Old Trafford has been less of a Theatre of Dreams and more of a Ford’s Theatre for Spurs in recent years. Visits in league and cup matches have ended largely the same way and Spurs haven’t won there since 1989. This information is well known by Spurs fans. Recent years have seen generally good performances go unrewarded, but after the 5-0 warm up in Scotland, there is a genuine sense of optimism for the travelling fans this week.
Cause for optimism?
Monday night will see United field a largely unfamiliar back line. Only Evra is a first team regular, and new signings Jones and De Gea will face the Old Trafford crowd for the first time. De Gea in particular has looked like he is feeling the pressure. His weakness from distance and his lack of communication skills combined with the cauldron-like atmosphere and his inexperienced teammates could provide Spurs with reason to hope for that elusive victory.
A tough couple of decades
It has been nearly 22 years since Spurs won this fixture. The last four meetings between the two sides at Old Trafford have ended in victory for United. The scorelines; 2-0, 3-1, 5-2 & 1-0 don’t make pleasant reading for Spurs fans. However, an aggregate score of 11-3 doesn’t tell the true story of these meetings. Spurs have largely performed well (aside from the second half in the 5-2) without picking up a result. Often, United have produced their best form to put Spurs away.
With the captains away
Last season, Spurs pushed the ball into attacking areas more often than United but the impressive combination of Vidic and Ferdinand were capable with dealing with whatever Spurs could throw at them. United made 27 clearances and conceded only 13 chances. They also made 18/20 of their attempted tackles. Conversely, Tottenham made only 13 clearances and conceded 19 chances. Admittedly, United got their goals from poor marking at a free kick and a moment of madness/confusion from Gomes, but the point stands. Possession was balanced in that match, but United were far more effective in their use of it. The loss of Vidic and Ferdinand looms as highly significant.
The Perfect Storm
De Gea’s weakness on long distance shots has been well documented. The Spaniard conceded more goals from distance than any other keeper in La Liga last term. Last season Spurs had more shots and scored more goals than any side in the Premier League from outside the area. Tottenham’s tendency to shoot from distance combined with De Gea’s apparent weakness in this area may provide Spurs the opportunity they need.
Gareth Bale was kept very quiet by Rafael in this match last season. Sir Alex has suggested that Smalliing will deputise at right back on Monday. Smalling was impressive during the Community Shield, but whether he will be able to keep Bale out of the game as effectively will be a substantial point of interest. Last season, Bale produced 47/449 of Tottenham’s goal scoring chances. This despite playing only 27 full matches. Clearly, his impact can be decisive. Smalling has an important job.
The influence of Ashley Young has been keenly felt by the opposition in the first two competitive games of this season. In both the Community Shield and the season opener at West Brom, Young was a major influence. Creating and (almost) scoring goals, Young has been a major threat. While at Villa, he often threatened Spurs. Redknapp faces a tough call to determine who will mark him. Walker has the pace that Corluka lacks but is less experienced than the Croatian. Corluka is also good for Lennon as he provides attacking assistance without invading the space that Lennon needs in order to be effective.
A player often maligned, Nani has been a key figure for United during this period. He has scored 3 times in these 4 matches. Last season, he grew as a player and finished as the top creator of goals in the division. His presence will be sure to influence the match. The wingers for both sides are vital. Their clash should be both explosive and decisive.
A soft centre?
Spurs will be hoping to welcome Luka Modric back into the starting 11 after a reported groin injury kept him out of the Europa League victory mid-week. Between Modric and Huddlestone, Spurs will have a central midfield short of match practice. Their quality is undoubted but their fitness remains in question. United will likely field a central midfield of Cleverley and Anderson. They demonstrated their strong combination last week with more than a 90% completion rate on their 118 attempted passes 20% of the team total). They also showed their physical presence, winning 14 of their 22 possession duels.
Monday Night Football
This match will, in all likelihood, produce a pulsating clash. The open nature of both teams, the question marks hanging over key defensive positions and the genuine quality of some of the players on show should produce a quality football match. Hopefully, the players will be able to determine the result without a contribution from referee Lee Probert.