Tag Tottenham Hotspur

Tag Tottenham Hotspur

Fergie confident of United triumph

February 28, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 6 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side heads into the weekend fixture with Tottenham Hotspur still chasing Manchester City at the head of the Premier League But, with Sunday’s game one of two remaining that may swing the title either side of Manchester, the 70-year-old manager is placing faith in his squad’s experience and hunger with 12 games to go.

Spurs, coming off the back of a 5-2 hiding by local rivals Arsenal, will be keen to restore momentum in the club’s challenge for Champions League qualification this season. It makes both for the most important United-Spurs clash of recent seasons and, potentially, a key moment in this campaign’s title race.

Indeed, with City to face both Arsenal and Chelsea before the season closes in May, a United victory at White Hart Lane this coming weekend should set up the title race for a decisive clash between the Manchester clubs at Eastlands in late April.

“It’s going to be a massive game,” Ferguson told Inside United of the Sunday afternoon clash with Harry Redknapp’s outfit.

“If we can survive that one, then we’ll have a big, big chance of winning the league. Yes, I would take [being two points behind City]. I would rather go there on level points. But if we could go there within striking distance of being top of the league, I’d take it.”

Ferguson can have greater confidence in the Reds’ title challenge now that an injury crisis, which at times has stretched to 11 personnel this season, has waned. United should travel to north London with Wayne Rooney, who is still recovering from a throat infection, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all fit. Meanwhile, Antonio Valencia may feature at White Hart Lane, while Tom Cleverley’s ankle injury is far less serious that first feared.

“I should have more players available than I’ve had in the last few weeks because we’ve had a terrible spell of injuries,” added Ferguson.

“But we’ve done the right thing in the treatment of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, we’ve given them a break. They are young players and they had been carrying little strains for weeks. Then all of a sudden it hits them, and we had to take stock, to get them back. We’ve given them a fair break and they’re fresh now.”

While youngsters Smalling and Jones hunt for the second and first titles of fledgling careers, Ferguson is also mindful of the vast experience available in his squad. Weekend goalscorers Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are sure to play key roles during the run in, while striker Rooney is coming to the close of an eighth campaign as a United player. No longer the new kid, Rooney is a both a senior pro at the club and key to United’s success – or failure – in the coming months.

“Wayne Rooney’s been with us for nearly eight years now and he’s won a few championship medals,” Sir Alex adds.

“He knows what it takes to win it. When he and Cristiano Ronaldo first came to the club, it was all new to them – the demands of winning the league here. I think the aim for all the players is to try and get to four or five league medals, and then they’ll have great experience of how to handle the title race.”

At the other end of that scale Ferguson is likely to place an emphasis on United-trained youngsters including Cleverley and Danny Welbeck during the run-in. While Cleverley has missed much of the campaign with injury, Welbeck has proven a key weapon in United’s title defence. The England international has not only forced his way into Ferguson’s team, but ahead of Javier Hernández in the pecking order.

“I’m so hungry,” striker Welbeck told ManUtd.com.

“I was just talking about it before in the canteen with Tom Cleverley. Clevz was biting his fork as well as his food and growling. We both want it so much. I don’t think anybody understands how hungry we are for this title. We want to fulfil our dreams, win the title and keep winning and keep winning. There’s nothing going to stop us.”

How typical of Ferguson to successfully integrate experience and youth into a winning combination. Indeed, in a campaign where United has been struck low by injury and, at times, lack of quality together with infuriating complacency, there is little surprise Ferguson is happy with his side’s current position. City should be out of sight by now given the club’s resources and United’s comparative limitations.

Yet, before any trophies are lifted, corks popped or backs slapped, the Reds must negotiate Spurs at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon. It is a fixture from which United normally emerges triumphant. In the previous 10 visits to the lane Ferguson’s side has won seven times. Spurs have not beaten United in London since a 3-1 victory in 2001.

Moreover, with Redknapp’s focus on the England job his players’ have lost a little momentum in recent weeks. Spurs’ two wins in the past five fixtures is not the record of potential champions. Whether the Londoners can respond to thumping defeat last weekend is unknown. Without the side’s leader Scott Parker the task against United will surely be that much more difficult.

By contrast, there is no doubt Ferguson’s players have the bit between the teeth.

