Vidic 31, Nani 84
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0
Manchester United kept a clean sheet against Tottenham Hotspur in a tight game at Old Trafford which will be remembered for Nani’s controversial second goal.
The decision by Mark Clattenburg in allowing Nani to fire past a stationary Heurelho Gomes may be the talking point many will draw from the game but there were plenty of positives from the United performance to please Sir Alex Ferguson, most notably the clean sheet. When United took the lead but were subsequently matched for large parts of the encounter by a strong Spurs side there was a feeling emanating around the home support a lead may again be squandered.
United, however, stood firm. This is in no small part down to the return to fitness of Rio Ferdinand, reforming arguably the strongest centre-half partnership in the Premier League with Nemanja Vidic. The pair were never troubled to a worrying extent by any of the three strikers utilised during the 90 minutes by Spurs, but it has been at just this time when the duo are not together the United defence has come unstuck. In games where they have been comfortable an individual error has cost them dear, but with Ferdinand back marshalling the troops, on Saturday’s evidence, this looks unlikely to happen.
With confidence emanating from the heartbeat of the side, this spread to other defensive areas with all three full-backs used by United putting in a good shift against two very dangerous Spurs wingers. Rafael da Silva, in being given the nod to control the inform Gareth Bale, performed adequately and limited Bale to little impact. Many may have regarded picking the Brazilian as a brave move by Ferguson due to the sometimes over-impetuous nature of the 20-year-old. His performance against Franck Ribery in last seasons’ Champions League Quarter Final is still fresh in the minds of many United fans with some expecting a repeat performance. However, Rafael showed the kind of maturity and positional nous which may well lead him to becoming a top player for United. Removing the Brazilian and replacing him with Wes Brown was a good move by Ferguson considering the strength with which both Bale and Aaron Lennon – occupying the left in the latter stages – finish games.
Patrice Evra showed the kind of defensive display which has made him one of United’s most prominent figures in recent seasons, and the kind which has often deserted him this season. The Frenchman played Lennon adeptly and kept Bale quiet when required in the second half. Arguably the only criticism levelled at Evra is he does not seem to be the same attacking force when not playing behind a top-draw winger. In recent successful seasons Evra has been most potent when playing behind Cristiano Ronaldo as the combination play between the two was superb. He does hint at this kind of form when in behind Ryan Giggs, but currently when asked to link up with Ji-Sung Park, and Nani at times, Evra struggles to recapture the marauding performances which were so often the starting point for United attacks.
With the confidence created by Vidic and Ferdinand, Ferguson will be hoping this performance and last week’s strong defensive display at Stoke City will be the building blocks to create a run of wins and pressurise Chelsea at the top of the table.
1 Van der Saar
21 Rafael – 5 Ferdinand – 15 Vidic – 3 Evra
17 Nani – 16 Carrick – 24 Fletcher – 13 Park
9 Berbatov – 14 Hernandez
64 – 6 Brown on for 21 Rafael da Silva
64 – 18 Scholes on for 9 Berbatov
87 – 26 Obertan on for 14 Hernandez