Manchester United v Tottenham: Complete Preview, Team News & Projected Lineups
In truth, the Red Devils have looked far from world-class so far this season, but have done surprisingly well considering their reputation for slow-starting campaigns, and thus could be considered early title favourites ahead of table-toppers Chelsea and defending champions Manchester City.
Tottenham are now showing signs of adjusting to new manager Andre Villas-Boas' philosophy and tactical ideas, and proved how devastatingly brilliant they can be at times with their crushing victory away to Reading and professional win at home to London rivals, Queens Park Rangers.
It will be another fascinating game for both teams, as United seek to prove their worth as legitimate title contenders, and Spurs attempt to establish themselves at the elite end of the sport.
Kick-off is at 1730 GMT. Read on for the full match preview.
Manchester United Team News
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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be in a state of ambivalence regarding squad selection.
Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher have both made successful returns to first-team action, completing 77 and 90 minutes respectively in the 2-1 home win over Newcastle United in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Rooney had been out for a month with a deep cut to his thigh following a nasty but accidental challenge from Hugo Rodallega in the win over Fulham, while Fletcher had not started for United in 10 months before the Newcastle game due to ulcerative colitis, a chronic bowel condition.
Both should be available for the Spurs game, and considering their impact against Newcastle on Wednesday, the duo could be important players for the Red Devils on Saturday.
However, it's not all good news for Manchester United, with both Nemanja Vidic and Antonio Valencia ruled out for the foreseeable future (h/t Daily Mail).
Vidic has been ruled out for two months having been plagued by complications from a rare injury on his right knee—unusually damaging both his medial and lateral ligaments as well as rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament—he suffered last December, and has undergone a meniscus operation to correct the underlying problem.
Valencia is out with an injury to his right foot, suffered in the dramatic 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain long-term absentees, with Ashley Young also out until mid-October, but the rest of the squad should all be fit for the match on Saturday.
Tottenham Hotspur Team News
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Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas will have a near full-strength team for the big match against Manchester United, with only two players ruled out of action.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto will continue his spell on the sidelines, having missed out in the win over Queens Park Rangers, and isn't scheduled for a return to first-team action until mid- October.
Gareth Bale is unlikely to deputise again at left-back, with AVB admitting his gamble to play Bale in his former position didn't pay-off.
Jan Vertonghen is the most likely candidate to fill in for Assou-Ekotto on the left side of defence.
Younes Kaboul is the other missing player for Tottenham, with the centre-back a long-term injury absentee having undergone surgery on a knee injury at the end of August. The Frenchman isn't expected to return to the side for another three months.
William Gallas and Steven Caulker look set to hold fort in central defence, while Michael Dawson has been told by club staff to prove his worth, having been given a rare first-team opportunity in the 3-0 away win over Carlisle United in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Manchester United Form
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Manchester United currently hold the longest winning streak in the Premier League with four consecutive wins, though it's not as if they haven't looked back since that loss to Everton on the opening day.
In the big clash against Liverpool at Anfield, United were very lucky indeed to come away with the three points—creating far less goalscoring chances, winning much less in the air and being unable to retain possession as well as their opponents.
While in defence a lack of understanding continues to cause trouble for United, with deleterious gaps and man-marking mishaps symptomatic of the team's back four.
However, with Anders Lindegaard set to retain his spot in goal behind a central partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans—all three of whom having a burgeoning defensive understanding—United's defensive form could improve markedly for the Spurs match.
In attack there's little cause for concern, with Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa in red-hot form. Wayne Rooney also looks set to make an impact having impressed in his return match against Newcastle.
Having scored the most goals in the league along with Fulham, United should have no trouble finding the net against Spurs, especially seeing as they're at home.
It's whether they can keep them out at the other end which is the real issue.
Tottenham Hotspur Form
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Tottenham Hotspur started slowly under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, but as their recent results have shown, the North London club are now starting to turn on the gas.
Having been harshly beaten on the opening day of the season away at Newcastle United, Spurs have become an increasingly slick and clinical side, backing up draws-which-should-have-been-wins against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion with those convincing and professional victories against Reading and QPR.
Unlike their opponents on Saturday Manchester United, Tottenham have looked the better side in every one of their league games this term.
But of course football being football, looking the better side doesn't always translate into results, with United's experience seeing them sit four points ahead of Spurs in the league right now.
Villas-Boas has vowed that his team will play attacking football at Old Trafford, and if they can continue with the conviction they showed in their last two matches, they should at least get a draw against the 19-time Premier League champions.