Spurs make it a three horse race

January 12, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 8 comments

The darkest horse is often the one sneaking up the rail, unseen until the final bend, only to win by a nose. And to push the horse analogy as far as it will stretch, the Premier League title race is yet to enter the final furlong, but Tottenham Hotspur’s victory over a limp Everton side on Wednesday now has the London side very much on Manchester United’s heels. Indeed, Spurs’ victory brings Harry Redknapp’s in-form side level on points with United, and just three behind Manchester City, with 18 games to go.

Even if Redknapp’s side remains third favourites in an increasingly three-horse race, only the foolhardy will now discount Spurs altogether. After all, while the Londoners face a tough couple of months – hosting United, and visiting City, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea – Redknapp’s men will enjoy nine winnable games to end the season. If the north London side remains in touch of the leaders after the fixture with Chelsea on 9 March, Redknapp’s outfit could well pick up a first title since 1961.

It’s a remarkable turnaround in a season that began poorly amid the acrimony surrounding star midfielder Luka Modrić’s and his potential transfer to Chelsea. Injuries and poor form saw Spurs pick up just X points from the first 10 games.

And now, says Redknapp, the pressure will be on City, with the two sides clashing at Eastlands on 22 January in what could yet be a pivotal tie in the title race.

“The pressure is on Man City [because of] their squad and the money they have been able to spend,” said Redknapp after Spurs’ win over Everton on Wednesday.

“They are expected to be there and win. We are just hanging in there at the moment and playing well. Nothing’s impossible. I wasn’t there but someone said William Gallas came in the other day and said to everyone: ‘Listen, we have a chance here’. You have to keep believing and apart from that I enjoy the way we play. If you don’t enjoy the way we play, then you shouldn’t be watching football.

“We don’t put pressure on the players [but] we are playing well, playing with smiles on our faces. We had a bad start to the season. I’ve been around football clubs long enough to know when there’s a good feeling or a bad feeling. We had bad pre-season, we had problems off the pitch with Luka Modrić and injuries in midfield.

“Then we bring in Scott Parker, who I’d been chasing for months, and Emmanuel Adebayor arrives and Luka gets sorted out and suddenly we look a different team and we’ve not looked back since then.”

The chastening 5-0 defeat to City in August, just hours before United thrashed Arsenal 8-2 at Old Trafford, did not deflate Redknapp’s belief though as Spurs picked up momentum through the Autumn. But with United having beaten the London side 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season Redknapp’s side will have to turn around poor results against the division’s leading sides if it is to stay in touch over the next 10 weeks. While the Londoner’s form is outstanding, few supporters will be genuinely shocked if Redknapp’s side drops points against other contenders in the coming weeks.

It is a challenge Redknapp believes his team can meet, especially with Spurs facing no further European commitments this season. Indeed, in Sir Alex Ferguson, Redknapp has an ally in the belief that the London side can pick up the title this season, despite United’s experience and City’s vast sovereign wealth. Insisting that Arsenal and Chelsea are out of the title race, Ferguson claimed that “Tottenham can definitely win it They play the best football in the country and their current form is the best in the country.”

However, genuine doubts surround the size and scope of Spurs’ squad, together with the complete lack of experience in Redknapp’s outfit when it comes to challenging for titles. Injuries to key players including Modrić, together with Bale and in-form Emmanuel Adebayor could scupper the challenge. Roberto Mancini will be grateful that Premier League rules preclude the Togan facing his parent club in a fortnight’s time. Meanwhile, the Italian will be without the Touré brothers and potentially Mario Ballotelli, and David Silva for the clash, each of whom has suffered injury in recent weeks.

The same could be said of United too though, for whom injuries continue to bite. With Paul Scholes back in the squad, Ferguson is unlikely to rush Tom Cleverley back into action, while Anderson is still short of match fitness and Darron Gibson is likely to be sold. In defence captain Nemanja Vidić will not return until next season, meaning that any further injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in particular could seriously impact United’s chances.

All of which adds up to a fascinating run-in, shorn for the first time in years of both Arsenal and Chelsea. It is a race in which there is no clear favourite although Mancini’s outfit currently holds a three point lead, and a healthy goal difference advantage.

Yet, just as United threw away points against Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle in recent weeks, so will City and Spurs in the weeks to come. Mancini’s ability to prevent a mini blip – four defeats in eight games – turning into a full-blown crisis will be key to the Blues chances.

For Redknapp, simply maintaining the side’s recent form will be a bonus.

