We are firmly in the stage of the season where nothing other than a win is required from all the remaining games – a time which is so often highlighted by Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson as a time to be relished. As a time to play your best football and come through victorious in the end. Clearly all the remaining games for United are must win but this Saturday’s is the one which has drawn much of the focus.
Tottenham have been in fantastic form beating both Chelsea and Arsenal in their last two matches scoring four goals and seemingly having the potential for many more. An out of sorts Chelsea were continually torn apart by Spurs with the scoreline only kept as it was due to some lacklustre finishing. The partnership of Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko is firing on all cylinders with the Russian especially reminding us of why he was so sought after in the first place. This, however, should not cause United undue worry, it is simply imperative that they are fully aware of the potential threat.
In the opinion of this writer Nemanja Vidic is the perfect counter to Pavlyuchenko as the Serbian will match the Russian for strength, ability in the air and with neither of them blessed with huge amounts of pace, this should be a battle that Vidic can win with his sheer determination and will to win. Defoe is where the real problem may lie. Although not as prolific as earlier in the season, the England man is blessed with potentially damaging movement. Defoe is comfortable both coming deep and running beyond the back-four meaning that he is often difficult to pick up. In the absence of Rio Ferdinand at Eastlands, United at times struggled against the movement of Carlos Tevez in this manner and were often stretched too far. Although Jonny Evans performed well in the derby and is a fantastic player in his own right, it is imperative that Rio Ferdinand is able to return to provide more solidity to the United defensive rearguard.
Moving further up the pitch, the name Paul Scholes has been a name which has been continually present in the media this week since his performance and goal in the derby, and he is again a player who could prove pivotal in this encounter. Darren Fletcher believes that Scholes is still key to United’s title chances and he will certainly be amongst those players who the rest of the United team will be looking to for inspiration. During the early stages of the derby, Scholes was the player who was able to control the tempo of the game putting his foot on it when necessary and playing short, sharp passes to get United into their stride. It is exactly this kind of influence that will be required against Spurs as considering their current form it is extremely unlikely that they will sit back and invite United to bring the game to them. When looking back to United’s impressive early season performance at White Hart Lane, Scholes was the conductor that day, pulling United back into the game – this performance will be at the forefront of Sir Alex’s mind when he sends his players out on Saturday.
When discussing the potential of success for United throughout this season it has been inescapable not to focus on Wayne Rooney as his goals have proved pivotal in a season that has been the best in his career. Rooney will once more be the man that United look to for that spark in and around the opposition penalty area, and for the sake of the team it can only be hoped that he is at full fitness or very close to that mark. In his two games following his injury, Rooney has looked off the pace and nowhere near as sharp as prior to the match in the Allianz Arena. Against City he was unable to break away from Vincent Kompany and often did not look his usual energetic self, seemingly conserving his energy for periods in the first half when, if fit, he would be chasing down defenders. His finishing was also off, missing a glorious chance right before half-time. By no means should any criticism be directed towards Rooney as he should be admired for playing when un-fit, it simply highlights what a fit Rooney can bring to the side. Having not scored since his injury, Rooney will be feeling that this is the ideal encounter to prove his fitness and once again find his goalscoring touch.
It is not only this game for United that is being billed as title-defining – Chelsea’s trip to Anfield is the second encounter that could determine the destiny of the title. United can look no further than 15 years ago for inspiration that Liverpool, despite being such hated enemies, can do them a favour when it comes to the title. The Red Devils will, however, focus on their own performance rather than relying on the favours of others.
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