After the disappointing Old Trafford performance in mid-week, when Manchester United really should have consolidated the control of their Champions League group but managed only a 0-0 draw against a stubborn but outclassed Lille, everybody from the owners to the cleaners must be hoping for a much better performance against Tottenham Hotspur, the team between them and leaders Chelsea.
For this week’s team, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s job has been made even more difficult by the ongoing injury-crisis at the club. With only a threadbare squad to work with, Sir Alex has selected what looks like a 4-3-3 formation with Edwin Van der Sar in goal, a makeshift back four of Phil Bardsley, Rio Ferdinand, Mikael Silvestre, and John O’Shea, a cautious midfield of Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith, and Paul Scholes, with Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park playing either side of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The increasingly thin subs bench today seats Tim Howard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Liam Miller, Gerard Pique, and Guiseppe Rossi.
Tottenham are totally pumped for this fixture and keep to the same team that beat Everton last week, lining up with goalie Paul Robinson behind Paul Stalteri, Michael Dawson, Ledley King, Young-pyo Lee; a positive looking midfield of Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick, Edgar Davids and Jermaine Jenas; and upfront Hossan Ahmed Mido and Jermain Defoe.
We are looking at what promises to be a very open attacking match with United’s still experimental 4-3-3 formation ranged against Tottenham’s more familiar 4-4-2.
Wayne Rooney kicks off for United and straightaway United, looking very positive, surge forward towards the Tottenham defence, who just manage to tidy up. The Red Devils are clearly determined to be more assertive than in midweek and are immediately driving forward again and again.
With only six minutes gone, an innocuous looking free kick taken by Paul Scholes wide on the left brings an awkward downward header from Ruud van Nistelrooy which Spurs keeper Paul Robinson somehow fumbles and the ball falls to Mikael Silvestre who stabs it into the corner of the net and it’s GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL for United and it’s 1-0.
The first half continues as almost one way traffic as United, playing full of confidence and self-belief, continue striding forward at every opportunity and stretching the Tottenham defence almost to breaking point. Almost but not quite and Spurs hold on, resisting attack after attack and being limited to barely three unproductive counterattacks. Before we know it, top referee Uriah Rennie blows his whistle and it’s half time. Whew!
Fifteen minutes later the London boys get the second half underway, both sides unchanged. Tottenham have obviously decided to come out attacking and lay siege to the United goal, with at least three clear goal opportunities in the first five minutes, but the United defenders stand firm and goalie van der Sar is as solid as a rock.
Tottenham’s determination to get something from the game keeps United pinned back in defence and more than ten minutes of the second half have passed before the home team have an attacking opportunity but van Nistelrooy shoots high over the goal from almost thirty metres out.
After sixty-four minutes Tottenham’s clever Dutch manager Martin Jol brings on striker Robbie Keane for midfielder Lennon, as he looks for a way to turn Spurs’ territorial dominance into goals, whilst Jenas is booked for clattering into Park, the third Spur to be booked in the space of five minutes.
The change pays off for the Londoners when Rio Ferdinand is falsely judged to have fouled Mido just outside the penalty area. Jenas strolls up to the dead ball and effortlessly lifts it over the wall and direct into the corner of the net. It’s a surprise but deserved GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL to Tottenham and the score is 1-1.
United respond by bringing on Cristiano Ronaldo for Fletcher so it’s obviously going to be a hot final twenty minutes as both teams battle for victory. United are storming forward down both flanks now in search of that crucial goal but in the 79th minute it’s Spurs turn to threaten as they get another free kick outside the United box. This time it’s taken by the impressive Michael Carrick who floats it into the goal mouth where it suddenly dips and van der Sar has to leap to prevent an almost identical goal, the ball slamming into the crossbar.
Two minutes later, United up the stakes, taking off impressive young fullback Bardsley and bringing on the equally impressive and even younger striker Guiseppe Rossi. Clearly, a draw won’t do!
However, despite a bundle of half chances, a draw is what we get as the Tottenham defence battle manfully to hold back a desperate United. The match ends 1-1, a result which only Chelsea fans can be happy about.