MANCHESTER UNITED (Away)
Saturday 20th March 2004
Is this a good time to play United or not ? They are out of the Champions League, out of the running in the Championship and the only thing left for them to win would be the FA Cup. They have had a lean run in the league and lost 1-4 in the Manc derby last week. That could mean they are ready to bounce back and restore some pride. With Tottenham's reputation and track record at Old Trafford, it is hardly surprising that United might fancy their chances.
With Fabien Barthez gone on loan to Marseilles, Tim Howard has made the gloves his own, except when an easy game comes along and Roy Carroll comes in to stand between the posts. Howard's way is for athletic and acrobatic stops, while Carroll prefers a more traditional British style, with shot stopping and crosses his strengths.
In front of the keeper the absence of Rio Ferdinand has caused the defence to creak and break. Having failed to have his eight month ban over-turned, they will have to struggle on without him until September. That leaves John O'Shea, who is having a dip in form after being such an impressive new-comer last season; Gary Neville, who will be missing his England colleague, in the right back slot; Mikeal Silvestre at left back and a choice between Philip Neville (who might be preferred in midfield) or Wes Brown, who looked rocky in recent games since his return from a long lay-off. Not too impressive and Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that he did not buy a defender in the January transfer window because there was not the candidates of a suitable standard. This has meant deploying Roy Keane as an auxiliary centre-half on occasion, with midfielder Quinton Fortune drafted in at right back sometimes. Both might be missing with injury and the depth of the United squad might well be tested at the back.
With some of the midfield playing in defence, this has also restricted the choice there. Some youngsters like Darren Fletcher (who has played almost as many games for Scotland's national side as he has for United's first team), Kieran Richardson and Portuguese step-over king Cristiano Ronaldo have featured alongside more hard-bitten midfielders. Ronaldo is pacy, two footed and can whip in a killer cross, so Taricco might have trouble keeping him in check on his flank, while Giggs will operate up the left to make Stephen Carr's afternoon one including great vigilance. Brazilian Kleberson has still not truly settled down and Djemba-Djemba plays a peripheral role, but with a rib broken in the derby defeat, he will not be up for selection anyway.
That leaves two ginger players - one who might have been playing in our side, while the other is one any side would like to have in theirs. Nicky Butt was supposedly on his way to Spurs/Boro/Birmingham City before Rio's ban and has been more regular in his appearances now. An industrious worker, he prompts play for midfield with a defensive view of what is going on. Another industrious worker, is Paul Scholes, but his thrusts are mainly forward, with a powerful shot and the ability to get into the box at the right time to meet crosses with his head, despite his lack of inches.
Scholes' attacking instincts add to those of the impressive forward line at United. Ruud van Nistelrooy is the main focus of attention up front, with heavy scoring since his delayed arrival with the Red Devils. He can score with left foot, right foot, head, knee, arse ... anything really, he doesn't care as long as they go in. New signing Louis Saha is more of a classic scorer, with stylish goals his trademark. None of this six yard box stuff for him. He loves the free-kick bent around the wall; the pacy run from mid-pitch and the fierce shot. His movement is good and the two of them could wreak havoc. Add to this the return to fitness of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who seemed to always score when he made an appearance in the red shirt and Diego Forlan, who, although not a regular, has shown that he has the knack for scoring after a slow start ion the English game. Former Sunderland speed merchant David Bellion has also been added to the squad and he is quick and can finish too, although his chances have been limited since joining in the summer.
Never an easy task, United will not be picking up the Championship trophy against Tottenham this season, much though we might have hoped they would. There are some cracks appearing in the veneer of the polished United sides of old. Age and some transfer dealings have depleted the ranks and the banning of Rio has hit them harder than perhaps they were expecting.
A good time to play United ? Well, with our recent run of decent results, we might be well placed to have a go at United, rather than sit back and await the onslaught, as has been the case in previous years. The return of Simon Davies might be crucial to any points we come back with, as his pace and endeavour will help the midfield function more efficiently, alongside Brown and King, they look pretty solid. Dalmat will probably only be risked from the bench, while Defoe might be seeking to prove Fergie wrong for not shelling out on him.
While there have been some great games between the two sides in the past, this might not be a classic, but there will be goals and I think we might sneak a point out of it ...
PREDICTION : - Manchester United 2 Tottenham 2
For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.
VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Since we last met, things have gone
off the rails a bit. How do you feel about United's current form
Is it all down to missing Rio ?
Not really though I think something about the magnitude of the ban hit the team's psyche, if that makes sense. Yes we've had a good few injuries, but the back four just seemed to lose the plot. And Ruud apart for some time the midfield and strikers hadn't been firing on all cylinders so when we started conceding for once in many games it didn't look like we could score more than we let in.
Or are there deeper faults in the team ?
We desperately need a right winger. Fair enough that Becks was sold and the circus departed, but we should have replaced him before we sold him as everyone knew it was going to happen. Saha came six months too late and not signing Gareth Southgate in January probably cost us a few points.
