White Hart Lane, London
December 1, 2013; 12:00 GMT
In a way, Sunday will be a welcome relief for David Moyes. As he takes his team to north London for the weekend’s big game in the Premier League against Tottenham Hotspur, for the first time in his nascent Manchester United career, it will be the opposition manager, not him, facing up to the most intense pressure. Make no mistake, after the slip-up at Cardiff last weekend this is a fixture where United will be determined to get back to winning ways. But for Tottenham, defeat may mean catastrophic consequences for their manager Andre Villas-Boas, if some sections of media are to be believed.
The hosts were at the receiving end of a proper thrashing at the hands of Manchester City at Etihad Stadium last Sunday with Villas-Boas coming under fierce criticism from the press in the aftermath of the result. While the young Portuguese manager remains defiant in his claim that the Spurs board are still firmly behind him, the general performance of his team this season leaves a lot to be desired. The nine goals that his team has managed so far this season is the third lowest this season with only the bottom two clubs – Crystal Palace and Sunderland – having scored fewer. The fans have been audibly disenchanted by the team’s bland displays and Villas-Boas’ criticism of such reaction has hardly enamoured him with the White Hart Lane faithful. A win on Sunday against the defending champions may well be the catalyst needed to get Spurs season going again but a defeat of any kind will leave the manager facing up to the prospect of getting sacked for the second time in three years in the Premier League.
If Villas-Boas’ is in search for inspiration to turn around his team’s fortunes after the drubbing at the hands of City, he can do well to take heart from the man sitting in opposition dugout at the Lane on Sunday lunchtime. Moyes too had a tough time dealing with the comprehensive derby defeat at City in September, but since then has slowly but surely got his team back on track. United are presently unbeaten in all competition since end of September and while the late equaliser at Cardiff last Sunday was a setback, the resounding win in the midweek at Bayer Leverkusen – the club’s biggest away win in Europe in over half a century – will have acted as perfect tonic. Moyes was effusive in his praise for the team following the victory and warned there is more to come in the next few weeks. A repeat of that performance on Sunday will surely see United heading back home with all three points.
Team News, Tactics & Lineups
After spending £107 million on seven new players this summer, it is fair to say Villas-Boas has struggled to form a cohesive unit on the pitch. Robert Soldado has probably been the biggest disappointment as the big money signing from Valencia is yet to find his feet in the English game. While some may choose to blame the lack of quality service being provided to the Spanish international striker, Soldado himself has shown a reluctance to try and get more involved in the game and have been caught on the heels far too often. Till now though, Villas-Boas has kept faith in his star striker and turned a blind eye towards the likes of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor.
In the midfield, Paulinho – the only one among the new signing to have acquitted himself well in the first few months – is set to be recalled to the starting lineup after being rested for the Europa League tie against Tromso on Thursday. With Christian Eriksen being ruled out on a long term basis, the onus will be on the likes of Andros Townsend, Gylfi Sigurdsson and club record signing Eric Lamela to provide creativity from the midfield.
It will be interesting to see whether Villas-Boas decides to tweak things around at the back after the defensive horror show against City. Michael Dawson, for one, looked extremely vulnerable at the Etihad Stadium and Villas-Boas may choose to either move Jan Vertonghen into the centre or hand a start to Vlad Chichires.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Kaboul, Chichires, Vertongen; Paulinho, Sandro; Lennon, Sigurdsson, Lamela; Soldado
The convincing victory at Bay Arena has handed Moyes a welcome selection headache ahead of the trip to White Hart Lane. In absence of injured Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa was handed a rare start in his favoured central attacking position and the Japanese international was a revelation. His scintillating link up play with Wayne Rooney was the highlight of the night as a rampant United put in their best offensive display so far this season. If Robin van Persie is deemed fit for Sunday’s game, Moyes will have to either put Kagawa back on left or make a bold call and put one of his star strikers on the bench.
Michael Carrick remained sidelined from action for at least a few more weeks meaning he will miss the trip to the club from where United signed him. But on the brighter side, Marouane Fellaini should be back after missing the game at Germany due to suspension. The Belgian had been signed in the summer to stamp his authority in the midfield during big games such as this but has failed to live up to the billing so far. A dominant display on Sunday against the likes of Paulinho and Sandro will be a big boost to his confidence and may just act as a shot in the arm for his United career.
The club captain Nemanja Vidic, who suffered a concussion against Arsenal three weeks back, is expected to be fit and ready to resume his duties at the heart of United’s defence. The right back slot too is up for grabs with Rafael back in the fray after recovering from an ankle knock.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Fellaini, Jones, Januzaj; Kagawa, Rooney
- Ryan Giggs, who turned 40 this week, has scored more Premier League goals against Spurs (10) than any other opponents
- Manchester United have not lost at White Hart Lane since May 2001
- Tottenham have kept the highest number of clean sheets (7) this season in the Premier League
- Spurs have not scored a goal in their last 3 league games
Player To Watch
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
When in form, there are few players better in world football than Wayne Rooney. The England striker is right bang in the middle of one of his purple patches and notched up four assists against Leverkusen. Goals have been slightly more elusive to come by for Rooney but surely it is just a matter of time before he starts hitting the back of the net more frequently.
Tottenham 0-1 Manchester United
It is all set to be a tight affair at the Lane with neither side surrendering any quarters. At the end though United on current form may just about sneak it by the odd goal.