However, if Spurs falter from the way played in those recent wins, they could get crushed by the experience and all-round ability of their hosts.
Manchester United's Key Players
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Robin van Persie
With the defensive high-line of Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas and the general attacking nature of his teams, Manchester United will always get chances to score, and much of whether they claim three points on Saturday will be down to main striker Robin van Persie.
The Dutchman is United's most in-form player right now with five goals in five league games, and with the team set up to get him on the end of the side's creative play in the final third, his ability to finish could end up as the determining factor in the match.
As the main defensive player in the Manchester United midfield, Michael Carrick will have a huge task which will unassailably influence the game.
He'll have to keep Moussa Dembele quiet throughout the match, with the technically-gifted Belgian having so far played up to and even beyond the standard of predecessor Luka Modric.
Carrick's ability to deny Dembele forward passes, intercept his attempts at incisive balls and give him little time on the ball will be key in determining the final result.
Jermain Defoe is one of the Premier League's most dangerous strikers at the moment, and with his style suited to evade both Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand in the centre of United's defence, it'll be up to the team's new no.1 Anders Lindegaard to deny a top goalscorer his goals.
If Lindegaard can keep out Defoe and put in a good performance, he'll put his defence at ease and will give the team the platform they need to pull off a win.
Tottenham Hotspur's Key Players
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Andre Villas-Boas will set his team up to play with attacking intent at Old Trafford, and that combined with the lack of pace of Rio Ferdinand means Jermain Defoe will get a good number of chances to score.
Like his opposite number, Robin van Persie, Defoe's ability to continue his fine form and finish off chances will be key.
If Tottenham Hotspur are to win, Jermain Defoe will probably have to find the net.
Michael Carrick will no doubt be tasked with keeping this playmaker quiet, but if Moussa Dembele can get pockets of space inside United's half, his role will be vital in helping his team gain some important away-day points.
His ability to set up quick attacks and bypass the opposition midfield with an incisive pass will be Tottenham's best bet for a goal, while his all-round ability to dictate play will be important in organising the team offensively.
Having already put in a man-of-the-match performance against Manchester United this season—for Fulham before his deadline day move to White Hart Lane—there's always a chance he could do it again.
If Tottenham are to win, draw or keep a clean sheet, Friedel's ability to keep out the Premier League's best striker, Robin van Persie, will be crucial.
Projected Manchester United Line-Up
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Anders Lindegaard will seemingly start in goal for Manchester United this weekend, with the experienced Dane preferred between the sticks for Premier League matches, having started the last three.
With Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out, Jonny Evans will partner Rio Ferdinand in defence, while all the usual suspects will play further up the field.
On the wings, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young sidelined, it's most likely that Shinji Kagawa will start on the left—the position he's played all his career barring this season at United and last season at Borussia Dortmund—with Nani on the right, leaving Wayne Rooney to play behind Robin van Persie.
However, it won't be a strict position for Kagawa, and he'll undoubtedly play the "false winger" role like Santi Cazorla, drifting inside from the wings to dictate play, create space out wide and draw the opposing full-back out of position.
With Nani on the other side a naturally in-stepping winger, Sir Alex's policy of giving the full-backs license to roam will see them putting in the majority of the crosses.
Which is why Alexander Buttner could be preferred to Patrice Evra at left-back—his better pace and attacking ability will give United an added threat on the left, and thus allow Kagawa to be that false winger and drift inside to where he can best influence the game.
Projected Tottenham Hotspur Line-Up
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Jan Vertonghen looks set to deputise at left-back for the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto, with Gareth Bale having failed at the task defensively for the first-half of the QPR match.
And that switch means Steven Caulker will probably return to the side alongside William Gallas, with Michael Dawson currently out of favour at the club.
Sandro will support Moussa Dembele in midfield in a partnership that almost reflects United's own central midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes—Sandro the Carrick-esque defensive midfielder and Dembele the playmaker with tracking-back responsibilities.
It's the usual suspects for virtually the whole team, with Brad Friedel's experience seeing him retain his No.1 jersey ahead of new arrival Hugo Lloris.
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Manchester United 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Against a technically-gifted Tottenham team high on form and primed with attacking intent, Manchester United, with their defensive issues, will certainly not keep a clean sheet.
Jermain Defoe could bag himself a brace, while Gareth Bale also has the potential to score against a right-back in Rafael who still needs to improve his decision-making.
However, United are also a technically-gifted team on good form who are also set up to attack, and with Old Trafford being a daunting place to go for any team, their overall quality up-front could be the determining factor.