Who's playing at the top of their form at the moment ?
Er ... pass ! No, Ronaldo is doing very very well. He's stopped a bit of the show boating leg over stuff and looks like he could be top drawer. Apart from that everyone has had their fair share of off days.
Which player has been a let-down recently ?
Difficult one really as I say they have all been misfiring.
With only the FA Cup realistically to play for (and it hurts me to say that !), what has been the fans' feeling about the season ?
Odd, the old stagers who were there for 26 years know the score. We can't win it all, all the time and not so long ago we'd be delirious about reaching an FA Cup semi. But some have become too greedy and the few glory-hunters that United do have expect too much. Yes we've been poor, but give Fergie time to sort it out and appreciate the good position we're still in. Saying that I'm more of an old stager, I'd prefer us just to play good football as it's been a year or two since we've consistently played well and that's all I really want from my team.
If you could have spent out on a player during the transfer window to bolster things a bit, who would you have bought in retrospect ?
Southgate and if I wanted a flair player just to give us a life, Jay Jay Okocha.
Do you think Defoe will cause your defence problems ?
Always worry a bit more about Keane to be honest, he always seems to have a point to prove against us, or Fergie who turned him down when he was at Coventry.
Who else do you think might be a threat ?
Always wary of Carr's flank running too.
What is the United line-up expected to be ?
God only knows, just hope we don't 'rest' any of our top players - again I'm from old school of best 11 plays every game they are fit for.
MANCHESTER UNITED : - Rio Ferdinand (banned); Roy Keane (hamstring); Eric Djemba-Djemba (broken rib); Quinton Fortune (knee); Gary Neville (suspended); Cristiano Ronaldo (thigh); Louis Saha (Achilles); Mikael Silvester (knee - doubtful)
TOTTENHAM : - Dean Richards (Achilles); Rob Burch (ankle); Simon Davies (thigh)
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|Manchester United 3 Tottenham 0 (Half-time score : 1-0)|
|Saturday 20th March 2004|
|Venue : - Old Trafford|
|Kick Off : - 15.00 p.m.|
|Weather : - Very, very windy|
|Crowd : - 67,634|
|Referee : - D. Gallagher (Danbury)|
|Teams : -
Manchester United : - Carroll; P. Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea; Solskjaer (Ronaldo 73), Keane (c), Scholes (Bellion 90), Giggs; Van Nistelrooy, Forlan (Butt 80)
Unused subs: Howard; Fletcher
Tottenham : - Keller;
Carr (c), Doherty, Gardner, Taricco (Dalmat 46); Marney (Redknapp 65),
King, Brown, Ziege; Keane, Defoe (Kanoute 78)
|Colours : - (kits
courtesy of http://www.colours-of-football.com)
|Scorers : -
Manchester United - Giggs 30, Ronaldo 89, Bellion 90
Tottenham - None
|Cards : -
Manchester United - Giggs (foul) .
Tottenham - Carr (foul) .
The expected Man U backlash was not exactly forthcoming, but although they probably deserved to win, the final score-line flattered them somewhat. But Tottenham looked to be holding their own until two late goals opened up the gap in goals between the two teams.
The wild wind did not help things, as it swirled inside the Prawn Bowl, but the home side's tactics of getting the ball down and running with it were designed to cause Tottenham the utmost problems. The introduction of Dean Marney to the line-up was intended to add some energy to midfield and to stop the threat of Giggs down their left wing, but the Welshman was going to make Stephen Carr's day a busy one and Marney was there to help cover back.
United operated with van Nistelrooy and Forlan up front, with the Dutchman having the first shot, which flew just over the top, when shooting from about 20 yards out. A cross was played in from the right wing and found Ziege coming in at the far post, although he could not get enough on the header to direct it on target. Shots which flew just off the target were exchanged by Scholes and King, then van Nistelrooy looked like adding to his tally against Spurs by running through onto a Forlan through pass, onside according to the ref, and took the ball around KK. Luckily for Spurs, defenders got back to block him as he prepared to shoot and Gary Doherty was one of the principal blockers.
Spurs then had a little spell of pressure on the United goal. Michael Brown moved forward and took a pot shot from 20 odd yards out and his try went just wide, with the aid of a deflection. Spurs looked to have been denied a certain free-kick in a central position, when Marney slipped the ball through a square United back-line to release Jermain Defoe. As he ran on, he appeared to be brought down by Wes Brown and everyone expected a foul, but ref Gallagher waved play on and the chance to test Carroll from a dead ball evaporated.
Then on the half hour, a low ball into the box from Solskjaer was cheekily back-heeled into the goal past Keller by Giggs. It was the imagination of the player that put his side ahead, as the ball in wasn't classically in front of the player attacking it, but that sort of opportunism clearly defined the difference between the two sides. Spurs lacked forward momentum in sufficient numbers to carve out such chances and the supply from midfield meant that Keane had to drop back too often to try and pick up the ball.