Jones starts as defensive injuries bite

August 21, 2011 Tags: , Matches 156 comments

Manchester United supporters have become accustomed to the annual defensive injury crisis in recent seasons, with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and the da Silva brothers each on the sidelines for long periods. This season’s incarnation – hardly a surprise to anybody perusing the injury records of Sir Alex Ferguson’s defenders – has come a little earlier than normal, with the Scot’s first choice back-four absent for Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford on Monday night.

Joining Ferdinand and Vidic on the sidelines is and Rafael da Silva, while Patrice Evra may face the Londoners depending on his recovery from a minor knee injury suffered on international duty. It is hardly ideal preparation for United’s opening home match of the new season but with nearly £50 million of youthful defensive talent still at Ferguson’s disposal injuries with open the door for Phil Jones’ first competitive start.

The 19-year-old summer recruit from Blackburn Rovers is likely to line-up alongside Chris Smalling or Jonny Evans in central defence, with Fábio vying for a spot at right-back.

Ferguson’s faith in Jones is nothing new though, with the 69-year-old United manager having tried to sign the teenager last January. The England Under-21 international’s composure and leadership skills, says the Scot, marks the player out as one United “couldn’t miss” in this summer’s transfer market.

“When he was playing against us in the 7-1 game, after the fifth goal he was running out and giving everyone around him stick and he was only 18 then. I was very impressed,” admitted Ferguson.

“After that I tried to get him last January. We put an inquiry in but Blackburn wouldn’t sell him at that time. He was just one that we couldn’t miss. He’s definitely got all the parts to his game, there is no doubt about that. He has got the desire to play and he’s a good trainer, with a great determination about him.”

Despite the manager’s confidence United is likely to field a hugely inexperienced defence on Monday night. Jones, Smalling and Evans are likely to be joined by Fabio da Silva. The five that finished United’s 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion last Sunday had an average age of just 20 years and 193 days.

It is hardly ideal for under-pressure 20-year-old goalkeeper David de Gea, who has mistakes in successive games since an £18 million transfer from Atlético de Madrid this summer. Despite the media pressure being heaped on the youngster Ferguson says he hasn’t discussed the issue de Gea in the past week.

“He coped with the crosses into the box at West Brom with no problem – he just didn’t get any protection,” added Ferguson.

“You saw the challenges – an elbow in the face and a boy went under him and he didn’t get the free-kick. It’s disappointing when you don’t get the protection, but he’s at home against Spurs on Monday and it won’t be a problem. It’s just away from home where he might get subjected to that.

“David will go through the same programme of core work as the rest of the players do when they come here. [Edwin] Van der Sar was a tall, skinny kid when he won the European Cup in 1995. He was the same – and don’t forget David is only 20. Schmeichel had a baptism of fire, too. He went to Wimbledon in his first couple of games with us and screamed like a pig. He got no protection. He had Vinnie Jones, Alan Cork and John Fashanu all piling on top of him and battering lumps out of him.

“David will be fine. I have no problems with him, none at all. We have never mentioned the criticism this week that David got after the West Brom game. He’s fine, he’s done his training – there’s no problem.”

Manchester United versus Tottenham HotspurMeanwhile, Ferguson will choose between Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick in central midfield. Although youngster Cleverley performed admirably during the Community Shield and away victory at West Brom the senior man is now injury free and ready to face his former club. Darren Fletcher completed a reserve match in midweek but is likely to be a fortnight away from a first team return, as is winger Antonia Valencia.

The Scot also faces a selection dilemma up front, with Danny Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov vying for a starting spot against Spurs. Welbeck began fixtures with both Manchester City in the Community Shield and last weekend but the Bulgarian replaced him each time.

There is, of course, no doubt about Rooney who has begun the campaign in fine form. Free from controversy surrounding his private life or contractual situation, the 25-year-old former Evertonian is playing in the liberated fashion with which he closed last season

“He’s been flying in pre-season,” said Ferguson.

“His fitness is terrific, he has the same energy all the time, he is a restless player on the pitch, he can never stand still. He is a tremendous asset to our squad. It’s interesting to see how he is combining with [Danny] Welbeck at the moment. Both have done very well together.

“I have Berbatov who did very well in pre-season, he played really well. When Chicharito returns then I’ve a selection problem to work out the best combination. For me, Chicharito has goals written all over him, so it’s not a bad position to be in.”

Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp’s side arrived in Manchester fresh from hammering Hearts at Tyncastle during the week. Spurs’ 5-0 victory came despite the Londoners having yet to start the domestic season after the club’s opening Premier League fixture was called off due to the riots that swept north London a fortnight ago.

