Is it just me, or are things beginning to feel a little 2012/13? Robin van Persie is consistently scoring, Wayne Rooney is effective in a central midfield position (minus the transfer request), Liverpool flirt with mid-table mediocrity and – most importantly of all – United are consistently winning matches. Order almost restored. It’s almost as if last season was just a stain on the copybook. A bad dream if you will. A despairing, toe-curlingly bad dream.
With the festive season in full swing, United continued their impressive form on Boxing Day with a confident showing in a 3-1 victory over Newcastle. With van Gaal offering presents to fans before kick-off, the players duly delivered the manager a fitting present of his own after he scrapped the customary Christmas Day training session.
A Wayne Rooney double and Robin van Persie header secured the points for United as Old Trafford once again starts to resemble the fortress the manager has stressed that it should be. Results on the road will however need addressing if United to still harbour any hopes of breaking the top two, with points already squandered this season at Sunderland, Burnley, Leicester, West Brom, Man City and most recently, Aston Villa.
With the captain slipping effortlessly into the middle of the park to account for injuries (and illness) now plaguing the midfield (Di Maria, Herrera, Blind, Fellaini, Januzaj & Lingard), Falcao was able to continue to get vital minutes under his belt as he works his way back to fitness. Despite not getting on the scoresheet himself, the Colombian did more than enough to appease his new adoring fans, displaying supreme game intelligence and work rate to play a hand in United’s opening two strikes against the Magpies. When springing the offside trap to meet a lofted Juan Mata pass, fans would be forgiven for prematurely celebrating El Tigre notching his second in as many games, but instead witness one of the world’s finest finishers selflessly laying on a sideways ball for Rooney to finish with ease. The skipper’s second was also born from Falcao’s determination and desire to work hard for the team, tracking back and winning the ball impressively to begin the United attack.
Despite being a little off the pace at times, another 65 minute stint for the on-loan Moncao hitman will do wonders not only for confidence, but also match fitness as a second game in less than 48 hours looms.
Our second slice of festive action comes at White Hart Lane, a ground where United remain undefeated from their previous 13 Premier League visits. With Di Maria set to miss out once again with a pelvis injury suffered on Christmas Eve, it’s likely that Sunday’s line-up will be unchanged from the side that faced Newcastle, barring any fitness concerns. With question marks over whether Falcao will be ready to play another game so soon, James Wilson could instead earn a start, while Chris Smalling could be a sensible option to replace McNair who turned in another solid performance.
Rafael returned to action after a prolonged period on the sidelines, but with just 10 minutes under his belt on Boxing Day, any involvement the Brazilian has will likely come from the bench once again.
United’s defence will be tasked with keeping Spurs’ in-form frontman Harry Kane quiet, with the Under 21 international leading his side’s scoring charts with 15 this season. He and Eriksen will provide the main threat to van Gaal’s side in North London as Pochettino’s men finally look to be putting together a successful run of results.
While Sir Alex’s now famous “Lads, it’s Tottenham” speech may not quite be the style of the man now occupying the United dugout, the point still applies, with points on the road of huge importance to the Dutchman. United’s record at White Hart Lane over the previous 13 years (eight wins and five draws) prove Spurs are the for the taking, particularly with their side noticeably a much weaker outfit than in recent years.
One clean sheet in our last 10 Premier League away games has seen us display a certain amount of vulnerability at the back as the side continue to adjust to the new system show, however significant firepower and a much improved efficiency up top have been enough to put other teams to bed throughout our recent run of fixtures.
It’s no coincidence that United’s recent resurgence has coupled with the return of Michael Carrick, with seven wins from eight recorded with the man Sir Alex dubbed the best midfielder in England back in the side. Whether in midfield or defence, our new vice-captain has added a greater sense of balance and intelligence to the side, with van Gaal praising the 33-year-old for his ability to implement his much mentioned philosophy onto the field.
With Carrick back on his former stomping ground, his contribution will be essential in ensuring a measured approach into coming away from White Hart Lane with another three points and plenty of festive cheer.
Prediction: Even with five at the back, vulnerability is still as evidenced on Boxing Day. David de Gea will have every right to be frustrated with Phil Jones, whose clumsy challenge offered the visitors a late penalty, denying the Spaniard a clean sheet in the process. Defensive performances have improved and despite the late mistake, Jones was largely impressive alongside Evans and McNair. A wealth of attacking options have been enough to secure points recently, with Rooney and van Persie both back amongst the goals, while Falcao and Juan Mata have proved their worth to the team in recent weeks. United to win 2-1.
Probable line-up: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, McNair, Evans, Young, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Falcao, Van Persie