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A preview of Manchester United's upcoming clash with Tottenham Hotspur: team news, lineup projections, tactical keys, TV information, and odds.
Manchester United resume Premier League action on Saturday evening when they host Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have gone 22 successive league matches unbeaten against Spurs and 17 of those included victory. In addition, the North London club have not won at the 'Theatre of Dreams' since 1989. These two sides met twice last season -- both in league matches -- and in this same fixture in August 2011, United won 3-0. In the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane in March, Ashley Young's brace led the way to a 3-1 victory.
Form Guide: After dropping the season opener versus Everton, United have gone on to win six straight matches across three competitions. They enter the weekend sitting second in the Premier League table with 12 points from 5 matches.
Form Guide: Spurs enter the weekend sitting eight in the table with 8 points from 5 matches. Their most recent matches include a 3-0 Capital One Cup victory at the midweek over Carlisle, a 2-1 league defeat of Queens Park Rangers last weekend, and a 0-0 draw with Serie A side Lazio in a Europa League tie.
United: It's very possible that the starting XI could be 100% changed from the side that defeated Newcastle United on Wednesday in a Capital One Cup clash. David de Gea could be rotated in goal although Anders Lindegaard is possible. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans are certain to start as the central-defenders as is Rafael at right-back. Patrice Evra is probable to start at left-back over Alexander Buttner. In central-midfield, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were rested at the midweek and they appear to be the strongest candidates to start. Out wide, Nani is expected on the right flank while any of Danny Welbeck, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, or Shinji Kagawa could pop up out wide to the left. Up front, Robin van Persie will be the lead striker while either Kagawa or Rooney will be in behind him 'in the hole'.
Tottenham: Brad Friedel remains the No.1 ahead of France No.1 Hugo Lloris. Assou-Ekotto's injury shakes up Spurs' back four and last week, it was Gareth Bale that was deployed at left-back. That didn't work out too well so it's very possible that Jan Vertonghen slides over to the left tomorrow at Old Trafford. If Vertonghen does slide over, then either Steven Caulker or Michael Dawson likely partners William Gallas in central-defense. Kyle Walker will be the right-back.
In Andre Villas-Boas' 4-2-3-1 system for Spurs, Sandro and Mousa Dembele are his deep central-midfielders. In the attacking midfield band of three, Aaron Lennon is first-choice out on the right and Bale is expected on the left. If Bale is deployed again at left-back, then Clint Dempsey might be the left-sided attacker. In the central-attacking-midfield role, either Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson is anticipated. Jermaine Defoe will be the lone striker.
* Central-midfield battle: Perhaps the biggest key in this match will be the central-midfield battle and if you're a United fan, there are some concerns. Sandro is an athletic player -- both fast and strong -- and Dembele's ability to carry the ball forward at speed, when he was at Fulham, has troubled United in the past. Will a possible midfield duo of Scholes or Carrick be enough to combat them? It is possible though that Tom Cleverley could start due to his mobility but Anderson and Darren Fletcher seem unlikely due to fatigue from the midweek tie. (*)
(*) Ando looked gassed at the end of the Newcastle match and Fergie already indicated that Fleth wouldn't start this match. Cleverley's fitness appears good at this moment in time so he's possible.
The key for United will be to control the tempo of the match -- Carrick and Scholes are experts at this while this might be a weak point for Spurs with the departure of Luka Modric and their failure to bring in Moutinho in the past transfer window. When United are working the ball out of the back, the midfielders will need to continually make themselves available and slip their markers. When Spurs do press, the ball will need to be calmly circulated and United will need to be selective when they decide to attempt aggressive and probing passes up the pitch. Spurs will certainly be hoping for a higher tempo and chaos so that they can use the athleticism of Sandro and the driving ability of Dembele. Calm will benefit United while chaos could benefit Spurs.
* Expose Spurs' high-line: If you've paid attention at all to the Premier League in the past two seasons, then you're likely aware that Spurs' manager Villas-Boas (AVB) prefers to press high up the pitch when out of possession and he likes his back four to play high. Vertonghen and Gallas are capable of playing like this as center-backs but because the back four might be shifted around a bit due to Assou-Ekott's injury, there's the possibility of them being disjointed. Therefore, United might have an opportunity to exploit this.
Holding a high-line requires proper communication and if Vertonghen is shifted to left-back, or if Bale is there, the preferred back four will not be deployed and it's possible they're out of sync at Old Trafford. There might be acres of space for runs through the channels and in behind Spurs' defense for the likes of RvP, Nani, and Welbeck. Kagawa is superb at playing piercing through-balls and this seems like an ideal scenario for him. In addition, Walker has the tendency to be caught out so Nani will likely have opportunity to punish him for this. Look for Nani on the right and Kagawa (if he's deployed as a No.10) to be the chief creators of chances for United.
KO: 5:30pm BST, 12:30pm EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: ESPN (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Referee: Chris Foy
Odds: Manchester United 8/15, Draw 3/1, Tottenham Hotspur 5/1