As a Spurs fan there are supposedly three certainties in life; coming away from a trip to United with no points has long been one of them. The statistics are trotted out every time we head to Old Trafford but they bear repeating again. Since Big Ears poached the winner against the Red Devils in 1989, a total of four points have been picked up there; none coming as a result of wins.
Of course, those harsh statistics mask some typically-Spurs turns of fate which have conspired against us and led many to believe our visits to United are cursed. The failure to win there, and at Stamford Bridge, for so long now stands out as the last two head-to-head hoodoos from our time in the Premier League. To remove this blot on our record now would be a timely boost to a new era at the Lane. I believe there are reasons for optimism.
Firstly, many witnessed Moussa Dembélé’s performance for Fulham against United this season and took this as evidence that he could add a new dimension to Spurs’ midfield. On that day, he did what all Spurs fans now know he can do: receive the ball in deep positions, create his own space and play probing balls into the final third. His ability to run with the ball and take opposition midfielders out of play is strangely reminiscent of Didier Zokora – though he clearly has far better vision and distribution. With United’s aging midfield, there’s no reason to suggest Moussa won’t enjoy more success on the large acreage of Old Trafford.
Secondly, Howard Webb will not be in charge (before you get too relieved, bear in mind that our old friend Chris Foy will be wielding his whistle instead). Recent history would suggest that the sight of Webb jogging out before kick-off with the match ball tucked under his arm would be enough to declare this game even more of a right-off than normal. Webb has presided over numerous controversial game-changing decisions between the two sides. Most notably, in 2009 Webb awarded a penalty against Heurelho Gomes despite him clearly playing the ball before bringing down Michael Carrick. At the time, Spurs were 2-0 up; we went on to lose 5-2.
Thirdly, in these early days of the season Spurs have given the impression that their style of play is more suited to playing away than at home. Admittedly, the sample is small but against Newcastle and Reading the strategy of pressing play further up the pitch arguably found more joy than at home against West Brom, Norwich and QPR, where opposition defences were more prone to sit deep, absorb the pressure and look to play on the counter. United will not sit back. This will create opportunities for our pacey front three to exploit against what will probably resemble a second-string United back-line.
Lastly, in AVB we have a manager who received rare rave reviews from his last visit to Old Trafford, in September of last year. It was widely acknowledged that his half-time reversion from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 turned the tide on a match which, at 3-0 to United (with some typically dodgy calls by the officials for two of the goals), was headed for a Chelsea thrashing. Instead, his tactics saw United pushed back, and a goal pulled back, before Torres infamously shanked a sitter in front of the Stretford End. It can be assured that the intelligent and diligent Villas-Boas will have learned his lesson from last year and will look to take the game to United from the off.
You will no doubt have noticed already that AVB’s loss with Chelsea last year was a tale of spineless officiating, missed chances and poor fortune. That set of circumstances will seem eerily familiar to Spurs fans contemplating overturning our miserable record at Old Trafford. Conversely, it’s that fatalism which could turn out to be a strength. Expectations are low and once again we have nothing to lose from our trip up. This hoodoo has to end sometime and if it were to happen at the start of AVB’s tenure then it could really kick-start this brave new era.