same again.”

With anything less than a win handing the title initiative to City, Carrick understands as well as any the need for professionalism at White Hart Lane. Accusations of complacency, made so loudly after United’s lacklustre performance at Carrow Road last weekend, must not be heard again come Sunday evening.

Yet, the hosts have managed just six draws from the last 25 meetings with United since the Londoners last win in 2001. This is no time to change that record.

Match details
Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester United, Premier League, White Hart Lane, 4 March 2012, 4pm.

Potential Line-ups
Tottenham (4-4-2): Friedel; Walker, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Modric, Sandro, Bale; van der Vaart; Adebayor. Subs from: Cudicini, Rose, Kaboul, Kranjcar, Nelsen, Livermore, Khumalo, Luongo, Dawkins, Defoe, Saha.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Rafael, Fabio, Fryers, Smalling, Giggs, Park, Pogba, Valencia, Hernández, Berbatov, Owen.

Form
Tottenham: WWDWDL
United: LWDWLW

Officials
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Bradford)
Assistants: C Breakspear, M Mullarkey
Fourth Official: A Marriner