Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur – View from the enemy

by Sam Peoples

First of all, can you introduce yourself to the readers.

My name is Andrew Gold and I am a journalist, currently working at The Sun – although as is the custom I should declare any views are my own. I’ve written for FourFourTwo and a few others, interviewed some players like Louis Saha recently, and have a Huffington Post blog on football. I often annoy fellow Spurs fans by being a tad negative or cynical, but I’m fairly impartial. I’ve been a season ticket holder for 20 years.

Tottenham have only won two out of the first five games. Are you surprised at the slow start to the season?

I didn’t expect us to beat Newcastle on the opening day, but we actually performed really well with all the new players and deserved three points – we lost to a stupid penalty ten minutes from time. Of course, with WBA and Norwich, most football fans would expect a team of Spurs’ calibre to win. But last year under Redknapp we were also held at home by ‘mid-table’ teams every now and then, and sometimes only just squeezed past them.

It was important to get the first win at Reading, then the first home win to QPR, to kick start the season. The win at Carlisle and draw with on form Lazio (where we outplayed them and had three goals disallowed) make for pretty good form. So while it’s not been a great start, we’re a point off Man City and Arsenal (who are said to be flying) after five games – I’d have taken that.

You haven’t won a game at Old Trafford since 16 December 1989 when Gary Linekar scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. What are Tottenham’s chances of turning that record around?

The funny thing is, as a Spurs fan, I don’t get nervous thinking about an upcoming game at Old Trafford because any point is a bonus.

I’ve found (I’m sure United fans will disagree) that we’ve raised our game, or United have been below par, more often than not in recent years (since the Beckham era where you were just so good to watch). This makes for very close games where Spurs deserve a point or more, and the decisions go against us.

I’m not one to say Man United get all the decisions – and even if it is the case, by that logic, Spurs probably get decisions against the smaller clubs – but there has been a lot of controversy in recent years, and the game never ends without a feeling of outrageous misfortune or injustice. Obviously Mendes’ goal in the final minute from the halfway line being disallowed – that one hurts. Off the top of my head, there was Nani scoring from Gomes’ free-kick and Berbatov diving when Spurs were two up to win a penalty and change the game. Sour grapes, maybe. What are our chances? With the likes of Van Persie and Rooney – not too high, I’d take a point.

Do you think Andre Villas-Boas is the right manager for Tottenham or are you worse off with him at the helm?

It’s a difficult one. I was a massive Harry fan, and think he is, after Wenger and Ferguson the best there is in English football, with David Moyes perhaps. He played down his intelligence because it suited him, but he was tactically aware, as the two Milan sides will tell anyone!

I’m going to take a punt – we’re worse off. Spurs fans don’t like to hear it but it’s the reality. Even if he is successful, I’ll always say we were capable of that success with Harry.

AVB has a difficult job on his hands because he’s expected to surpass or equal Redknapp’s results with far less Premier League experience and a team that is, on paper, worse than last years. You just don’t sell quality like Modric and Van der Vaart and replace them with a bloke from Swansea and Reading and Fulham. Sigurdsson and Dempsey, that is. And I don’t like Adebayor (how Spurs didn’t move for Berbatov I’ll never know, maybe too many bridges burned).

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be excited about with AVB because it’s a new system and he was incredibly successful with Porto. I’m pleased he’s blooding some top youngsters – I think Caulker will be an England starter before long, and Townsend is looking the real deal. Vertonghen and Dembele could be very special players (even if the latter is also from Fulham). I’m also excited to see Defoe starting, I’ve always said if he plays enough games, he’ll always score goals. A lot of them. Not in a Darren Bent way either, because he’s so much better on the ball. Lloris looks a top player too but I think Friedel’s the best goalkeeper we’ve had in my lifetime (I’m 23).

We have won six games on the bounce since losing to Everton but have looked weak defensively. Do you think you can exploit our weakness at set plays?

Well that won’t be easy with Defoe upfront, but Vertonghen headed one in on Wednesday night at Carlisle. Caulker looks dangerous too from set pieces and Dempsey can head a ball. The problem is, if you’ve noticed a weakness, you can bet Sir Alex has too, and he’ll be stamping it out. As I’m sure you’re aware, Spurs aren’t known for set pieces, certainly not. Kyle Walker scored one direct last year. Before that might have been Jenas at Old Trafford – that was about six years ago. Maybe Bentley got one or two. If we score it’s most likely to come from a Bale/Lennon/Defore combo counter-attack.

How do you think the match is going to go? Will Tottenham come with an attacking ethos?

No, I think we’ll defend. It’s not something I like saying, or something I’ve seen Spurs do since George Graham. And I hope I’m wrong.

AVB set us up at home to Norwich and WBA with one striker and two defensive midfielders. He also took strikers off in both those games when we were leading, replacing them with midfielders and inviting further pressure – which led to their goals. He’s learned from Mourinho in some ways I suppose. I’d like to see us attack but the fact is our midfield is weaker than last year without Modric, and so is our attack, without Van der Vaart. Our defence is better with the additions of Caulker and Vertonghen, so maybe that’s the way to go and hit you on the counter.

One has to be careful with Nani, Rooney (scarred and angry), Kagawa and Van Persie on the prow. That might be the best attack since the Tottenham five (Barmby, Anderton, Sheringham, Klinsmann and Dumitrescu). So yes, I think United will attack and probably win, but you just never know. A victory at Old Trafford would do more for Spurs and AVB than just three points. Especially while missing Kaboul, Ekotto, Naughton, Livermore, Parker and Adebayor.

What is your prediction of your starting XI and the final score?

Friedel; Walker, Caulker, Gallas, Vertonghen; Bale, Sandro, Dembele, Lennon; Dempsey; Defoe. (4-4-1-1). As for the score… how does 2-2 sound?

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