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Bale and Rafael square up again

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 10:45 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

Teams that have had success against Tottenham this season have generally been able to nullify the threat of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart.

That is no easy feat with even Champions League holders Inter Milan feeling the full force of the pair, who have scored 22 goals between them in all competitions.

But one player who has been credited with curbing Bale's forays down the left, in particular, is Everton full-back Phil Neville.

The 33-year-old's no-nonsense approach helped ensure that David Moyes' team ran out 2-1 winners against Spurs at Goodison Park earlier this month, having already picked up a point at White Hart Lane in October.

Manchester United are Tottenham's opponents on Sunday but even though they possess a right-back who is 13 years Neville's junior, there are increasing signs that the Brazilian Rafael is beginning to show the reasons why Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to the club from Fluminense in 2008.

One thing Neville and Rafael had in common when they came up against Bale this season was limiting their ventures down the flanks to join their respective teams' attacks.

Contrast this with Inter right-back Maicon, who was the first of the three right-backs to face the Welsh winger during 10 days in October.

Even though the Italian team were 4-3 winners at the San Siro, Bale's second-half hat-trick made world football take note because he exposed Maicon's attacking tendencies so clinically.

Player touches show Maicon was a lot further advanced than Neville

Touches from that game show that the Brazilian defender was far more active in the opposition half compared to Rafael and Neville, who faced Bale three days later at White Hart Lane.

You could argue that the former England defender had the benefit of playing a fatigued Bale so soon after the Champions League game.

But Neville's experience told him that if he remained disciplined, with right midfielder Seamas Coleman tracking back, he could allow Bale to approach him from deeper positions rather than be caught high up the pitch and be beaten for pace on his blind side.

In addition, when Bale received the ball towards the final third Neville was quick to close down space, particularly when the winger had his back to goal, and his success meant that Bale switched to the right flank during the second half of the 1-1 draw.

Rafael took a similar approach during the course of United's 2-0 victory over Spurs at Old Trafford.

One of the 20-year-old's runs led to him shooting wide early on but once United took a 1-0 lead after 31 minutes, he was less adventurous. He was also quick to shadow Bale when Spurs were on the attack so that he was unable to open up a gap to use his explosive pace. 

Rafael passed just four times in the Tottenham half

With Nani ahead of him it was Darren Fletcher in the centre of United's midfield who helped him out. Yet during his 64 minutes on the field where he marshalled Bale with considerable success, Rafael only made four passes in the opposition half.

And during that time, Bale managed to get past him just twice.

Former Spurs defender Gary Mabbutt believes that Tottenham's superb home form this season means that Ferguson's side will again be cautious this Sunday.

"Spurs have set their stall out this season with a very attacking 4-4-2 formation at home and I'm sure it will be Manchester United who adopt a defensive position and try to hit Spurs on the counter-attack and at set-plays," he told BBC Sport.

"They will try to nullify Bale, Van der Vaart, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, who could also play, but one thing that has improved about Harry Redknapp's team this season is that they are getting goals from all over the pitch."

Some of the goals scored by Bale, including his strikes at Inter and Stoke, have lit up Spurs' displays this term.

But the 21-year-old will want to improve on his performance last time against Manchester United, where he gave the ball away in open play more than against any other team Spurs have faced this season. 

Bale's passing and crossing was well below its usual standard

His crossing was poor too. Not one of his seven attempts reached its target and his pass completion rate was just 58%. Even his dribbling was below his usual standard, with a 22% completion rate compared to 67% against Everton.

That may have been down to tiredness but even though the 10-day period might have had a physical impact on Bale, Mabbutt is sure it would have improved his tactical thinking.

"Phil Neville might have played well against him but Bale is learning all the time, so if players try different tactics on him he is bright enough to work out ways to solve those problems," he said.

"Teams have put two players on him but he now realises he can pull out wide and create space for others in the middle such as Van der Vaart. You never stop learning throughout your career and with Bale being so sharp, and having the ability to match, he will continue to grow in stature."

The question is, will Bale have learnt the lessons from Old Trafford in order to make an impact this Sunday? Or has Rafael improved further since they last squared up?

You can also send your ideas for future analysis to me on Twitter

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Two of the brightest young players in the Prem! Initially I was unsure on Rafael but he seems to be progressing well and as stated is starting to show what was seen in him! He reminds me of a young Cafu (obviously not at that level yet) he has the ability to go forward and offer a decent outlet but he is also strong in the tackle and has the pace that full backs sometimes lack.
    Hopefully Spurs-Man Utd will be a good game, let's hope its similar to Spurs-Chelsea (one of if not the best game of the season) and not similar to Man City-Man Utd or Man Utd-Liverpool which were dour affairs!!
    Bale has the potential to be one of the very best, comparisons to Messi et al earlier in the season were very premature but he has all the attributes and crucially he seems to have the right mentality to get to the top!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Be interesting to see, but as opposed to the last game Bale played against Neville - which was in the busy Christmas / New year period when he looked tired - Bale will have had a week and a half rest from playing.

    That could well make an impact

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought the ridiculous hype for bale had died down. No need for this article.

  • Comment number 5.

    Bale hype?

    I don't think that's really what this article is addressing do you?

    Bale is probably Spur's most potent attacking option. If you keep him quiet you stand a much better chance of beating us (see Everton game - don't see Liverpool game).



  • Comment number 6.

    Great to see this kind of content on the BBC Sport website - I am excited for future columns.

  • Comment number 7.

    Nice to see a blog on tactics and stats and such like - I'm always interested in Lee Dixons analyses as he always seems to bring fresh insight.

    Have to say though that the point of the article is a little obvious i.e. you keep Bale under control better by holding your position and not giving him the opportunity to run into space behind you. It's really more about whether Raphael has the discipline and concentration to watch his man for 90 minutes.

    A more important facet about this game for me is how will Man Utd be able to control the centre of the pitch i.e. whether Fletcher and Carrick (or Scholes) can win enough possession of the ball from Modric/Jenas/van der Vaart and be able do enough with it to neutralise the threat of these three while providing some kind of service to Nani/Berbatov/Rooney.

    My bet is Man U will struggle in an attacking capacity and may well end up on the back of a 1-0 defeat - with the goal from a set piece.

  • Comment number 8.

    Should be a fantastic game. Very excited for this. Bale vs. Rafael should be interesting, but I am just as interested to see how Vidic/Ferdinand cope with Van der Vaart. I fancy a tight Spurs victory here. 1-0 or 2-1.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nice analysis. Nice blog.

  • Comment number 10.

    It's great to see Alistair Magowan take time off his celebrity and impressions and writing for BBC sport. Seriously though, great analysis, and would like to see more of this sort of thing on the website.

    ompletely agree with #6 and #7 (although not the bit about Lee Dixon - Lee always seems to state the obvious for me, though he's improving as a pundit) - great article.

    #4 - what is your problem? Do you simply want a webiste where they show match reports and nothing else? It's not hype, it's analysing an interesting topic and generating discussion! What sort of content are you expecting?! Bale is having a great season, by all accounts, so why is writing an article on how to stop him 'hype'?

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh and I'll go for 1-1, as if anyone cares.

  • Comment number 12.

    Rafael gave Bale a lesson at Old Trafford and I expect much the same at White Hart Lane. Van der Vaart has been the real class act in attack for Tottenham this season and if United can keep him quiet I would expect United to nick a result.

  • Comment number 13.

    As a United fan I've been excited by Rafael for a long time. He's young and still learning but he's already shown a lot of potential to be a cracking full-back. Case in point was the CL quarter-final against Bayern: he did an excellent job keeping Ribery quiet but then made two daft errors and (rightly) was sent off. He'll learn from experiences like that, and from games like Sunday's. I agree with earlier posts that he might need help from others to neutralise Bale's threat, but equally Spurs might need help dealing with Nani as I don't think that Assou-Ekotto is up to that alone.

    As for post 7, I think SAF will get round that by playing 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 with Rooney as a lone striker and three of Scholes, Carrick, Anderson and Fletcher in the middle. This will enable one of them to help the full-backs with Bale/Lennon without massively compromising the middle of the park. If he were available I'm sure Park Ji-Sung would've been playing this one as he's very good at doing a job like that.

    A fascinating game, especially down the United right/Spurs left flank; I'd like a United win by think it'll end up as an entertaining score draw.

  • Comment number 14.

    I found this article really interesting. More of the same in future please.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ No. 4

    This is one of the better more analytical articles on the whole site.. refering to one of the most important players in this weekends most important match!

    I am neither a spurs or united fan.

  • Comment number 16.

    CorpusBoy,

    You may be right that SAF with go for a flexible 4-5-1 (converts to 4-3-3 when in possession) but I can't help thinking that to properly work that needs Parks box-to-box energy in the middle. Could nullify the Spurs threat more effectively but they'd probably be relying on an individual mistake to get a goal as you'd pretty much end up with only Nani providing Rooney with consistant support?

    As a brief aside, would ManU fans settle for a point from this game if they were offered it now?

  • Comment number 17.

    COYS! We're due a victory.

  • Comment number 18.

    Rich_Owl

    Definitely. I would bite your hand off for a draw the way we've played away this season!

  • Comment number 19.

    'Bale is probably Spur's most potent attacking option'

    He maybe more of a in-your-face direct/hollywood threat but I view VDV and Modric as more important to the attacking side of Spurs.

    ---

    Like Bale, Rafael is learning too tactically and is going in the right direction. Will be a interesting battle, even though both players will get help from their team mates (Bale getting help to overload that flank from the likes of Modric and Ekotto, whilst Rafael getting Nani's help or the covering ability of the CBs as illustrated at OT)

    ---

    I may or may not agree with all of the article but certainly a very good article. More of the same please, Beebs

  • Comment number 20.

    @2

    Cobblers!

    October was very early in the season, Bale hadn't been involved in the World Cup so fatigue is no answer, no answer at all. Neville's priority was to defend and mark Bale. Maicon's was to attack and target the Spurs left hand side. Result? More space behind for Bale to exploit.

    Bale is a good player, but can be nullified through doubling up and teams being dilligent against him. The problem then lies in the fact he is being doubled up on, you may free Van Der Vaart.

    Despite the odd "swinger" with his right foot, Bale does not like to be put onto his right hand side, a tactic that i think you will see Man Utd employ.

    Personally, the worrying should be on VDV who is a much better all round footballer

  • Comment number 21.

    It's fascinating stuff as you've got the two form wide players in the league on the same flank in the game. Nani could be crucial to cancelling out Bale because they wont want him to get Akotto isolated

    I reckon
    VDS
    Rafael Ferdinand Vidic Evra
    Fletcher Carrick Anderson
    Nani Berbatov Rooney v

    Defoe (pace will worry Vidic and Rio a lot more than Crouch or Pav)
    Van Der Vaart
    Bale Modric Palacios Lennon
    Ekotto Dawson Gallas Hutton
    Gomes

    United will want to control the middle of the park, Spurs will want to get their 5 attacking players running and passing around United's defence.

    Should be a great match. If United win it will really reinforce their claim to the title. If Spurs win you're starting to wonder about a genuine 5 way tustle. However I can see a 1-1 here. Although there will be some great fast football on show I don't think any team that takes the lead will go too gung-ho and as such there is always scope for an equaliser. I think Spurs will score first with United pulling it back late on after some late changes.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think once Rafael learns how to recover when an attacker gets past him, he's got the potential to be one of the best full-backs in the game, but he's still young, raw and at the right club to polish out those flaws. I think it'll be interesting if Fabio shows the same levels of skill and potential, we could have a very interesting set of defenders. Although, I wonder...if Rafael gets sent off and suspended, is Taggart ever tempted to give him Fabio's shirt on the sly? *chuckle*

  • Comment number 23.

    As a brief aside, would ManU fans settle for a point from this game if they were offered it now?

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    I wouldn't take a draw now no but a draw wouldn't be a bad result, especially given United's away struggles this season. The team has the ability to win the game though, which is why I wouldn't take a point now.

    Spurs are a good side now though and in my opinion it's the toughest game of the season so far. People are saying this is where the unbeaten record goes but to be honest I couldn't care less about that, if we lose somewhere down the line so be it. It's finishing first that counts and if we do that then job done, unbeaten or not.

  • Comment number 24.

    errrr..... Maicon plays for Inter, not Milan.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thankfully, Spurs are not just about Bale. With Modric VDV and Lennon all firing they can pose questions across the whole front line, which is enhanced further if Defoe is at his lively, sharp best.

    WHile rafael has the pace to cope with Bale, that does not mean he can recklessly bomb forward, he needs to be disciplined. If he is then this at least means one less threat to Spurs further up the pitch.

