United have played Tottenham Hotspur 19 times in Premier League history and have never lost thus far, so we will be looking to make it to 20 as we line up against them on Monday night. Combine that statistic with the fact that United remain unbeaten at home in 16 months and you realise why we stand as firm favourites to get 3 points from this fixture but to blindly state that we are firm favourites completely overlooks the possibilities that this match holds, such are the circumstances.
Tottenham will be hungry to open up their Premier League campaign after their first match against Everton was cancelled due to the London riots and playmaker Luka Modric should feature after he was left out of the Tottenham squad for the midweek Europa League qualifier against Hearts but with his move to Chelsea looking all the more likely by the day, will his performance reflect that? It is likely that Bale and Lennon will pose a constant threat down the wings but the return of Patrice Evra to the squad means that we won’t be left with a completely inexperienced back line, although it still remains the main talking point pre-match.
Injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Rafael and Nemanja Vidic mean that Evans, Jones and Smalling will deputise in their places. For me, I would like to see Smalling and Jones playing in the centre alongside each other with Evans playing out on the right; when they played together for the England U21’s, they were the stand out performers and made a perfectly balanced partnership, seemingly knowing what the other was doing at all times. I don’t think SAF will risk Evans out on the right against Bale and will choose to play Smalling there again after his performance against West Brom on the opening day. It is vital that Evra looks likely to return though because De Gea will need at least one experienced head in front of him to help him take confidence in his defence.
An unnecessary media furore around the performances of David De Gea have placed great pressure on the shoulders of the young Spaniard, who is suffering from a slow start to his Manchester United career. If there is one position in a football team where it is hard to slot in seamlessly, then it is the goalkeeper position; add to the fact that he is only 20 years and doesn’t speak the same language as any of his defenders, and you quickly realise just how difficult it will be for him to settle. Communication is such a major aspect of a top goalkeepers game and if it wasn’t already extremely hard for De Gea to build a working relationship with his defence, the injuries to Vidic and Ferdinand mean that he will have to play with a new centre back pairing again. The home crowd will make a huge difference to his game however, so I hope the fans will be the 12th man and give him a warm welcome to playing in front of the Stretford End.
As for the rest of the United team, we are spoilt for choice and form. Rooney looks at his sharpest in 18 months and a fine Premier League debut from Ashley Young should see him start once again on the left, with Nani playing on the right. Consdering how fine a performance he had against City in the Community Shield, I was thoroughly disappointed with Nani’s showing last week but he does play better at home, so I hope he will add more to the game against Tottenham because both our wingers will have to double up on Lennon and Bale to quash the threat of their counter attack. It is highly unlikely that we will see a midfield pairing of Anderson and Cleverley again. SAF used the weak West Brom midfield to allow both midfielders to go forward and attack through the middle but against Tottenham, it would leave us exposed as Modric would pick apart the gaps. Michael Carrick should come back into the framework and I would personally like to see Cleverley partner him as I think that they will compliment each other well in the game, with Carrick sweeping up at the back to allow Cleverley the creative freedom that brings out the best in his dynamic game.
Predictions? United won’t lose their unbeaten run against Tottenham on Monday night. Although our defence has limited experience it has a wealth of talent; if we were playing away from home, I would say that this fixture is more complicated but the fact that we are at home will give the players a mental boost that should help them drive this win home. I think Rooney will get on the scoresheet once again and help United go on to win 3-1 because it will be difficult to keep a clean sheet in the circumstances but in typical United fashion, we will just score more. Looking forward to the game and it should make for an exciting 90 minutes.