Redknapp should be able to call on Luka Modrić even though the Croatian missed the win at Hearts with a groin strain. However striker Peter Crouch, Ledley King, William Gallas, Sandro, Steven Pienaar and Alan Hutton are all doubtful for the match.

And star midfielder Gareth Bale says that the lack of experience in United’s back five is an advantage Spurs must take if the Londoners are to win at Old Trafford for the first time since 1989. Indeed, ‘keeper de Gea wasn’t born until 1990, underlining both United’s youth and the visitors poor record in Manchester.

“If any keeper’s having a bad time, you’re going to test them and it’s going to be no different,” bale told the Mirror.

“We’re going to go to Old Trafford and give our all and test their whole team. It’s obviously going to be nerve-racking for him to go to United and be in the first team, but he showed at Atlético Madrid and with Spain that he’s a world class keeper.”

Yet, despite the focus on United’s 20-year-old stopper, it is arguably Jones that is the key man should he start. For a player so young, a sense of responsibility already rests on the defender’s shoulders; few doubt Jones’ ability to see it through.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Old Trafford, Monday 22 August, 8pm.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Fábio, Smalling, Jones, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Evans, Carrick, Giggs, Park, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Pogba.

Spurs (4-4-1-1): Gomes; Walker, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Modric, Huddlestone, Bale; Van der Vaart; Defoe. Subs from: Cudicini, Kranjcar, Livermore, Friedel, Bassong, Corluka, Townsend, Pavlyuchenko.

United: WW
Spurs: n/a

Referee: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire)

United secure eighth away draw

January 16, 2011 Tags: , Matches 42 comments

Manchester United drew an eighth Premier League game away from home this season as Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit survived the last quarter with 10 men at White Hart Lane. Rafael da Silva saw red in a vibrant encounter with Tottenham Hotspur but Ferguson’s side saw out the match to stretch an unbeaten league run to 26 matches.

But the game at White Hart Lane ended in controversy with Rafael’s red card, who twice appeared harshly judged by referee Mike Dean. The youngster picked up a yellow card for a first half tackle in which the Brazilian appeared to win the ball, and then a second for inadvertently tripping Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

The second red of Rafael’s career may have proven a steep learning curve but for the home side’s failings. For all the home side’s possession Harry Redknapp’s outfit failed to either create enough opportunities or take the limited chances that came Spurs’ way.

Indeed, having seen his team harshly reduced to 10, Ferguson is entitled to be satisfied with the point even if United’s record away from home is the worst of any potential champions in the past 20 years.

“It was a tough game and Tottenham are in great in form but they didn’t really create any chances today,” said Ferguson, whose side returns to the top of the Premier League on goal difference from Manchester City.

“We’ve got games in hand but we’ve got to win them. We’ve got to go to Chelsea, we’ve got to go to Blackpool and they’re in great form at the moment. It’s an exciting run in.

“It’s about winning games and keeping your nerve. Today, defensively, we kept our nerve. Given the performances that Tottenham have had at home it was a great performance by us today.”

The Scot had selected an attacking looking line-up for the trip south, with Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic returning after missing the cup tie with Liverpool last weekend and Wayne Rooney paired with Dimitar Berbatov up-front.

The selection was prescient in a game that began with a cup tie flavour as both sides sought to attack in numbers. Yet, for all the good possession in midfield neither United nor the hosts could force clear-cut openings.

Rooney seemed way off the pace though, even if the former Evertonian also created two chances in his first game back after a fortnight off with injury. First the 25-year-old wasted an early opportunity after Berbatov’s fine pass and then Rooney forced a save from home stopper Heurelho Gomes after the break.

The home side’s progression in recent seasons reflected a game in which rapid one and two touch passing dominated. Indeed, the home side created two presentable chances with first Peter Crouch firing narrowly wide from Alun Hutton’s fine centre and then Rafael van der Vaart heading Gareth Bale’s cross into the side netting.

If anything United improved after the break as Michael Carrick flicked a header just wide and Gomes saved at full stretch from Rooney.

Rafael’s red 20 minutes from the end saw the visitors revert to a more cautious approach but Spurs – much as Redknapp’s side has progressed – failed to break United down. For that Rio Ferdinand and the magnificent Vidic take huge credit.

“I think we had to be solid today, it was a good defensive display,” added United ‘keeper van der Sar.

“On the ball we could have brought more but that’s a compliment to Tottenham. I had a couple of free kicks to save but they didn’t hurt us much. Defensively it was great.

