Who remembers Saturday 16th December 1989? I was still residing in Mount Waverley, Melbourne as an angel eyed 18-month old. I didn’t even have a little brother by that point, not for another eight months anyway. Being that age, my faintest memory is of me visiting an optician and falling off a rocking horse having ‘rocked it’ too hard, before my late mother took me to McDonalds in order to ease my pain. Little did I know that 12,000 miles west of Australia, Gary Lineker was slotting past Jim Leighton in what proved to be the winner as Tottenham Hotspur defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford.
It came before football was invented in 1992 (of course I’m joking), and despite the best effort of Roy Carroll; Spurs haven’t left the home of the Manchester giants with all three points since that day in December. However, the North London side head to the North West with a renewed sense of optimism, regardless of the poor record against England’s most successful club side in history.
Despite only winning three games since the defeat to Newcastle United on the opening day of the season, Spurs are currently on a six game unbeaten streak are find themselves in eighth in the Premiership, just a point behind defending champions Manchester City and bitter rivals Arsenal.
Andre Villas-Boas has insisted he will go to Old Trafford to attack, while summer signing and firmly established fan favourite Jan Vertonghen is convinced Spurs can break the hoodoo this weekend, the latter of which tasted victory against United last season with Ajax.
Despite the best effort of Roy Carroll; Spurs haven’t left the home of the Manchester giants with all three points since that day in December
However, while the Spurs head coach speaks of attacking the Premier League stalwarts, it is in defence that he must build a platform for success. As with any team, a solid back-line can win you points. The same can be said of the North London side against United. Villas-Boas has already confirmed that Brad Friedel will start the encounter, meaning Hugo Lloris will have to wait that little bit longer for his Premiership debut.
In front of him, there is the debate as to who starts in the back-four. Villas-Boas began with Gareth Bale at left-back against Queen’s Park Rangers last weekend, a move he is unlikely to make again this evening. Regardless of whether Kyle Naughton has returned to full fitness, Vertonghen should again begin the encounter on the left side of the back-four.
It’s been well documented that switched Vertonghen to left-back from centre-back, pushing Bale forward, won the game for Spurs against the R’s and it’s absolutely vital that he begins the encounter in the same position.
At right-back, it’s painstakingly obvious that, unless he’s injured, Kyle Walker will remain number one. The real predicament for Villas-Boas comes in the centre of the back-four. With Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto injured, it is essentially three players vying for two starting spots; William Gallas, Steven Caulker and Michael Dawson.
Villas-Boas has already confirmed that Brad Friedel will start the encounter, meaning Hugo Lloris will have to wait that little bit longer for his Premiership debut
A number of Spurs fans are of the opinion that the youngest of the three, Caulker, deserves a guaranteed starting spot, having impressed in recent weeks against Lazio and Carlisle United and as a second half substitute in the win over QPR. If that is to be the case, then it quickly becomes a two horse race for the final place in the back-line.
As all aware, Dawson started the mid-week 3-0 win over Carlisle and despite coming perilously close to being sold in the summer, would’ve impressed Villas-Boas as a result of the clean sheet. The 34-year-old, before the campaign kicked off last month, insisted the fan favourite would be club captain for the upcoming campaign, but had it not be for Kaboul’s knee injury; would’ve been turning out in a QPR shirt this year.
On the other hand, however, there is Gallas, who has not only started, but captained, all five of Spurs’ league games this season. Villas-Boas is evidently a fan of the Frenchman, whose experience appears to be favoured by the 34-year-old. Regardless of a number of erratic moments from the Frenchman, for me, it’s imperative he starts against United.
Granted, Dawson’s no nonsense defending has it’s positives, but his lack of footballing brain and pace is what lets him down in the long-term. Backs-to-the-wall defending, much like against Liverpool at Anfield last season, is when he is vital, but from the off; he can prove to be more of a hindrance than an asset.
Dawson’s no nonsense defending has it’s positives, but his lack of footballing brain and pace is what lets him down in the long-term
Gallas can read the game far better than his team-mate and, coupled with his knowledge of Robin van Persie, will be a far sturdier starter than Dawson. His aforementioned experience will also play a vital part in the performance of Caulker, much like it did with Kaboul last season.
Away from the defence, the remainder of the starting XI all but picks itself, with Sandro, Mousa Dembele, Gareth Bale, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe expected to fill the remaining six starting positions.
You can understand the confidence of Villas-Boas heading into the encounter, despite the fans reserved approach ahead of the daunting trip. The undermining of referee’s has regularly played a part in the final result, but with Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling all ruled out with injury, a point is certainly a possibility.
But it is imperative that Spurs remain focused and compact, especially early on. Sir Alex Ferguson certainly has the personnel to cause significant damage to the North London side, meaning they must frustrate them, soak up the pressure and hit them on the break. If they can do that, a positive result for Spurs isn’t out of the question.
If you liked this, you'll love these
Click here for more stories on Football and Sport
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook