Two teams who probably were not quite as awful as was suggested a few weeks back go head-to-head to determine who is the most not-quite-as-awful of all.
It will not have gone unnoticed in the red half of Manchester or the lilywhite half of north London that ‘crumbling’ Manchester United and ‘out of sorts’ Tottenham are now both two points behind ‘certain title challengers’ Liverpool.
Norwich 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
Hull 2-3 Man Utd (Prem)
Man Utd 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
Stoke 0-2 Man Utd (LC)
Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
Tottenham 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
Tottenham 1-1 WBA (Prem)
So'ton 2-3 Tottenham (Prem)
Tottenham 1-2 West Ham (LC)
Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool (Prem)
Liverpool will find the sudden feeling of United breaths down the back of their necks most ominous, and the Old Trafford side now look in rude health, having won six in a row in all competitions. The most recent two victories came on Boxing Day at Hull (3-2) and on Saturday at Norwich (1-0).
The two performances may not have been entirely convincing, but winning matches having not played particularly well was a trait established during Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, and, as the old cliché has it, is ‘the hallmark of champions’.
This particular United side still look a way off competing for the title, but those back-to-back away wins, coupled with the number of points dropped by Everton and Liverpool, have left David Moyes’ side entering 2014 just three points off the top four. Nothing to crow about by their standards, but at least a sign that talk of their decline has been greatly exaggerated.
For all the talk of crisis at White Hart Lane, Spurs are in the same position, albeit with a far inferior goal difference. The north Londoners were at least able to claw their way back to -2 thanks to a 3-0 win over Stoke, their biggest league win of the season, with both the scoreline and the nature of the performance likely to have greatly encouraged Tim Sherwood, not to mention the fans.
Tottenham have scored as many goals in Sherwood’s first three Premier League games in charge as they did in the final eight of Andre Villas-Boas’ reign (7). The opposition may not have been the toughest, but there are signs things are gradually clicking into place.
Yet this testing visit to an in-form United may come too soon. With Michael Carrick back, Wayne Rooney set to return having missed the trip to Norwich and the likes of Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj ever-improving, the champions are starting to look a team to fear.
This fixture looks like being the first real test of Sherwood’s tactical acumen. Going out all guns blazing against an under-strength Southampton or a travel-weary Stoke side still licking their wounds from a 5-1 mauling is one thing, going and doing it at the home of the champions is something else altogether. If Sherwood and Spurs aren’t careful, they could leave themselves open for a very uncomfortable evening.
Moyes has suggested Rooney will overcome the adductor injury that saw him miss the win at Norwich, but Robin van Persie remains sidelined. The Dutchman has, however, made a return to light training. Marouane Fellaini (wrist), Nani (hamstring) and Phil Jones (knee) are also all out. Rafael is a doubt with a knee injury.
Spurs welcome Kyle Walker back from suspension, but will still be without fellow defenders Jan Vertonghen (knee) and Younes Kaboul (cursed). Andros Townsend (hamstring) and Sandro (knee) are also unavailable. Paulinho is out for at least a month after sustaining ankle ligament damage in the win against Stoke.
Key battle: Michael Carrick vs Mousa Dembele
United welcomed back key midfielder Carrick to the starting XI for Saturday’s win at Norwich, and the Geordie pass-master didn’t take long to resume his role as United’s metronome. Carrick completed 64 passes – more than any other player on the pitch – with 17 of those coming in the attacking third (only winger Ashley Young completed more). He also showed adeptness at winning possession, making 11 ball recoveries and 5 successful tackles – both game highs.
On Wednesday he’ll come up against a midfielder with an altogether different approach to the game in the form of Dembele. The Belgian has spent much of his time at Spurs playing in a similar deep-lying midfield position to Carrick, but although he is also a fan of short, simple passes (69 of his 70 completed passes against Stoke were short), he also possesses the power and control to ghost past players with the ball at his feet.
All 3 of his attempted take-ons against the Potters were successful, and his powerful running helped forge the opening that led to his first Premier League goal of the season. Dembele played superbly twice at Old Trafford last season - once with Fulham and again after his Spurs move – and he’ll be aiming to continue the trend.
Spurs 2-2 Man Utd (Prem, Dec 13)
Spurs 1-1 Man Utd (Prem, Jan 13)
Man Utd 2-3 Spurs (Prem, Sep 12)
Spurs 1-3 Man Utd (Prem, Mar 12)
Man Utd 3-0 Spurs (Prem, Aug 11)
Unsurprisingly, given Sherwood has been in first-team management for just a matter of weeks, he hasn’t previously pitted his wits against Moyes. In fact, the new Spurs boss didn’t even play against a team managed by Moyes in the two years between the Scot’s arrival in the Premier League and the former England midfielder’s departure.
Sherwood may lack experience, and his new team were eliminated from the League Cup in his first match in charge, but his league results thus far have bettered those of his predecessor.
In winning at Southampton and drawing at home to West Brom, Sherwood matched Villas-Boas’ results of last season, but in beating Stoke he went one better than the Portuguese. If he can continue to at least match AVB in Wednesday’s match at Old Trafford – where Spurs won 3-2 last season – he’ll have done very well indeed.
Facts and figures
- Wayne Rooney has scored 9 Premier League goals against Tottenham, including 7 in his last 6 starts versus them.
- Tottenham's victory at Old Trafford last season was their first in 21 Premier League attempts (D3 L17).
- Ryan Giggs has scored more Premier League goals against Tottenham than he has against any other opponent (10).
- Spurs have failed to score in 13 of their last 19 league trips to Old Trafford.
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Tottenham’s new attack-minded approach to bring more goals, but leave them prone at the back. United to win 3-2 in a reverse of last season’s scoreline.
Man United vs Tottenham LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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