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.
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.