The FourFourTwo Preview: Tottenham vs Man United
Two works-in-progress finally progressing.
- Leicester 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Spurs 2-1 Burnley (Prem)
- Spurs 4-0 Newcastle (LC)
- Swansea 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Besiktas 1-0 Spurs (EL)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 3-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- So'ton 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Stoke (Prem)
For the Old Trafford faithful, a porous defence brought much concern; at White Hart Lane, calamitous organisation and unbalanced tactical selections drew hefty criticism. There seemed to be neither co-ordination nor cohesion to either team's performances.
Thankfully, the festive season has applied some wrapping paper to the cracks – and a little tinsel, too. United have taken 22 points out of the last 24 and Spurs have lost only once in their last seven league games, including a jammy Boxing Day win at Leicester.
Certainly, both teams have ridden their luck for extended periods, though both sides have shown flashes of brilliance. However, it's likely that sleepless nights – the kind generated by headless chicken defending – will have dogged both Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino of late.
There is good news for both teams, here. For United, the return of Michael Carrick has delivered calm in front of United's sometimes slapdash back four; Wayne Rooney has found a seam of creativity in the midfield position that previously caused him much consternation under Sir Alex Ferguson. At Spurs, the prolific form of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen continues to bring important goals.
The bad lies at the back. Too often, both Hugo Lloris and David de Gea have been drawn into man-of-the-match performances between their respective posts as their defenders have committed a showreel of bloopers ahead of them.
The upshot? Well, in a game that promises a barrage of attacking football, the spoils will probably go to the side most capable of holding their nerve at the back.
Both Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor have been conspicuous through their absence at White Hart Lane of late, while Ryan Mason wasn't at his effervescent best following an ankle injury sustained against Burnley. Apart from that, a full squad is available.
United's main injury concern is Angel Di Maria, who succumbed to a pelvic injury in training over Christmas. Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini are doubts after contracting the Christmas flu, but Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera are approaching game time.
Player to watch: Wayne Rooney (Man United)
There has been much debate regarding United's captaincy this year (isn't there always?). Talk of those 100 caps at international level, his likelihood of success under Van Gaal and a position among the pantheon of Old Trafford greats has ricocheted around press rooms, ad nauseum. Rooney has responded in typical fashion by busting a gut to prove his detractors wrong.
Against Newcastle, he was deployed in a Paul Scholes-style central midfield role where he both created (2 chances created) and destroyed (2 tackles, 1 interception), bringing 1 assist and scoring twice. His performance – busting with energy and intelligence – yet again hinted at a prolonged future at the highest level should speed leave him in the latter stages of his career. Spurs' flimsy midfield will be quaking.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 1-2 Spurs (PL, Jan 14)
- Spurs 2-2 United (PL, Dec 13)
- Spurs 1-1 United (PL, Jan 13)
- United 2-3 Spurs (PL, Sep 12)
- Spurs 1-3 United (PL, Mar 12)
Pochettino has delivered a stiff warning to his players following signs of complacency during their ragged win at the King Power Stadium. "We started very well and after scoring early maybe we thought we’d have an easy game, but in the Premier League you never have an easy game," he said. "In the Premier League it’s impossible to be relaxed. The level in our league is high and Leicester deserved more." Despite their Boxing Day victory over Newcastle, King Louis is miffed at the Premier League's hectic Christmas schedule.
"With FIFA and UEFA's rules it's forbidden to play within 48 hours. In England, it's OK," he said. "I cannot prepare my team like I have to prepare. We have unit meetings, and team meetings, we have training – 11 against 11 – and assimilating opponents... we cannot do that now."
Facts and figures
- Spurs have won 0 of their last 13 Premier League games against the Red Devils at White Hart Lane (W0 D5 L8).
United have kept just 1 clean sheet in their last 10 away league games – but have lost just 1 of their last 18 league trips to London (W11 D6 L1).
Rooney has scored 9 in 13 Premier League appearances for Man United against Tottenham – with 6 of those 9 scored at White Hart Lane.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
United to prove too strong in midfield. A 3-1 away win.
Back 1-3 at 16/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication