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Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur Preview: A conversation with Cartilage Free Captain

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With the Spurs game looming on the weekend we here at The Busby Babe decided we should get to know more about our opponent and there was no one better, well no one better who would talk to us, than Kevin McCauley of Cartilage Free Captain the Spurs blog right here on SBNation. As Sun Tzu said,"If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss." Losses aren't the issue right now though. Draws are the issue. But enough about that for now.


So let's get to know Spurs..

TBB: How's the season been so far for Spurs?

CFC: It's gone about as expected, aside from that awful Wigan loss. There's nothing to be concerned about for Spurs this season, since they appear to be recovering from early injuries. The individual play of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart has been spectacular, but it hasn't quite been enough to put Spurs up with the elite. We've had our slip-ups but haven't dug ourselves a hole yet, either for qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League or for fourth place in the Premier League. We've had flashes of brilliance, but could have been better in most games. So far, I would call our season solid and acceptable, but far from spectacular.

TBB: You are right there once again battling for a CL spot with Arsenal, City, United and Albion. (snicker) Will we see Spurs back in Europe's elite competition next season?

CFC: Not unless Cesc Fabregas or Carlos Tevez picks up a very long term injury. I think that Spurs can nick a top four spot, but the four teams that most assume to be above them just seem to be a little too talented. Fifth place seems like the most likely spot for us.

TBB: What's the Champions League experience been like so far? Has it helped the league form or hurt it?

CFC: Despite the awful first half performance against Inter Milan, it's been great. Harry's obviously made a point of rotating the squad to avoid fatigue, and this has obviously affected league form. If we didn't have Europe to worry about, I think we probably win a couple of those games in which we were mediocre or played poorly. However, like I said, we haven't shot ourselves in the foot in either competition yet.


TBB: So far early in the season who have been the players to watch at Spurs?

CFC: Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale are our two best, by a mile. Tom Huddlestone has also been consistently good. Ledley King is rarely healthy, but he's performed well whenever he's been in the lineup. When all four of those players are healthy and in the starting lineup, they're our best four.


TBB: Luka Modric recently said he is almost back to his best. How much better are Spurs with Modric in the lineup?

CFC: This is actually a minor point of contention between Spurs fans. His natural position is the position that Rafael van der Vaart operates in. To start last season, he did well on the left, but Bale has that position on lock. At the end of last year, Modric played as a box-to-box central midfielder with more freedom than his midfield partner in a 4-4-2, but we've altered the formation with Defoe being out injured. Modric can play in the middle of our current 4-4-1-1 setup next to Tom Huddlestone, but he's yet to find his best form this year. It's not a stretch to say we might be better with an in-form Sandro or Palacios in the middle, depending on opponent.


TBB: What is the injury situation like at Spurs at the moment?

CFC: For a while, it was dire. We could barely field four healthy defenders. Now, it looks like Gallas, Kaboul and Corluka are healthy again, with Michael Dawson pretty close to returning. We're still missing Jermain Defoe a lot, though. It's hard to envision a formation that would put both van der Vaart and Defoe on the same pitch in their preferred roles, sadly, but we need a true goal scorer. Crouch and Pavlyuchenko both seem to play their best football with a quick strike partner in a 4-4-2 and don't seem to be able to fill any other role up to Spurs' standards.

TBB: Palacios, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Bale, Jenas, Krancjar, Dos Santos and others. Spurs have a lot of weapons, especially in midfield. What is Spurs' best 11 right now?

CFC: With current injuries? I'll call it Gomes / Assou-Ekotto, Bassong, Gallas, Hutton / Bale, Modric, Huddlestone, Lennon / van der Vaart / Crouch


TBB: It looks like the midfield could use some thinning out at Spurs with a couple of sales and maybe a defender and a striker brought in. Is that accurate? What do you expect to happen in January?

CFC: I think this is very dependent on whether or not we make the knockout stages of the Champions League. With a new stadium in the planning stages and Daniel Levy not wanting to create a mountain of debt, he's unlikely to spend money he doesn't have right now. I think that Dos Santos will definitely leave and I could see Jenas departing as well. I would like to see us add a striker for sure. I'm not sure why you think Spurs need to bring in a defender. Assou-Ekotto, Gallas, King, Dawson, Corluka, Bassong, Kaboul, and Hutton is a pretty deep group.

(*Editor's Note: That sure sounds like a lot of quantity if not necessarily quality)


TBB: What are you expecting in terms of Harry Reknapp's tactics this weekend?

CFC: Something more conservative than I posted above. Possibly Modric sacrificed for a defensive midfielder (Palacios or Sandro).

TBB: Which United players worry you the most?

CFC: I'm a big fan of Chicharito and he's the kind of player that haunts the team that Spurs are historically. He can pop out of nowhere to tap in garbage goals on questionable defending and those are opportunities that Spurs are likely to give United. Berbatov's technical work with his back to goal and Paul Scholes' range of passing are always a concern as well.


TBB: What did you make of the Wayne Rooney, shall we say "situation"?

CFC: He's a baby and I don't care about him. If him and Ferguson really did collude to suck money out of the Glazers, then all three parties (player, manager, ownership) should be ashamed of themselves.


TBB: Any predictions for the match?

CFC: Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Manchester United