“It’s an ok result today especially going down to 10 men. It was a high pressure game for him [Rafael] but he’s only 20 and he’s looking forward to many more years at the club.”

Yet, while the 20-year-old full-back learned much from the dismissal against Bayern Munich last season he will take little from Dean’s actions today.

“I don’t need to discuss that, you can see for yourself,” said Ferguson dismissively. “I don’t need to discuss the referee.”

Little wonder. An honest assessment would surely bring little but another touchline ban. Yet, despite the frustration Ferguson will take the point as United head into the final months of the season in pole position. Trips to the Emirates and Stamford bridge follow, but with two games in hand on City it is now United’s title to lose.

Match Facts
Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios (Defore 18), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Crouch.

United – 442 – Van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani (Anderson 61), Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov (Hernandez 78), Rooney.

Attendance – 35,828
Man of the Match – Vidic

Possession: Spurs 58% – 42% United
Attempts: 15 – 7
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners: 8 – 2
Fouls: 9 – 18

Reds face sternest test at Spurs

January 16, 2011 Tags: , Matches 125 comments

Manchester United face the biggest test of an unbeaten Premier League season at White Hart Lane, in full knowledge of Tottenham Hotspur’s renaissance. The Londoners’ progression under Harry Redknapp has ensured Spurs remain an outside bet for this season’s title and comfortable qualifiers for the Champions League second round.

Indeed, Spurs’ growth under Redknapp portends a return to the heights the club last experienced in the 1960s, save for the odd cup final. Unlikely winners of the Premier League perhaps but United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson is more than aware of the threat now posed.

“Tottenham are one of the traditionally really good clubs with the proper philosophy of the game,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“You have to look back to 1960-61 under Bill Nicholson, the first club to win the Double in the post-war era, who were an incredible team and had exciting players like Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay. It was an incredible spell. That will always be the standard Spurs have to set for themselves.”

Yet, for all Spurs recent form it is United that remains favourites to land a 19th domestic title, if Ferguson’s team can negotiate trips not only to White Hart Lane, but Stamford Bridge, the Emirates and Anfield before the season is out. Unbeaten but generally poor away from home this season, the Reds will have to improve if Ferguson’s outfit is to maintain its current unbeaten streak.

United’s current run of 25 Premier League matches unbeaten is just four short of the club record top-flight of 29 games achieved in 1998/99.

Yet, much as there is to be admired about Spurs’ style and particularly the lavishly talented midfield Redknapp has assembled very little cost, it is Ferguson’s outfit that has all run-in experience. It’s a fact the Scot tellingly notes with a warning to Sunday’s hosts.

“The bigger challenge is coming up for Spurs: whether they can stand that test of combining the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League.

“I cannot remember Spurs challenging for the league in my time at United, so that is the change of fortunes under Harry. He’s playing very positively: 4-2-4 in some games.

“He’s certainly having a go. He’s got width. They have some exciting players like Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart and Lennon.

“But the best contribution has without doubt been Bale, who’s got 11 goals, a really good return for a wide player. Bale has tremendous speed and is a great crosser.”

Chalkboard v SpursFerguson has plenty of weapons at his disposal for the trip though, with Wayne Rooney ready to face the Londoners following a fortnight out with an ankle injury. The Scot must decide whether to deploy the Scouser as a lone front-man or retain Dimitar Berbatov for the trip to the Bulgarian’s former club.

Perhaps more radical – perhaps even probable – Ferguson could push Rooney to the left-wing slot the striker fulfilled at Birmingham City in December.

Captain Nemanja Vidic should make the trip after missing the FA Cup tie with Liverpool last weekend, while Edwin van der Sar will return in goal following an illness that kept the Dutchman on the sidelines for a fortnight.

However, it is potentially Rafael da Silva, United’s young Brazilian right-back, who might be key at the Lane, with Bale so dangerous this season. Ferguson admitted that United did bid for the Welshman four years ago, with no success. The Reds loss perhaps, but an even contest given the Rafael’s rapid progression.

“His form this season has been absolutely brilliant,” said Ferguson.

“He’s only 20, just a young boy. But he has learned. His concentration levels have improved. The thing about Rafael is that he’s not making any rash decisions.

“He was quite an impulsive young boy last season. The game against AC Milan away, for instance, he over-ran the ball in the middle of the pitch, they got their second goal and made a game of it. In the second leg against Bayern Munich he had a slight tug on the player and got sent off.

“You don’t expect young defenders to be consistent but he has been this season, really consistent.”

