Manchester United travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday boasting an impressive big-game record so far this season. Aside from defeat in their opening fixture at Everton, the only Premier League slip-up the Reds have suffered came in the weekend’s reverse tie when Spurs raided Old Trafford and left with a 3-2 victory.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have recorded Premier League wins at Stamford Bridge and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, in addition to defeating Arsenal at home and winning both fixtures against Liverpool and Newcastle. This is a great improvement on last season’s showings in the bigger games, and a considerable factor in the strong position the deposed champions find themselves at this stage of the campaign.
Andre-Villas Boas is the only manager in the league to take three points from Old Trafford, and will be looking to take the same dynamic game to United on home turf. The Reds however have shown great resilience in their bid to claim a record 20th title, if not hitting top form as regularly as their supporters would like.
Last weekend’s game against Liverpool was remarkable in exposing the two sides of United’s nature this season. The first hour saw almost complete domination, with the Merseysiders lucky not to be on the end of a severe embarrassment as Ferguson’s team seemed to be clicking into gear. Yet once Liverpool took the game to the home side after pulling a goal back, United’s performance level plummeted dramatically as they were pinned back. Should Villas-Boas take heed of the way Brendan Rodgers changed his setup for the second half and put United under pressure, there could be joy for Spurs on Sunday.
It will be interesting to see the team that Ferguson sends out, and whether he decides to go toe-to-toe with the North Londoners. Key to this will be whether the fit-again Wayne Rooney is deployed in an advanced role, if indeed he makes the starting XI. With Rooney and the irrepressible Robin van Persie up front, United have the firepower to dominate any defence. The issue this season has been the supply provided from the flanks, an area in which Ferguson’s teams are usually so strong.
Antonio Valencia has struggled for form all season, while Ashley Young is yet to become dependable in the big games. Nani meanwhile has been out of action for almost three months, and looked rusty against West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday. For his part Young has shown an upturn in form of late, and will be a loss if he is absent at the weekend as expected after picking up a knock against Liverpool. United have often had to look to full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva to provide attacking impetus on the wings.
This could force Ferguson into a narrower setup and a possible return to the diamond formation that was experimented with earlier in the season. It will be one of the few times this campaign that the manager would be able to line up Shinji Kagawa in behind Rooney and van Persie, but the lack of width could prove problematic against a Spurs side that is strong on the flanks.
Whichever line-up is selected at White Hart Lane, the Reds will go into the game with confidence of scoring goals and getting a result in another big test of their championship credentials.
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