Manch­ester United vs Tot­ten­ham Hot­spurs

Al­though two United for­wards have been grab­bing the plau­dits, Spurs have aces up their sleeve and this could be United’s un­do­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by RicHaRd liM foot­ball@thes­tar.com.my

AF­TER re­turn­ing to win­ning ways last week, Manch­ester United seek to reignite their ti­tle chal­lenge by see­ing off Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur on Satur­day.

Thanks to some dis­mal league form which led to three con­sec­u­tive draws against Bolton, Sun­der­land and West Brom, United failed to close the gap on Chelsea and the Red Devils are cur­rently five points be­hind the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons.

Last week’s 2-1 win against Stoke re­stored some or­der and third-placed United will look to build on that re­sult. Buoyed by an­other dose of Chi­car­ito hero­ics in mid-week Car­ling Cup ac­tion, United fans will be hope­ful of an­other pos­i­tive re­sult and the The­atre of Dreams will be packed to the rafters.

Tra­di­tion­ally, Spurs have been one of United’s favourite op­po­nents over the last decade. Re­gard­less of whether they bring their A-game or not, the re­sults have of­ten gone in United’s favour and this ap­plies even when Spurs take the lead – re­mem­ber United’s almighty 5-3 come­back in 2001.

And with Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov and Javier Her­nan­dez in good form, an­other ex­cit­ing game could be on the cards. Af­ter strug­gling with a pe­riod of profli­gacy, United’s Rooney­less for­ward line is back in busi­ness and Heurelho Gomes could be a very busy man on Satur­day.

And his mis­ery could be in­flicted by a for­mer Spurs hero. Suc­cess­fully step­ping out of Wayne Rooney’s shadow this sea­son, Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov has sin­gle-hand­edly led the United at­tack – un­til re­cent weeks – and the Bul­gar­ian will be ea­ger to get one bet­ter over his old club.

The goals have dried up – Berba has not scored since his hat-trick against Liver­pool – but the Bul­gar­ian hit­man has played well for United and showed good un­der­stand­ing with Chi­car­ito in United’s last league win. No longer limited by mood swings, Ber­ba­tov has fused his lan­guid ge­nius with the labour of love and his ef­forts have been pay­ing div­i­dends.

Al­though the for­mer Spurs hero turned Devil pro­vides a good story an­gle, Her­nan­dez – Ber­ba­tov’s part­ner-in-crime – has been grab­bing the head­lines. Nick­named Chi­car­ito which means “Lit­tle Pea”, Her­nan­dez is fast be­com­ing a cult hero at Old Traf­ford and he

Hot stuff: Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s Rafael van der Vaart aim­ing to give Old Traf­ford a night­mare this week­end. added to the hype when he came off the bench to score against Wolves.

Chi­car­ito has now scored four goals in his last four do­mes­tic starts and it would take a brave man to bet against him ex­tend­ing his streak against Spurs. Al­though it is still early days in his United ca­reer, Her­nan­dez has all the mak­ings of a star and Michael Owen, an­other for­mer boy won­der, re­cently took time off the treat­ment ta­ble to warn Her­nan­dez against com­pla­cency.

“It’s ob­vi­ously early days for him but he’s made a re­ally good im­pres­sion at the club, scored goals in the last cou­ple of games,” Owen told BBC Ra­dio Five. “He’s young, sharp and a good fin­isher. He seems to be thriv­ing, he’s al­ways got a smile on his face, he en­joys his foot­ball and the fans have taken to him al­ready.

“So far so good, but, as I know, foot­ball changes in a week or what­ever. Hope­fully it’s the start of some­thing good for him, but he needs to keep work­ing hard and keep putting in those per­for­mances be­cause at Man United that’s what it de­mands - you score one week, but if you play poorly the next week then you could be out the team so you need to al­ways be on top of your game. Thank­fully he’s play­ing well at the minute, and long may that con­tinue.”

Wise words as Owen knows ex­actly how it feels to fall from grace. Af­ter leav­ing his left leg in Ty­ne­side, Owen has been blighted by more in­juries and a re­cent ham­string prob­lem has ruled him out of first-team reck­on­ing for a few more weeks.

An­other United star who has fallen from grace is Rooney who might spend more time warm­ing the bench on Satur­day. Al­though he has com­mit­ted his fore­see­able fu­ture to United, Rooney re­mains jaded on – and off – the field and Fer­gu­son would think twice about start­ing him.

While it is a tale of four for­wards for United, Spurs have tabloid fod­der of their own and if his re­cent hero­ics are any­thing to go by, Gareth Bale could end up si­lenc­ing the The­atre of Dreams. Bale’s su­perb hat-trick against In­ter Mi­lan must con­cern Sir Alex Fer­gu­son as United lack a qual­ity right-back to keep him quiet.

Face it. If Maicon – of­ten re­garded as the best right-back in the world – failed to nul­lify Bale, it is a tad un­fair to ex­pect Gary Neville to do so. That said, Bale should be a con­stant thorn in United’s side and much of the Spurs’ at­tack should come from the left flank.

In­ter­est­ingly, Bale’s rise to crit­i­cal ac­claim stems from his fail­ure as a full-back. His de­fen­sive frail­ties were fre­quently ex­posed to the point where Red­knapp could only de­ploy him in mid­field. It was at left mid­field where Bale be­gan ful­fill­ing his tremen­dous prom­ise and what he has ac­com­plished this sea­son is proof of this.

Ru­moured to be on Sir Alex’s scout­ing radar, Bale will be pumped up to de­liver an­other in­spir­ing per­for­mance and United fans should be treated to his burst of pace and eye for goal on Satur­day. One sus­pects that the Old Traf­ford faith­ful will be happy to see all that – es­pe­cially if Sir Alex signs Bale next sea­son - pro­vided United get the three points.

It must be noted that Spurs are no one-man band and United could face the wrath of Rafa. No, not Ben­itez but van der Vaart, who scored his fifth goal in as many games against Ever­ton. Van der Vaart res­cued a point for Spurs in that game and Red­knapp will look to him for sim­i­lar hero­ics against United.

Out­cast at Real Madrid, van der Vaart needs to make the most of his year at Spurs and the Dutch at­tack­ing mid­fielder will be the cre­ative spark for Spurs at Old Traf­ford. Armed with the abil­ity – and de­sire – to drift into wider po­si­tions only to cut back in­side, van der Vaart will be a hand­ful for the United de­fence and Sir Alex needs to get his tac­tics right on the day.

Be­hind him, the Spurs mid­field of Wil­son Pala­cios and Luka Mo­dric will fancy get­ting the bet­ter of United’s en­gine room which should fea­ture the dou­ble act of Dar­ren Fletcher and the ag­ing Paul Sc­holes. Dis­miss­ing his er­ratic form, Mo­dric said that the best was yet to come from him and the United match will pro­vide the per­fect av­enue to make good his word.

The stage has been set for an elec­tri­fy­ing match and with the qual­ity of the foot­ballers in­volved, the stars will be out at Old Traf­ford this week. If pre­vi­ous clashes be­tween the two sides are any­thing to go by, there will be goals.

Just don’t ex­pect the Red Devils to be too per­turbed if they fall be­hind.

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