Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, September 29, 16:30 GMT
Andre Villas-Boas and Tottenham Hotspur arrive in Manchester with the aim of toppling over Ferguson’s Red Devils in their own backyard. The Lillywhites, in the past, have endured horrendous run of luck on their trips to the Theatre of Dreams, ergo the Portuguese manager would be gunning to buck the trend. Games between these two sides in the seasons gone by have always served up something extraordinary with both teams adamant on playing attacking football. However, Villas-Boas’ pragmatic approach could turn the tables and perhaps for the good of the North London club.
Manchester United are in a rich vein of form, at least as far as the results are concerned. Six wins on the bounce in all competitions is an impressive return by any standards, yet the performances thus far have been anything but impressive. The curse of persistent injuries on the first team squad gets worse by the day and now the squad is indeed down to bare bones. Further cause of concern for the United manager is the form of the majority of his first team players, barring a few in Rio Ferdinand and Rafael Da Silva none seems to be hitting the top gear and with three games in a week, the squad depth will be tested now more than ever. Nevertheless, United seem to cope somehow as they always do.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have picked up pace after a stuttering start and that should calm a few nerves around White Hart Lane. Villas-Boas has been under the scanner ever since his high profile move to Stamford Bridge proved anything but a success and the press has been on his case ever since. A win at Old Trafford could go a long way in strengthening AVB’s position, both in the media and among the Spurs fan base. Further good news for Spurs faithful is the impressive form of their new signings. Jan Vertonghen has been a revelation while Dembele has added guile and panache to the otherwise steady Tottenham midfield. There are positive signs all around for Spurs but Old Trafford could still prove a bridge too far for AVB and Tottenham Hotspur.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sir Alex Ferguson is facing a second injury crisis so early in the season as several of his players were injured during the past week. The biggest blow for the manager is the injury to captain Nemanja Vidic who has undergone a surgery on his knee and is set to be out for at least eight weeks. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones already missing, the injury to the Serbian has left with just two center backs in Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Alexander Buttner was also injured in the League Cup match against Newcastle while Rafael is also a doubt after limping off at Anfield last weekend. Another setback for the manager is the injury to Antonio Valencia who was reported to have left United’s training ground on crutches on Tuesday. Ashley Young is also not fit but there is some good news for the manager. Wayne Rooney returned to action in midweek after being out for a month with a gashed leg while Darren Fletcher also made his first start in over 10 months against Newcastle and is looking set to return to regular first team action.
With so many injury problems at the back, Fergie has no option but to field his only available back four. Evra, Ferdinand and Evans are all ready to return to action after being rested on Wednesday while the manager will be hoping for Rafael to be ready before Saturday. The Brazilian has been an important member for United in the games against Spurs as he has kept Gareth Bale in check on most occasions. In the absence of Rafael and with Valencia missing, Darren Fletcher could take up the right-back role but it will hurt the home side at both ends of the pitch.
In midfield, Scholes is likely to be rested after playing three games during the last week and also with the away trip to Romania in the Champions League coming up. Giggs, who also has started back to back Premier League games is set to be rested as well. However, both veterans could find themselves a place on the bench. Sir Alex used an uncharacteristic diamond formation against Newcastle in midweek and with the injuries to Young and Valencia, he could opt for the same route against AVB’s men. Carrick will play at the base of the diamond while Kagawa will be on the top of it, taking the role of the playmaker. Cleverley and Anderson, who did so well in midweek, could be used as the central midfielders once again and with Kagawa in there, there will be a lot of pass and move football from the Red Devils.
Upfront, Wayne Rooney, who was impressive in the win over Newcastle, is likely to return to Premier League action and hence he will be starting alongside Robin van Persie for the first time since the Dutchman’s high profile move to the Theatre of Dreams. The duo will give a lot of mobility to the United attack as both of them will be taking turns to lead the line while the other will be joining in the build-up play.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Carrick; Cleverley, Anderson; Kagawa; Rooney, van Persie
Like his counterpart, Andre Villas-Boas is also having several key players missing for this clash, however, the difference is that the injuries are spread over the pitch and the manager is not left with any kind of selection headache. Assou-Ekotto is still out with a knee injury and is likely to return only after the international break. Also due to return during that time is Scott Parker who is under rehab from his Achilles surgery. Jake Livermore and Younes Kaboul are also out as long term absentees but the manager will be pleased with the fitness of Kyle Naughton and Emannuel Adebayor as both are set to be ready to face Manchester United on Saturday.
With the absence of Assou-Ekotto, the manager is likely to have Jan Vertonghen as his left-back. The summer signing from Ajax started as a center back against QPR, but was moved over to the left-flank to allow Bale to play on the wing. Vertonghen’s switch to the left means Gallas and Caulker, who performed admirably against Rangers in the second half, will once again be paired in central defence while Kyle Walker will take up his usual right-back responsibilities. However, the manager could start Bale as the left-back and Gallas and Vertonghen as his central defenders thus omitting Caulker from the starting XI.
In midfield, Sandro will be playing as the defensive midfielder and will have the responsibility of keeping United’s playmaker in check. The Brazilian has done a fine job in the absence of Scott Parker and the manager will be expecting much the same from him on Saturday. Dembele, who caused havoc in United’s defence when he was at Old Trafford with Fulham in August, will be ready to do so again but this time as Spurs’ playmaker. Bale and Lennon will be providing width to the visitors and both are expected to be the main source of attack for AVB’s team. Lennon, especially, will be seeing much of the ball having troubled Patrice Evra in the past. Another new arrival – Clint Dempsey – is expected to play behind the striker since Gilfy Siggurdson has not been on top of his game this season. The Icelander will be on the bench and could even play in the case of Bale being deployed at left-back.
Jermaine Defoe, who has been in superb goal scoring form, will once again be leading the line. The Englishman has already netted four times this season and his superb run has meant that Adebayor, who was the first choice striker for Spurs last season, has not started a game in this campaign. The inclusion of Defoe has added a lot of pace to the Spurs’ attack and with Lennon and Bale already in there, it could be a potent threat once again against the likes of Ferdinand and Evans who are not the quickest of defenders.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen; Sandro; Lennon, Dembele, Bale; Dempsey; Defoe
- Manchester United have won 17 and lost none of their 20 games against Spurs at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
- Rooney has scored seven goals in his last eight games against Tottenham, while van Persie has netted five times in his last six games against them.
- United have conceded most headed goals (3) in the league this season.
- Jermaine Defoe is 1 short of 200 senior goals in his career.
Player To Watch Out For
The Belgian was a reported target for Manchester United this summer, but the transfer never came close to being completed. Instead, Dembele moved to Spurs for a fee of £15 million as the Lillywhites triggered his release clause. And it has been no surprise that the team’s fortunes have changed since his arrival as Spurs have been on the up. The former Fulham man has been the catalyst of Spurs’ attacking play and it will be the same again on Saturday. Sir Alex and United, on the other hand, have already seen his prowess with Fulham this season and with better quality players around him, he could be the cause of a lot of trouble for the Red Devils.
Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
It will be an attacking game, as is most often the case when these two sides play each other. Tottenham will take the game to United, and are likely to trouble them as well with their attacking options. However, with the crowd behind them, Fergie’s men will have enough in their tank to see of the challenge from the visitors.