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Preview: Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday 30th October 2010

October 29, 2010

United v Spurs has always been one of the most intriguing fixtures of the season, despite Spurs being either the nearly men or a laughing stock until recently. Sometimes pivotal – the 5-2 in 2009 springs to mind- and rarely lacking in goals, these games have been taken up a notch since Spurs’ recent revival. Instead of being perennial Old Trafford whipping boys, they will surely put up sturdier resistance than the five-goal second half collapse of that aforementioned game.

Of course, the build-up to the game will again be dominated by Rooney (or lack of), but all this has served to detract what an excellent pairing Berbatov and Hernandez have been in the last few games. Up against a Spurs backline that seems to have followed the Arsenal mould of perma-crocked centre backs, the omens are good for another lethal 90 mins.

What was particularly pleasing about Sunday was that even though Berbatov seems to have laid off scoring six a game, but his passing and leading the line was equally as destructive, and indeed helped force the winner.

Then of course, we have Chicharito, who already has a better goalscoring ratio than the much-lauded Drogba. A stronger and more assertive Rossi, perhaps? Whatever, he’s going to be one hell of a goalscorer – one can only imagine what he will be like after a year’s worth of Premiership football. Owen is definitely out (and predictably, for some time), but even a strong performance against Wolves had he started would probably given him no more than a bit-part role on Saturday.

Redknapp has abandoned his much-loved 4-4-2 in recent games and has actually showed some away tactical nous except that thrashing in Italy. Spurs rarely look comfortable in a 4-5-1, but with Van Der Vaart in form, they will go with either Crouch or Defoe if fit – both of who should – in theory, be a great deal easier to deal with for Rio after Stoke’s aerial bombardment at the weekend. It won’t exactly be a game where Rio could effortlessly slip back into the groove, but at OT and against an isolated forward, it should be less of a battering than last Sunday at least.

Van der Vaart breaking from midfield and looking for any knockdowns from whatever Big Man Spurs employ up top up will warrant a considerable threat.

With United having no outright defensive midfielders to choose from, it will be interesting to see who is deployed to stop Van der Vaart. A slightly outlandish concept could be brigning in O’Shea to play deep in at 4-5-1 with Scholes and Fletcher at the apex of a midfield trio.

However, seeing how well Berbatov and Hernandez have complimented each other Fergie should stick with a 4-4-2, which means that Fletcher will probably drop slightly off Scholes in the game to track the Dutchman. Of course, Spurs also have the other left-footed Welsh wizard in their ranks, so Park’s defensive capabilities could see him be drafted in to play on the right with Rafael deployed at right back. It also provides the opportunity to compile a scout report much closer to home.

In a nutshell, stopping Spurs’ creative influences in their midfield should ensure a comfortable evening, but what is also interesting in how little has been written about Spurs’ sloppy start to the season – draws against the likes of Everton compounded with wretched losses against Wigan and West Ham which has mimicked our own stuttering start. Underwritten by a good Champions League campaign thus far, its surprising how little has been made about it, although their championing of a title push is looking far less likely now. They are still handily placed in fifth, but need to cut out silly losses to sustain a Champions League challenge this time round. United did do the double over them last year though, winning both fixtures 3-1.

With Spurs winning their last two out of three, they look to be coming into some sort of form, but it is paramount that we also kick on from that late winner at the Britannia. Three points at the weekend followed by Rooney’s return to the fold in a couple of weeks could lead to a mini-Renaissance where we can finally push into top gear and stop giving the nation cause to swoon over Chelsea.

Come the Manchester derby in three weeks time, it should be billed at a title-fight, but only to remove City from the equation.

Selection:

There are three issues here: 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, who to deploy on the left, and who to deploy at right-back. Personally, with the Berbatov-Hernandez combination working so well, and Berbatov not in goalscoring form (but playing well nonetheless), it’s hard to see a change from 4-4-2. Our options on the left consist of Park and Obertan, but both had 90 minutes in midweek. For that reason, I think Ferguson will go with a less orthodox option – either Evra in midfield as at the Britannia, or Anderson on the left again. The latter seems likelier owing to him having been left out against Wolves. Another potential option is asking Hernandez to fill in out wide and drift into the box in a 4-3-3, but I can’t see it.

As for right-back, we have all four options to pick from. Rafael looks the best option to me, as any of the others look likely to be caught out by Bale’s pace – Neville is always best against trickier but less physical opponents – such as his snuffing out of Ronaldinho last year. Were Spurs to deploy Modric on the left, he’d be a good choice. But they won’t. And Rafael looks good enough to be trusted against the player who is – make no mistake – the best left-sided player in the world on current form.

Tactics:

It’s a shame that we’re light on the wings at the moment, because Spurs’ most obvious weakness is the defensive frailty of Alan Hutton. For this reason, Anderson may not be our best option – the attacking instincts of Evra or the intelligent movement of Park would surely catch Hutton out, and be our best way of getting through.

Regardless, Harry’s problem is how to fit Modric and Van der Vaart into the same side, and without a genuine holding midfielder, simple passing and movement seems to have done for them in their previous fixtures. Berbatov and Hernandez should have enough to get the better of the Spurs backline here.

As for defence, Rafael looks like being our only option that doesn’t risk being outpaced by Bale, and is definitely our best bet in that respect. We’ll miss Valencia’s defensive nous here, but Nani is more efficient at tracking back than he is given credit for.

The big problem will be Van der Vaart. A 4-4-2 seems likely for United, and the full-back areas are where Spurs are weakest – our best bet is probably to simply keep our backline and midfield close to one another at all times and deny the Dutchman the space he thrives on.

Predicted Line-ups:

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van Der Sar, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, O’Shea – Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Evra – Berbatov, Hernandez.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Gomes, Hutton, Bassong, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto – Bale, Modric, Palacios, Lennon – Van der Vaart – Crouch

Predicted scoreline: Manchester United 3-2 Tottenham

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