On the back of two consecutive 2-1 wins in the past week, Manchester United are starting to kick into gear this season; and according to the stats this progression should continue against Tottenham Hotspur. The visitors last recorded a win against United at Old Trafford in 1989, and since then have lost 22 times out of 26. This should be a banker for the Red Devils. However, with a decimated defence and facing an improving Tottenham side, this will be far from an easy fixture for Robin van Persie and co.
Both teams come into this fixture having safely secured their passage into round four of the COC, with Tottenham easing past Carlisle 3-0. Yet, the media has been hounding AVB ever since he replaced their favourite, Harry Redknapp. After a disappointing start, losing to Newcastle and drawing to Reading, they have somewhat turned it around, and are now unbeaten in 6. This resurgence in form is coupled with a lack of serious key injuries, Adebayor and Parker aside. However, there are some rumours that Assou-Ekotto will be unfit to start at Old Trafford, meaning Jan Vertonghen will shuffle to left back, a position he occupied occasionally for former team Ajax. This would mean that Caulker could start alongside Gallas in central defence. The only other debate is whether AVB will plump for Dempsey over Sigurdsson to play behind in-form striker Defoe. Dembélé will return to the site of his final fixture for Fulham, where he enjoyed a profitable afternoon against a lacklustre United midfield. For United, the injuries and problems keep on mounting. Vidic, Smalling, Jones and Young are known to be absent, and there are doubts over Rafael and Valencia’s fitness. As well as that, Nani is thought to have been involved with a bust up, after a confrontation with Davide Patrucci midweek. This latest tantrum from the Portuguese winger, coupled with his poor form so far this season, could mean he is dropped to the bench, despite a lack of wingers, and could even jeopardise his future as a Manchester United player. Ferguson will have another decision as to whether he should risk Wayne Rooney, who, despite logging a promising performance midweek, was described by Sir Alex as “tired” after the game. Kagawa and RVP are most likely to be the preferred choice.
With Carrick and Paul Scholes likely to start in midfield, their primary task will be subduing adventurous midfielder Moussa Dembélé, after his barnstorming performance earlier this season.
This could be a key battle ground, but will by no means be Spurs’ only option of attack. With Rafael thought to be slightly below match fitness, Bale will look to finally put in a dangerous performance at Old Trafford. On the other side, Lennon will hope he can continue to find joy against Evra, as he has done so often in the past. One player who will be hoping for Bale and Lennon to succeed will be Jermain Defoe. He is in good form this season, scoring 4 goals, and will look to notch his 200th Premier League goal today. However, one accusation levelled at the England international is his complete selfishness. According to Who Scored, he has taken 31 shots so far this season, the most out of any player in the Premier League, whilst only hitting the target with 9 of them. Defoe’s eagerness and propensity to shoot often breaks up promising attacks and could frustrate Spurs’ attempt to break their Old Trafford curse.
For Manchester United, it will be necessary to avoid a lack of width, which at times hampered their play against Newcastle midweek. Giggs could return on the left; however he has a habit of drifting infield. Lots of pressure will thus be placed on the Red Devils fullbacks. Rooney, who could emerge from the bench if things don’t go so well, will look to kick-start his partnership with Van Persie. His display on Wednesday showed promise, and he could be the ideal partner for the Dutchman, prowling behind the front man and dictating play with his range of passing. He has also scored 5 goals in his last 5 games against Spurs. Whoever plays at right wing will look to take advantage of Vertonghen’s relative lack of experience at that position.
With most of United’s defence carrying niggling injuries, I tip Defoe to break the 200 goal milestone today, with help from a storming Bale. However, Robin van Persie’s masterful finishing, Kagawa’s slick passing and a Rooney return will mean that United peg back Tottenham. If AVB continues his tendency to go conservative, I think United will win 3-1. But if the Portuguese goes balls for glory, it could be a different story. I’ll stick to 3-1 though.