Meanwhile, Redknapp can boast an almost fully fit squad, with only Tom Huddlestone and Ledley Kind missing from the 63-year-old Londoner’s squad for United’s visit. He’ll need it, with Spurs having failed to beat the Reds in a decade.

Tottenham has failed to win any of the last 23 meetings with United in all competitions. Typical of the Londoners’ poor record against United – Spurs beat United 3-1 on the final day of the 2000/01 season; United had already wrapped up the title by more than 10 points.

However, there will be no David Beckham in Redknapp’s team despite Spurs’ attempt to sign the former United midfielder on loan. LA Galaxy and Tottenham have failed to agree terms for the loan and Beckham is likely to return to the US in March.

Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Dawson, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Modric, Jenas, Bale; Van der Vaart; Defoe. Subs from: Pletikosa, Pavlyuchenko, Palacios, Bassong, Corluka, Keane, Kranjcar, Crouch, Giovani, Kaboul, Sandro.

United – 433 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs; Nani, Berbatov, Rooney. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Amos, Evans, Fabio da Silva, Brown, Smalling, Carrick, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Obertan, Hernández, Obertan.

Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant referees: Stephen Child & Simon Long
Fourth official: Andre Marriner

Spurs – DDWWWL
United – WWDWWW

The Harry Redknapp model

December 3, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 20 comments

Much has been made  of Tottenham Hotspur’s resurgence under Harry Redknapp in recent months, from relegation candidates to top four stardom. It’s an achievement that should not be underestimated but what, if anything, can a Manchester United side struggling for true consistency learn from the north Londoners?

To begin with, this Spurs side is engrossed in competition at all levels. Managers have come and gone too often for the club’s own good and old ‘Arry’s appointment was seemingly the last roll of the dice in a bid to become an English heavyweight once more.

The costly removal of Senor Juande Ramos and Damien Comolli, now director of football at Liverpool, made the move for Harry even more desperate, placing Redknapp under extreme pressure to succeed from the start.

This notion of competition transcends to the grossly overpopulated squad too. Where United lack real depth in many positions, Spurs arguably has a myriad of options. In fact of the 11 that started against Liverpool, perhaps only one player is guaranteed his place in the first team – the hugely influential Croatian Luka Modric.

Heurelho Gomes, the once much criticised goalkeeper but now very much number one, has overcome his doubters but remains supported by two other experienced options, Carlo Cudicini and Croatian ‘keeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Right-back Alan Hutton has only recently won his place in the side back from Vedran Corluka, despite once proclaiming his desire for a move to Sunderland he has since impressed all with his attacking impetus.

Central defenders William Gallas and Younes Kaboul are likely to find themselves back on the bench once Ledley King and Dawson return from injury, regardless of their impressive vain of form. This of course is without mentioning the much troubled but talented England defender Jonathan Woodgate

Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been dropped in the past but has recently signed a new contract after positive form this season, although any move to reinstate Gareth Bale to defence would oust the Cameroonian once again.

Meanwhile Golden boy Bale, now the first name on the team sheet, was not so long ago a much a maligned figure, having famously never played when his side had won a game. Bale’s development adds to a sense that Redknapp has a wealth of options in midfield.

Wilson Palacios, bought at vast expense, been forced to play second fiddle to the now injured Tom Huddlestone, despite early promise in his White Hart Lane career. Even Jermaine Jenas’ resurgence has kept the Honduran out of the side in recent weeks.

Should Brazilian international Sandro continue to develop or the much touted signing of Scott Parker happen, Redknapp’s midfield options will only be stronger.

Aaron Lennon has also been used from the substitutes bench this season as his form has wavered but this has accommodated Rafael van der Vaart and two strikers. Lennon is also under some pressure from David Bentley and Niko Kranjcar for his position, who can also provide competition for Bale’s left-wing slot.

Van der Vaart’s inclusion contradicts the basis of Spurs’ recent success – 4-4-2. So for the Dutchman to be accommodated he must carry on producing magic, or Jermaine Defoe and even captain Robbie Keane will be back in the side.

Meanwhile, the hardly prolific Peter Crouch, who like Roman Pavlychenko has been rotated and then rotated again in order to find the best fit, still adds to the wealth of options.

The point vividly illustrated in Redknapp’s model is that no player is irreplaceable. The squad is so deep that if anyone fails to reach his standards there are often three or four players able to step in.

