Only a single point separates Tottenham and Manchester United heading into their clash at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Both clubs are in the mix of Top Four competitors along with seven other teams. Spurs are currently in ninth place in the league but they are only four points out of second place in what has turned out to be the most wide-open Premier League race in years.
Spurs and United are two clubs moving in different directions. The Red Devils are undefeated in eleven straight matches during all competitions and are coming of the largest away win in the club’s Champions League history. The 5-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen secured United’s place in the knockout stage of the European competition and erased the bad memories of last weekend’s injury-time letdown at Cardiff City.
Tottenham are coming off a 2-0 Europa League win against Tromso and have secured their place in the final 32 of the competition. But they have had difficulty in matches following Europa League fixtures. Tottenham have won three and lost three in Sunday matches following Thursday night European contests. Spurs have also not scored a goal in their last three Premier League contests and were shelled in their last league match; a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City.
The match against City sent supporters and the media into a frenzy. Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has faced loud criticism over the setup of his team, particularly the use of Roberto Soldado as Spurs lone-striker. The Spanish international has not scored a goal from open play in over 900 minutes for Spurs and the club has continually struggled to score goals in the Premier League. Tottenham have only scored nine goals in twelve matches; with Soldado scoring four times, three of his goals have come from penalties.
Many have suggested that Tottenham should use another striker alongside Soldado to give him someone to play off of. Villas-Boas has stated that he will experiment with a 4-4-2 formation, but he won’t do that until after Tottenham play Manchester United.
Some point out that Tottenham’s lack of a true ‘number ten’ is hurting the club’s offensive production. Others feel that the club simply needs to get Soldado better service inside the penalty box since that’s how the player made his name in La Liga. The Spanish forward only has 360 touches this season. As compared to Wayne Rooney (748), Luis Suarez (508; and he missed the first five BPL games of the season), and Sergio Aguero.(473).
British pundits Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville and Alan Shearer also laid into Tottenham’s players for last weekend’s poor showing at the Etihad Stadium. The unanimous feeling was the players simply were “not ready to play” against Manchester City. Video evidence was dissected and individual Spurs players were called out for their actions.
The pundits also pointed out that Spurs have become slower and more predictable under Villas-Boas. Although they are third in the Premier League in possession (58.6%), there is no pace in their passing which has made it easier for opponents to defend Spurs.The universal feeling was that Villas-Boas has had too many people to blend together over a short period of time. But despite their “transition period”, Tottenham are within four points of second place with more than half of the season remaining and they are cruising though the Europa League competition.