Manchester United v Tottenham, Premier League, April 24, 2010
During Tottenhamâ€™s incredible recent run, Manchester United have been boosted as Arsenal have been knocked out the title race and then Chelseaâ€™s lead diminished at the hands of Harry Redknappâ€™s side. Now the Red Devils must negotiate a tricky home encounter against Spurs to keep their dreams of a fourth successive title alive. (Manchester United are 2.25 to win the Premier League, Chelsea are 1.57.)
Sir Alex Ferguson coined the phrase â€œsqueaky bum timeâ€ and this match seems made for the expression as Spurs will hope to claim another big name scalp and boost their hopes of a Champions League position whilst United can go top until Chelsea face Stoke at home on Sunday. (Spurs are 1.67 to win the without Big Four league, Manchester City are 2.10.)
Setting aside the two swashbuckling wins over London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, Tottenham have a woeful record at Old Trafford. Their last league win at the â€œTheatre of Dreamsâ€ came in December 1989 and last season they were famously 2-0 up at half-time before capitulating to a 5-2 defeat.
United have already beaten Spurs twice in 2009/2010. In September the champions inflicted their first defeat of the campaign with a 3-1 win after Jermain Defoe had given the home side a 1-0 lead with an acrobatic overhead kick in the first minute. Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Wayne Rooney were all on the scoresheet and in December a weakened United side dumped Tottenham out the Carling Cup thanks to a brace from Darron Gibson.
In total Manchester United have remained unbeaten in their last 21 games against Spurs in all competitions and last season they also defeated the north London side in the Carling Cup final on penalties.
But Spurs fans will point to an equally hopeless record against Arsenal and Chelsea and will take heart from two of the finest performances seen in the Premier League this season. If Tottenham play as they did against their London rivals it could be Chelsea who are cheering them on this weekend. (24.39 to be Spurs/Manchester United at halftime/full-time.)
Gareth Bale has been outstanding, scoring in consecutive games and rampaging down the Spurs left seemingly at will. If Gary Neville plays right back for United he will face a testing lunch time and Ferguson may well prefer the younger, quicker Rafael da Silva. Brazilian keeper Heurelho Gomes has also stood out of late and it is no coincidence that both the goals conceded in the last two matches were crosses in behind the Spurs backline, as seemingly every shot on goal was saved by the man nicknamed â€œThe Octopus.â€
Harry Redknappâ€™s big dilemma is whether to restore Wilson Palacios to the starting line up after he was suspended for the last two games after receiving his tenth booking of the season in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Portsmouth. Such is the importance of the Honduran that the most likely scenario will see Luka Modric pushed out to a right midfield position in place of David Bentley who will be on the bench.
Jermaine Jenas played in a practice match earlier this week and has recovered from a groin injury whilst it will be two from Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch up front.
With just three games remaining the savvy experienced Manchester United team will be eager to crank up the pressure on Chelsea. Paul Scholes took most of the plaudits last week for his excellent performance at Eastlands and his late winning goal. Ferguson will hope to have Rio Ferdinand available again and Wayne Rooney should be a lot sharper after a week with no match action.
United will look to attack the Tottenham full backs through Luis Antonio Valencia and Nani whilst Dimitar Berbatov will also be eager to impress against his old club and after the constant transfer speculation about his future. With a trip to Sunderland and then a home match with Stoke, this is probably Unitedâ€™s toughest fixture of the remaining three and they will need all their experienced pros to show their mettle.
On paper this is one of the most intriguing and critical games of the season. If the Spurs of recent games turn up we could be in for a cracker and United will find life difficult against the likes of Bale, Gomes, Dawson and Modric. The home side have though been winning games like this since the Premier League began and their know-how may prove the difference.
101gg predicts: Manchester United 2 â€“ Tottenham 1 (6.14)