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.
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
Since we last met, things have gone
off the rails a bit. How do you feel about United's current form
To be honest we'd been indifferent for quite some
time, but the back four kept saving the day. We just don't seem to have
reached what we'd call top gear for some time and it all seemed to come
off the rails when we played at Wolves, the first game of Rio's
suspension. We knew deep down probably that we weren't good enough for
Europe this year, but the Porto elimination is a hammer blow. Of
course people will say it's end of the era stuff and it's mad that some
are questioning Fergie, but we all knew it would be a transitional
season - perhaps not quite so up and down as this but maybe we need to
have a few blips to concentrate the minds and work out who is up for the
challenge as a lot of the new signings have been indifferent at best.
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
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.
What do you reckon the score will be ?
Have to say because of our recent run I think
though it could be edgy we'll win for the mere fact that if we didn't,
the press would really have a field day in United not winning again.
Fergie would have really drummed in how important the three points are
in the run up to the two games against what the press would have people
believe is the greatest team in the world, ever; which we know is a sack
of shite, but here's hoping we stop Arsenal's Double attempts and I
won't even mention Europe as they haven't a chance!
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
Dean Richards (Achilles); Rob Burch (ankle); Simon Davies (thigh)
ART Sports 3
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Some coverage on BBC Five Live 909/693 MW
Live webcast (subscription only)
|Manchester United 3
Tottenham 0 (Half-time score :
|Saturday 20th March 2004
|Venue : - Old Trafford
|Kick Off : - 15.00 p.m.
|Weather : - Very, very windy
|Crowd : - 67,634
|Referee : - D. Gallagher
|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)
Unused subs: Hirschfeld, Kelly
|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) .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
this weekend :