Of the players discussed, each is a now a seasoned pro. Where Sir Alex Ferguson calls on, for example, Fabio da Silva, Harry has Kaboul. Similarly, if Ji-Sung Park plays poorly there is really no better replacement available.

Fans are guilty of enjoying the inclusion of young players but in the pursuit of glory is United’s squad strength enough?

Even more glaring is United’s lack of creativity in midfield. Harry bought Van der Vaart; United stuck by a more dysfunctional unit.

Earlier in the season there was reason to laud United’s strength in attacking depth. It remains true in theory. Sadly, leaving aside the whole Wayne Rooney debacle, few United strikers have regularly stepped up to the plate. Berbatov scores five one week but there is little guarantee he won’t ruin it the next.

The question remains, ‘Does United really have a big enough squad to seriously challenge on three fronts?’

Sir Alex held greater depth in previous years and although it may not have guaranteed anything now watching players’ reaction at Villa park when the two first choice strikers were removed for, critically speaking, two freshmen was instructive.

Perhaps Ferguson this more often as another season of inconsistency will not suffice for many United faithful.

United score ‘usual’ Spurs win

October 31, 2010 Tags: , Matches 31 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, with a thumping Nemanja Vidic header and a smartly taken – if loudly protested – Nani goal ensuring a fourth win on the bounce for the Reds. The win continues a run in which Spurs have never beaten United at Old Trafford during the Premier League era.

Spurs’ players protested vociferously about Nani’s goal, scored with six minutes to go, which referee Mark Clattenburg awarded following consultation with his assistant. But Heurelho Gomes committed a cardinal sin by failing to play to the whistle and Nani, coming from behind the Spurs ‘keeper, scored after the Brazilian threw the ball on the ground in expectation of a free kick.

Harry Redknapp called the decision “scandalous” but with United having been denied a penalty when the Portuguese winger fell in the box after Younes Kaboul’s shirt-pull, Nani’s quick-thinking brought an eventual reward. The ball, still being live, was there to be played deemed the officials.

“It was bizarre. No-one knew at the time what was wrong,” Ferguson told ESPN.

“One minute the goalkeeper had the ball in his hands and next it’s in his net. Nani looked back and looked at the referee and the referee said play on, so what can he do but put the ball in the net?

“You can look at the referee and look at the linesmen and blame them, but the goalkeeper should know better. He’s an experienced goalkeeper. I thought he made a mess of it.

“The referee played on because the goalkeeper took possession of the ball. He then went to take a free kick thinking it was a foul. He made an error.”

The goal provided a controversial end to the match but in truth United fully deserved the victory following an outstanding defensive display and controlled second half performance.

The visitors brought, arguably, its best team to Old Trafford in a generation but failed to create any significant chances after the break despite matching United during open play for much of the game. For all Tottenham’s attractive football it too often lacked an end product.

Yet, Spurs’ midfield offered much to admire, with Rafael van der Vaart always threatening until a 77th minute injury forced the Dutchman off.

United had the better of the opening exchanges though, with Park Ji-Sung’s outstanding low driving rebounding off Gomes’ right-hand post. The South Korean’s form has been little short of abysmal this season but this was better by far.

Anything the Korean could do, van der Vaart matched, with the Dutchman similarly hitting the woodwork with a long-range drive minutes later. But Gomes’ almost gifted United the opening goal, spilling Michael Carrick’s drive and recovering moments before Javier Hernandez could drive the ball home.

It mattered little though, with United taking the lead from a set piece, after Nani’s swinging free-kick was met by a Vidic’s outstanding header. The Serbian is always a threat but Spurs’ poor marking hardly helped the Londoners’ cause.

Not that the visitors were ever out of the game – Luka Modric brought an excellent save from van der Sar, volleying Jermaine Jenas’ floated corner and Gareth Bale ran 40 yards before driving wide with his unfavoured right foot.

United remained in control though, with Rio Ferdinand and Vidic excellent, ably supported by Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra on the flanks. Darren Fletcher and Carrick played their part as the defensive screen too, making 11 interceptions in the match; 10 more than the Spurs’ midfield put together.

The came the bluster of the final minutes. Spurs claimed an injustice, surrounding the officials for a full five minutes after the final whistle, but with referee Clattenburg later explaining that he had awarded Gomes the advantage it is hard to see what grounds the visitors had.

“It was a little bit strange,” added Fletcher.

“The referee said the ball was still in play, so when the goalkeeper’s put it down Nani’s put the ball in the back of the net, it was quick thinking on his part.

