Tottenham – Manchester United (Premier League)
Sunday will be offering a crucial clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane – and with neither team far from the top spots, neither one can afford to drop any more points here.
Despite Thursday’s 2-0 win in Norway for the Europa League, there is no doubt that Tottenham Hotspur are still reeling from their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City last weekend – their biggest league defeat in 17 years. That match alone should provide all the necessary motivation to the team led by André Villas-Boas, who, according to some media outlets, might be on the cusp of being sacked. In the midst of all the rumours, the Portuguese felt the need to speak out and state that he had the support from players and management alike (some sort of a vote of confidence in himself). Despite last Sunday’s tragic result and display at the Etihad (for which AVB claimed the team should be “ashamed”), Spurs still boast the highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League (7), having just conceded six goals before the Manchester debacle. However, the main problem seems to lie on the attacking front, a matter made worse by the fact that the club’s record-signing is Roberto Soldado, the team’s striker. The fault might not reside entirely upon the Spaniard’s shoulders, though, since he has not been getting the best service from his team-mates. That lack of entertainment has led some of the supporters to turn on their own team, something for which AVB chastised the home crowd a few weeks ago. The Lilywhites have scored just nine times in 12 league games, with only bottom-dwellers Sunderland and Crystal Palace scoring fewer. A more proactive approach is therefore expected of the team, and the supporters might make their feelings heard if things do not go their way right from the start. The unrest may have something to do with the fact that, bar penalties, Spurs have not scored from open play with any of their last 78 shots in the Premier League, and their average of 24 attempts to score a goal is higher than any other team – which speaks volumes about the places the team are shooting from. If Spurs fail to score this time around, they will match their worst ever run of not scoring in Premier League history (four matches, in February 2001 and September 2006). Villas-Boas will not be able to rely on Eriksen, Rose or Kane, but might welcome Adebayor back just in time.
Probable line-up: Lloris – Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Vertonghen – Sandro, Dembélé, Paulinho – Lennon, Soldado, Lamela
Manchester United, on the other hand, could hardly be feeling better at the moment, after annihilating with five goals to nil the second-placed team in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen – a performance that has led manager David Moyes to claim that had been the best his team had played during his reign. The Scottish manager will no doubt be wary of changing a winning team, particularly because Marouane Fellainin is back after his suspension. Despite the 6 goals and 5 assists in his last 8 Premier League starts against Spurs (and 14 in the last 16 overall in the competition), Robin van Persie might not be rushed immediately back into the starting line-up, given Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa’s understanding up front. The 40-year-old Ryan Giggs (whose 10 goals mean he has scored more against Spurs than against any other team) might get the nod in midfield in an attempt to offer some creativity and experience to an already very light midfield. As it is, United have not kept a clean sheet in their last 9 Premier League away matches and have only one to show for in their last 8 matches in the competition. Despite their patchy form at the start of the season, the Red Devils are now unbeaten in 11 matches (7 wins and 4 draws), including a tasty defeat of league leaders Arsenal – whom they trail by seven points. David Moyes will hope Van Persie is fit, but will not be able to call up Michael Carrick nor long-term absentee Darren Fletcher.
Probable line-up: De Gea – Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra – Valencia, Jones, Cleverley, Giggs – Kagawa, Rooney
Spurs’ track record against United at White Hart Lane has yielded a single win and 17 defeats in the last 24 times these teams met in London for the Premier League – including 8 defeats in the last 12 matches at the Lane. The hosts’ mere 6 goals in the last 11 Premier League home games against the Mancunians and David Moyes’ traditionally conservative approach whenever his sides play against big teams (just two goals against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal) might be reason enough to expect a cagey match, even though both teams need the three points. The more desperate nature of AVB’s need to win might however show us a more forward-tilted Spurs, even though, based on previous displays, it’s hard to see who will be providing the attacking threat. As for United, their last-gasp draw in Cardiff means that they too cannot afford to drop any points here, lest they become too distant from the remaining title contenders.