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Manchester United Fixtures

United Host Spurs In Premier League Home Opener

So, one down, 37 to go. United’s Premier League season opener at West Brom was supposed to be, relatively speaking, one of the ‘easier’ games on the early-season schedule. However, following the pattern that seems to have carried over from last season, United took a lead only to surrender it, and we needed a late goal, or own goal in this instance, to overcome the Baggies and start our title defense on a winning note.

On paper, today’s showdown with Tottenham should be a much more stern test, but Spurs have a mountain of history and hoodoo to overcome if they’re to pull off a stunner tonight.

RECENT HISTORY

Even sides who aren’t currently in the top flight have earned league wins at Old Trafford more recently than Tottenham have.

The last time Spurs won at Old Trafford was December 16, 1989, when chip (or crisp, rather) pimp extraordinaire Gary Lineker scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win. And overall, Spurs haven’t beaten United in more than 10 years, dating back to a 3-1 win at White Hart Lane on the final day of the 2000/01 season.

Last season, United took four points from six, winning 2-0 at home in October, with a controversial Nani goal making for a memorable moment, and drawing 0-0 away in January, finishing the final quarter of an hour down to 10 men after Rafael’s dismissal.

TEAM ANALYSIS

Tottenham

Counting your W-shaped chickens before they hatch would be a mistake of the highest order, given the quality of the opposition.

Under Harry Redknapp, Spurs have solidly established themselves as one of the best sides outside the Premier League’s big boys, and they come into this season having finished in the top eight for three consecutive seasons for the first time since the early 1980s.

There haven’t been any signings of any significance, but much more importantly, there haven’t been any departures of significance…yet. Luka Modric, who more than a few feel would be a perfect addition to United’s midfield, has been hankering for a big-money move to Chelsea all summer, but with almost a week left in the summer transfer window, he’s still at White Hart Lane.

As it happens, the Croatian sensation will be a mere spectator today, which does put a dent in Spurs’ chances of getting a rare positive result at Old Trafford. Modric is currently nursing a groin strain that kept him out of Thursday’s 5-0 Europa League rout of Hearts, but it’s a lack of psychological, not physical fitness that will keep him out against United, according to Redknapp.

Not having their unsettled star didn’t affect them in the least bit in Edinburgh, as they brushed off multiple injury absences and having had their Premier League opener against Everton fall victim to a riot-related postponement to all but assure their place in the Europa League proper.

Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, and Jermain Defoe all got on the scoresheet in the win, and that quartet will pose a real threat tonight for United’s defense.

Manchester United

Injuries were a regular issue for United last season, and it hasn’t taken long at all this season for the injury bug to bite.

Chicharito, Antonio Valencia, and long-term absentee Rafael were already assured of not being a part of tonight’s squad, but we’ll be seeing a third different back line in as many matches, with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both out after hobbling off against West Brom.

Vidic will be out into September, while Ferdinand could be back as soon as next Sunday’s clash with Arsenal, contrary to initial post-match reports that had Ferdinand out for a longer duration than the Serbian stalwart. That means that Phil Jones will earn his first United start, and he’ll be partnered up with Jonny Evans in the middle, with Chris Smalling once again starting at right back and Patrice Evra returning from injury to take his usual place at left back.

It’d be ideal to have Ferdinand and Vidic in the lineup, but Tottenham can’t get too giddy just yet. Evans isn’t a stranger to starting in the Premier League and has performed solidly in sub appearances against City and West Brom, Jones is already looking every bit the part, and Smalling has put together back-to-back quality performances as the starting right back. And we all know what Evra can do, but Aaron Lennon has had his way with Patrice in the past.

The spotlight, however, will be on David de Gea, who will be making his first home start after conceding soft goals in back-to-back weeks. Neither goal proved to be costly, but there’s a world of pressure on the young Spaniard coming into tonight’s match. He deserves patience, and bumps in the road are to be expected, but he doesn’t have nearly the margin for error he might have elsewhere. Fortunately, his confidence should be buoyed by the faith that his manager and teammates have in him, and one can only hope that it results in the kind of performance that shows why so much is invested in him.

Of course, United have the attacking ability to take a lot of pressure off of the defense, and the pace of Nani and last week’s hero, Ashley Young, will have Tottenham on their heels from the start.

There’s still some edges that need to be sharpened up in regards to keeping the foot on the accelerator and making the most of chances, but those are things that will naturally improve with each match. We’ve already gotten a good glimpse of how potent United could be in attack this season, and that’s even without Chicharito having played a single minute yet.

PREDICTION

Even without Modric in the lineup, Tottenham have the quality to push United for 90 minutes and give themselves a real shot at a result.

How well the Jones-Evans partnership pans out will have a bearing on the outcome, but with Gomes’ history of errors and De Gea coming into his competitive Old Trafford debut off the heels of a shaky start, the real decider could be down to which keeper holds their nerve the best against the many attempts on goal we’ll likely see.

As I said, tonight is a fine time for De Gea to put on a display that will remind and reassure, but whatever happens, United have already shown that their ability to kick adversity right in the teeth is alive and well. It likely won’t come easy, but in the end, United will bag three points against Tottenham yet again.

Score Prediction: Manchester United 3-2 Tottenham

Eddie