Manchester United returns to Premier League action after the midweek Carling Cup sojourn, with the momentum now firmly in Sir Alex Ferguson’s camp. Saturday’s challenge could hardly be more difficult in domestic terms but an unbeaten start and three wins on the bounce means confidence is at a high as Tottenham Hotspur visit.
For perhaps the first time in a generation Ferguson will cast envious eyes at the visiting Spurs side. Harry Redknapp has assembled a high quality squad that is now realistic challengers both domestically and in Europe. Indeed, the visitors’ midfield including Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon is a formidable outfit.
Indeed, Ferguson must contend with absences in both midfield and attack if United is to maintain a successful record against Spurs. The Londoners have not won at Old Trafford for 21 years or beaten United anywhere for nine – a total of 25 matches.
Ferguson though will again be without Wayne Rooney, who may miss more than the previously estimated three weeks with an ankle injury. Asked if Rooney’s prognosis had changed Ferguson said “I think it may be longer.”
“Wayne is away at the moment, so there is no recovery,” he added.
“He did his remedial work before he went away but thereafter we are happy that he is resting.”
Rooney’s continued absence means that the Scot must choose whether to match Spurs’ five man midfield or reward Javier Hernández’ fine recent form. The Mexican has scored three goals in the past week and been praised for his composure under pressure but may find a place on the bench or wide in a three-man attack his reward.
Ferguson also has a dilemma at right-back, with in-form Gareth Bale a key weapon in the visitors’ armoury. The Scot will probably choose between John O’Shea or Rafael da Silva to combat the Welshman’s pace.
United also has concerns on the left side of midfield, with Park Ji-Sung horribly out of form and Ferguson not yet fully trusting the merits of Gabriel Obertan or Bébé. Patrice Evra moved into midfield against Stoke City last weekend and may reprise the role if United’s manager deploys four in midfield.
Elsewhere Paul Scholes is set for a recall and Ryan Giggs could make the bench after training this week. Meanwhile, former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick says that confidence in the United squad is high.
“We need to focus on putting a good run together,” Carrick told ManUtd.com.
“But you can’t look too far ahead and start planning how your run will pan out. We’ve got a huge game against Spurs and we’re focused on that first, but around the camp the atmosphere is bubbly and the lads are happy. It’s a really positive vibe at the moment. Hopefully that carries us through.
“The games come thick and fast now, and thankfully we’re in the cups and fighting in the league. The challenge is there for us to stick together and really mount a challenge.
“That’s what we’re focused on. The games we’ve drawn, we feel like we’ve thrown them away. But we’re still unbeaten, which gives you confidence, and we’ve got three wins in a row.”
Aside from Rooney and the long-term injury victim Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen will miss at least a month with a hamstring problem, while Ferguson says Owen Hargreaves convalescence has suffered a recent set back.
Meanwhile, the visitors will be without Tom Huddlestone, with either Wilson Palacios or Jermain Jenas coming into the side. van der Vaart is likely to occupy his normal role behind Peter Crouch at the head of Tottenham’s midfield.
It is now 67 games since Spurs last won away to one of the Premier League’s big four. Redknapp will never have taken a better team to Old Trafford.
Whether it is good enough to break that streak is as yet undecided.
Spurs – 4411 – Gomes; Hutton, Gallas, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Crouch. Subs from: Kaboul, Bentley, Pavlyuchenko, Keane, Jenas, Dos Santos, Kranjcar, Cudicini, Sandro, Stipe Pletikosa.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, O’Shea, Evans, Rafael, Fabio, Brown, Anderson, Bébé, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Fletcher, Hernández, Berbatov, Macheda, Owen, Obertan.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant referees: Darren Cann & Simon Beck
Fourth official: Mark Halsey
United – WDDWWW
Spurs – LWWWLD