When Tottenham did get into dangerous positions, they did not make the most of them. Defoe showed that his dribbling skills are as good as his goal-scoring ones, as he drifted past Roy Keane to lay the ball into Marney's path, but the young midfielder drove too high, when he should have been testing Carroll out. As the half drew to a close Stephen Car hit a dipping 30 yard drive that caused Carroll to watch it carefully as it bounced just ion front of him, while Ruud hit back at the other end with another effort on goal.
Half time saw Taricco exit, with Dalmat coming on to add more attacking options, with Marney switching to the left hand side and Ziege dropping to left back. Forlan lost an opening to poor control and then Giggs caused Kasey to dive to stop his low drive from close in. The Welshman received a caution shortly after for the most blatant shirt-pull you might ever see, when Dalmat ran away from him and Giggs couldn't be bothered to chase back.
Michael Brown hit a low drive that brought Carroll into action and with Redknapp coming on for Marney, Pleat might have thought that there was still something to be gained from this match. In truth, United were moving the ball about so smoothly that they looked even more dangerous than they did in the first half. Both Giggs and van Nistelrooy were off target before Dalmat hit a shot well wide from 25 yards. Keller was the busier of the two keepers all afternoon and tipped over a swirling effort from Forlan to keep it at 0-1.
But, with time nearly up, Tottenham switched off and that proved vital in the final score. Ronaldo ran forward in the right hand channel, with nobody shutting him down. The Portuguese player took the opportunity to have a shot and it skimmed off Gardner's back as he got close and swerved past Keller's touch and in-off the post to make it 2-0.
Then, with almost his first touch, Bellion took the ball from just left of the centre of the box, cut inside and buried a low shot past Keller with no Spurs defender trying to close him down. It was an unsatisfactory end to the match and one that left the public thinking that the margin was as big as ever.
The fact that van Nistelrooy failed to score against Spurs for the first time since he joined United shows that Anthony Gardner had a good game and despite the others putting in plenty of effort, there were few who could say they truly shone today.
While United were determined to get back on the right road, Tottenham had made it difficult for them and produced a few efforts on goal, but then they need to do more than that to prove that they can contest matched with teams like Manchester United. Perhaps they can really prove what they can do against a top side on April 25th ??
MEHSTG TOP MAN : - ANTHONY GARDNER
|REDDY STEADY GONE|
The pre-match news that Roy Keane and Ronaldo had miraculously recovered from not being able to play the previous day meant that it was a stronger Man U line up than perhaps Tottenham hoped to face, but there were still some areas which could have been exploited. The defensive set-up that lined up to face United was a bit of a surprise, especially the inclusion of Marney, who, although he had a good game in the reserves against Arsenal on Monday, would not have been expected to start.
Tottenham did have a go at United and were perhaps a little unlucky, although the few efforts they had on goal were almost all easily saved or off target. The big difference was that United produced more adventure ion their play, while Tottenham's conservative approach (as the cover of Issue 36 said "IDS for Spurs ??) hindered the way they had played in the games leading up to the mid-season break they had. In fact, that break seems to have disrupted their play more than we might have thought.
The absence of Simon Davies has left Spurs with a bit of an imbalance in the side, because he and Carr were just getting to play well together again. The left side with Taricco (although not a natural left back) and Ziege is fairly tight, with the German midfielder showing today that he could get back and tackle, but the right lacks cohesion and with Marney stuck in the midfield slot there to try and block off Giggs' runs, it lacked the forward push that might have pressurised the dodgy United defence.
With Gardner and Doherty playing well against Forlan and van Nistelrooy, the first goal arrived when Giggs stole into the box and Carr failed to get close enough to him, allowing him the chance to showboat with a back-flick of his heel to send the ball past Keller.
The pivotal point of the game came when Wes Brown clattered into the back of Defoe just outside the box and everyone waited for the whistle. Everybody knows that you don't get penalties at Old Trafford, but a free-kick outside the box, come on !! The whistle was not forthcoming and Tottenham were denied the chance to get back into it.
Carr's long range howitzer forced Carroll into action, but the game was sewn up in two moments of lack of concentration and lapses into the days Tottenham defending of old. Backing off, the defenders allowed Ronaldo (who's hair showed just how strong the wind was, by sticking straight out behind him) and then Bellion, who turned Doherty and smacked a shot past Keller before he could move, to make the score very harsh on Spurs.
In many ways, the performance typified the away form this season. Travelling without a great deal of belief, Tottenham seemed to be happy to get anything from the game rather than put more pressure on a aside who had lost heavily to their City rivals the week before. We might not get a better opportunity to beat Man U in their own yard for a while. We must make sure that we take any chances presented to us for the rest of this season and into next too.
|Other scores this weekend :|
|Aston Villa||0||Blackburn Rovers||2||Saturday|
|Leeds United||2||Manchester City||1||Monday|
|Newcastle United||3||Charlton Athletic||1||Saturday|
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