White Hart Lane, London
December 28, 2014; 12:00 GMT
After a “fantastic Christmas” win over Newcastle United, Louis van Gaal takes his team south to London, where the third place Manchester United face seventh placed Tottenham Hotspur. With just five points separating the two teams, this one is too close to call. United go into the game as slight favourites having been unbeaten in their last eight games – their last defeat coming in the Manchester derby on 2nd November. Spurs themselves have had a decent patch of form, losing only one of their last five matches – the London derby away at league leaders Chelsea.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Mauricio Pochettino would be well aware that although his team has won 4 of their last 6 games, these wins have come against relatively weaker oppposition – their last two wins coming against bottom clubs Burnley and Leicester, both close 2-1 wins. His team would therefore need to be on its toes to keep up with Southampton in fourth spot to target one of the Champions League spots.
Spurs have been unbeaten against United in their last four meetings, however, they have not won at home against their opponents in the last 13 clashes between these two teams at White Hart Lane, having lost eight and drawn five times. Pochettino would like to change the status quo and would be heaving a sigh of relief as early news that keeper Hugo Lloris might miss the important clash against United has been declared false. The Frenchman suffered a cut on the inside of his mouth as he collided with Leicester striker James Vardy, but he looks set to keep his place between the sticks on Sunday.
“He has only a cut inside his mouth. It was not like last time when he was unconscious at Everton,” Pochettino said. “He will not need clearance to play against Manchester United. This was nothing like before. From my position it was difficult to see the incident. But it is not serious and he will play. He is very brave.”
Pochettino is expected to stick with in-form striker Harry Kane with returning forward Emmanuel Adebayor settling for a place on the bench. Midifelder Ryan Mason could once again be in the starting line-up after recovering from his ankle injury against Burnley to play the second half against Leicester. This means Benjamin Strambouli dropping to the bench. There are no further injury concerns for Spurs and Pochettino will look for the combination of Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen in his free role to provide the attacking impetus to test Manchester United’s average defence. Danny Rose should keep his place at left-back after making a successful comeback against Leicester.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Fazio, Verthongen, Rose; Bentaleb, Mason, Lamela, Eriksen, Chadli; Kane
United go into the game high on confidence having strung a series of good results, collecting 22 out of a possible 24 points in their last eight games. Louis van Gaal, though not overjoyed with his team’s performance, would appreciate that his team are starting to show the winning mentality that used to help them win games without always hitting top gear under Sir Alex Ferguson. More importantly, a win against an opponent also looking to end up in one of the Champions League spots will be an added bonus for Van Gaal this season.
United have a good track record against Spurs at White Hart Lane, winning 8 and drawing 5 of the last 13 games played between the two sides here. Injuries usually dictate the system Van Gaal picks for his games these days, but it looks like the Dutch manager will stick to his preferred three at the back system, not in the least down to excellent performances by the wing-backs, especially Ashley Young.
Angel di Maria is still sidelined for an indefinite amount of time, and Van Gaal will miss the services of Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj and Marcos Rojo, although they are expected to be back within the next two weeks. Wayne Rooney looks to continue in central midfield along with Michael Carrick, leaving Juan Mata to occupy the number 10 position behind Robin van Persie and Falcao. The game could come too early for Chris Smalling, so Van Gaal has to decide between youngsters Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett in defence. McNair appears to be the more confident between the two and so, it looks like United will play with the same eleven as their last match, the first time that this will happen under Van Gaal’s reign.
Probable Starting Line-Up (3-4-1-2): De Gea; Jones, McNair, Evans; Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Young; Mata, Van Persie, Falcao
- Tottenham have not won their last 13 games at White Hart Lane against Manchester United
- Six of Wayne Rooney’s nine goals against Spurs have come at White Hart Lane
- United have picked up 22 out of a possible 24 points in their last eight games, including two wins and one draw in their last three away games
Player to Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The United skipper has been in superb form ahead of this key clash. This season, he has played as a striker, as a number 10 and even on the wings. But, he has looked his most dangerous in central midfield, where he operated against Newcastle on Boxing Day and grabbed two goals in a man of the match performance. Rooney is the vital cog in Van Gaal’s system as he keeps the game ticking, joins up in attack to score goals and create chances, and also tracks back to do his defensive duties – a complete box to box midfielder. Rooney has a good scoring record at White Hart Lane and will look to keep that going on Sunday.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Manchester United
This time Spurs would be on the wrong side of a 2-1 score line. United are in fine form and are getting good at getting results. The quality Van Gaal has up-front would prove too much for the Spurs defence, although Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen will trouble the United back three and Spurs will find the net once. Rooney to score one and set-up another in this battle at the Lane.