“I felt it was a penalty anyway, so maybe a little bit of justice.”

Indeed it was. After all, Spurs gave it away. The ball, not the match that is. United deservedly won that.

Match Facts
United – 442 – Van der Sar; Da Silva (Brown 64), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Park; Berbatov (Scholes 64), Hernandez (Obertan 87).

Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas (Palacios 66), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart (Crouch 77); Keane (Pavlyuchenko 62).

Attendance – 75,223
Man of the Match – Vidic

Possession: United 48% – 52% Spurs
Attempts: 18 – 11
On target: 10 – 5
Corners: 1 – 4
Fouls: 12 – 10

Momentum with Reds but tough Spurs challenge lies ahead

October 29, 2010 Tags: , Matches 97 comments

Manchester United returns to Premier League action after the midweek Carling Cup sojourn, with the momentum now firmly in Sir Alex Ferguson’s camp. Saturday’s challenge could hardly be more difficult in domestic terms but an unbeaten start and three wins on the bounce means confidence is at a high as Tottenham Hotspur visit.

For perhaps the first time in a generation Ferguson will cast envious eyes at the visiting Spurs side. Harry Redknapp has assembled a high quality squad that is now realistic challengers both domestically and in Europe. Indeed, the visitors’ midfield including Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon is a formidable outfit.

Indeed, Ferguson must contend with absences in both midfield and attack if United is to maintain a successful record against Spurs. The Londoners have not won at Old Trafford for 21 years or beaten United anywhere for nine – a total of 25 matches.

Ferguson though will again be without Wayne Rooney, who may miss more than the previously estimated three weeks with an ankle injury. Asked if Rooney’s prognosis had changed Ferguson said “I think it may be longer.”

“Wayne is away at the moment, so there is no recovery,” he added.

“He did his remedial work before he went away but thereafter we are happy that he is resting.”

Rooney’s continued absence means that the Scot must choose whether to match Spurs’ five man midfield or reward Javier Hernández’ fine recent form. The Mexican has scored three goals in the past week and been praised for his composure under pressure but may find a place on the bench or wide in a three-man attack his reward.

Ferguson also has a dilemma at right-back, with in-form Gareth Bale a key weapon in the visitors’ armoury. The Scot will probably choose between John O’Shea or Rafael da Silva to combat the Welshman’s pace.

United also has concerns on the left side of midfield, with Park Ji-Sung horribly out of form and Ferguson not yet fully trusting the merits of Gabriel Obertan or Bébé. Patrice Evra moved into midfield against Stoke City last weekend and may reprise the role if United’s manager deploys four in midfield.

Elsewhere Paul Scholes is set for a recall and Ryan Giggs could make the bench after training this week. Meanwhile, former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick says that confidence in the United squad is high.

“We need to focus on putting a good run together,” Carrick told ManUtd.com.

“But you can’t look too far ahead and start planning how your run will pan out. We’ve got a huge game against Spurs and we’re focused on that first, but around the camp the atmosphere is bubbly and the lads are happy. It’s a really positive vibe at the moment. Hopefully that carries us through.

“The games come thick and fast now, and thankfully we’re in the cups and fighting in the league. The challenge is there for us to stick together and really mount a challenge.

“That’s what we’re focused on. The games we’ve drawn, we feel like we’ve thrown them away. But we’re still unbeaten, which gives you confidence, and we’ve got three wins in a row.”

Aside from Rooney and the long-term injury victim Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen will miss at least a month with a hamstring problem, while Ferguson says Owen Hargreaves convalescence has suffered a recent set back.

Meanwhile, the visitors will be without Tom Huddlestone, with either Wilson Palacios or Jermain Jenas coming into the side. van der Vaart is likely to occupy his normal role behind Peter Crouch at the head of Tottenham’s midfield.

It is now 67 games since Spurs last won away to one of the Premier League’s big four. Redknapp will never have taken a better team to Old Trafford.

Whether it is good enough to break that streak is as yet undecided.

Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Gallas, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Crouch. Subs from: Kaboul, Bentley, Pavlyuchenko, Keane, Jenas, Dos Santos, Kranjcar, Cudicini, Sandro, Stipe Pletikosa.

United squad
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, O’Shea, Evans, Rafael, Fabio, Brown, Anderson, Bébé, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Fletcher, Hernández, Berbatov, Macheda, Owen, Obertan.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant referees: Darren Cann & Simon Beck
Fourth official: Mark Halsey

United – WDDWWW
Spurs – LWWWLD