Manchester United will welcome north London outfit Tottenham Hotspurs to Old Trafford on Saturday, for a fixture that is never short of goals, entertainment and controversy.
United have not lost to Tottenham at Old Trafford since 1989, making for a torrid run of form for Spurs at Old Trafford, something they will be hoping to change this time around under new manager Andre Villa-Boas.
The young Portuguese manager did not enjoy the best of starts with Tottenham, perhaps understandable given the raft of changes the squad was going through in the opening few weeks of the season, but he has turned it around somewhat with two wins from their last two games. With an opening sequence of two draws and a loss behind them, Villa-Boas will be hoping to kick on with this good form by taking all three points from a Manchester United side who have woefully underperformed at times this season, despite having taken all but three points thus far this season.
Villa-Boas has only visited Old Trafford once before in a managerial capacity, when his Chelsea side lost 3-1 in September last year. He will be hoping for a better outcome with Spurs this time around, and will be looking for the win with stylish, attacking football:
“That is the way I like my teams to play. We obviously know that it is extremely difficult there, but that doesn’t mean that you might not be given a chance when you play that [attacking] way.”
“In the end it’s about taking your opportunities. Had [Chelsea] scored, then maybe the result would have been different, so to try to get a result against United will be excellent for us.
“It would make us very proud to go there and get a win that would shorten the distance to the top. That would hopefully help us profit in some way from the clash between Arsenal and Chelsea.
“We can’t run away from our responsibilities. The statistics are there. We hope to break them one day, and hopefully it will be on Saturday.”
Sir Alex is wary of the potential of his foe to deliver high quality performances from his teams, and has suggested that Tottenham is a better match for Villa-Boas than Chelsea, which he thinks will ensure a better outcome for both club and manager:
“Tottenham is always an interesting game and they play good football. It’s disappointing for Harry Redknapp not to be there after the job he did but the new lad, Andre Villas-Boas has a similar philosophy that suits Tottenham.
“His teams always try and play and it should be an interesting game. I think it will be open and they’ll come to try and express themselves. United/Tottenham games are always good. Hopefully we can maintain our consistency at the moment, which isn’t too bad.”
Sir Alex will have to manage without a few big names however, with Vidic out for two months, meaning he will join the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling on the sidelines. Antonio Valencia is also a doubt after suffering an ankle injury, whilst Young is not fit enough to return to the side just yet:
“We had bad news earlier in the week about Nemanja. It’s a blow. We’ve had a terrible time with defenders. Hopefully we get through the next three games and the international break comes along. By that time we should have Chris Smalling back.”
“Antonio Valencia’s doubtful. He got a knock first of all when he went into the tackle with Agger and Johnson [at Anfield] 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.”
There was good news for Darren Fletcher though, who has shown no ill effect from his first 90 minutes back in action in midweek against Newcastle United, and he should be in the squad for the game against Spurs:
“Darren Fletcher is in the squad for tomorrow. 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.”
A lack of width is probably the first criticism most would point at this line up, with both Rooney and Welbeck more than likely to drop into central positions, behind Van Persie, but given the performance midweek against Newcastle with a similair shape, injuries to Valencia and Young, and an out of sorts Nani, I think that the game against Spurs presents a fantastic opportunity to persevere with the 4-3-3. Rooney and Welbeck will never shirk the added workload of the position, and there is also the added value of all three forwards being versatile enough to rotate through the positions. Van Persie can operate on the left, as he has for Holland at an international level, meaning that there is a real potential for some very fluid movement between the front three, which would be an absolute nightmare to defend again.
Kagawa would have to work a little harder defensively, but as part of a three man midfield, he would still be able to ghost into gaps between the lines with the confidence that there are two men behind him ready to clean up any spillages from further up the pitch. Scholes could also start in the middle three, as could Anderson, meaning United are stacked for options in the middle of the park as well.
At the back, all four positions seem relatively straight forward to predict. Rafael has seemingly made the right back berth his own, and injuries to every other senior central defender in the squad would seem to dictate that Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, who were both rested against Newcastle, will start this game at centre back. Patrice Evra should retain his spot at left back, though Alexander Buttner is providing credible competition and could come into the team as well.
Who starts between David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard would seem something of a toss up at the moment. Tottenham lack the aerial presence up front that has hurt De Gea before, which might work in his favour, but ultimately, United are blessed with one of the strongest pairings of keepers in the league, and ultimately most would feel assured with either of them in goals.