Recent history is overwhelmingly against Spurs, can Villas-Boas inspire them to a good result at their most unhappy of hunting grounds?
Tottenham Hotspur’s record against Manchester United has become one the great anomalies in the Premier League, an inexplicable streak that has become a veritable gorilla on the back on any Spurs player sent out to play in the fixture. It is 26 meetings since Spurs managed a win, it was 2005 when they last managed even a draw at Old Trafford, though that game will live in infamy as the match where Pedro Mendes should have ended Spurs’ terrible run.
So how will Villas-Boas set his team up to attempt something that hasn’t been managed in 23 years?
The Portuguese has already come out saying he will be looking to attack United. Last season, his Chelsea team tried this and ended up losing 3-1, though if Fernando Torres had managed to finish off an open goal from two yards then maybe the story would have been different. So far this season, the system Spurs’ have set up with has looked more comfortable away from home.
This is especially true of Defoe’s role, as he is a lone striker more likely to capitalise on space behind defences, something he is denied when team sit back at White Hart Lane. The pace throughout the Spurs team should give them the perfect platform for counter attacks against United, who are suffering with a plethora of injuries in defence.
Vidic has now been ruled out for 8 weeks, adding to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling on the sidelines. Despite these problems at the back the biggest question about Ferguson’s selection is over the role Wayne Rooney will play. The England striker returned to action in the League Cup and it will be interesting to see if this leads to him starting alongside Robin van Persie on Saturday, or coming off the bench. Antonio Valencia is also an injury doubt after picking up a knock against Liverpool.
Tottenham’s own injury concerns are mostly restricted to left back, where Assou-Ekotto and Naughton are still doubts. If they are without these two, Villas-Boas will probably move Vertonghen across to left back. The Belgian was excellent in that position against QPR and Carlilse, and Bale’s attacking role is too important to lose, as shown in the first half against QPR. It will be interesting to see if Vertonghen is moved, whether Caulker or Dawson is put in at centre back.
Keeper selection is a pressing matter for both teams at the moment. De Gea and Lindegaard are currently rotating at United, with a fair amount of success. Whether Villas-Boas is tempted to do the same and bring in Lloris for this fixture is an interesting sideshow to the main event.
Manchester United have been relatively uninspiring in their recent victories, but they always seem able to pick up results, and this is especially true when they play against Spurs. Whatever eleven Ferguson does send out will rightly be the favourites for the match. Spurs have to face their opponents plus the weight of recent history, but the fixture gives Villas-Boas a real chance to set himself apart from his immediate predecessors at Spurs.
image: © Denise&David