    Spurs need to work hard on getting the ball to Bale at the right time because froma standing start Bale will not beat Rafa for pace. Bale needs to be running at him or running beyond him.

    I can see United relying on Rooney, Nani and probably Berbatov to provide the attacking threat, probably as a 451/433, while the rest are a lot more defensive.

    Spurs need to be defensively solid and patient. United will not over commit, look to soak up pressure and counter attack. That is really what Spurs need to do because it will be tough to break through a well organised United defending in numbers.

    Control of the ball is key for me. So often vs United, Spurs simply do not control long enough periods of the game allowing United to build pressure.

    WIll be fascinating and Spurs will need to be at their absolute best, across every position, to get any result!

  • Comment number 26.

    As a Spurs fan I have found this article quite interesting.

    Obviously Bale is far from the finished article and where Inter pushed high up the pitch and left space in behind, Everton, (and Man Utd in the previous game), defender further back where Bale had less room to get in behind them.

    Now obviously Spurs' counter-attacking style often lends itself to being more effective against teams who push on, (so especially when Spurs are playing away), but can also be effective if Spurs manage to take an early lead and the away team are forced to push players forward looking for an equaliser.

    Against Everton recently it was Spurs who conceded early and were forced to chase the game and even when the score was back to 1-1 both teams threw men forward, (however with Neville keeping his discipline), and in end to end stuff, it was Everton that grabbed the winner late on.

    In the previous fixture against Everton, we again fell behind, this time to a Baines belter from a free-kick so we were forced to chase the game, (do we know any other way?) What it meant though was that Everton were never behind and so were not forced to push forward looking for some sort of result.

    The Man Utd game was a close affair, (Man Utd possibly deserving the win through their better use of the ball), but only conceding a goal from a set-piece left us still in with a shout and in the closing stages things were really getting stretched before the ref sealed the win for them with that ridiculous decision near the end for the nani goal. In any case, my point is that Man Utd were never behind and so never had to force things.

    If we can score first, (not easy against man Utd I will admit), and especially not the way that we often start games, then their full-backs will be forced further forward looking to level things and that's where the likes of Lennon and Bale might find space to exploit.

    You have to remember though that despite all the media attention, Spurs are no one -man team and Bale is certainly no one-trick pony. Evra is certainly not as effective a defender as he is an attacker and with Lennon and Bale on the flanks and whichever partnership we play up front, (Crouch, Pav, JD or VdV), I would like to think that we will offer Man Utd a range of different problems to contain.

    I think this game will be decided by who scores first. If it is Spurs then I can see Rio and Vidic getting exposed as Man U look to respond however if it is man Utd then it could be another lesson for Spurs.

    Despite all the accolades that Bale has received this season, (and rightly so), it is actually Modric that makes us tick. Obviously Man Utd are strong in the middle of the pitch but possibly more so with the ball than without it.

    I hope that Man Utd play with both Rooney and Berba up front against us but I suspect that they will play with just one to give them an extra man in the middle. They have not won too many games away from home this season but they haven't lost any. While they might be happy with a point away to Spurs, I am not sure that playing that way will serve them well, (better to attack us).

    I just want this game to be decided on the performances on the pitch though and not because the ref decided that a hand-ball wasn't a hand-ball or because a ball that dropped a cople of feet over the line did not cross the line or whatever else they can miss.

    Can't wait.

  • Comment number 27.

    Don't forget Spurs' right side. Evra has gotten the better of Lennon in their latest battles but prior to that, Lennon was a real pest for Evra in two or three encounters. With Park unavailable, its important to not neglect the battle that will occur on that side of the pitch.


    Of course, Spurs will have to be wary about Nani as well as United on Bale, especially if they do not double up on him. Pool doubled up on him quite a bit and did a solid job on him. Considering the license they will give to Bale to go forward, Ekotto may not get much help from Bale, especially when being counter attacked at pace as that is the danger that Rafael-Nani pose

  • Comment number 28.

    Spurs need to work hard on getting the ball to Bale at the right time because froma standing start Bale will not beat Rafa for pace. Bale needs to be running at him or running beyond him.
    ---------------------

    Very true - crazy as it seems - is this a game to start him at LB? It would certainly throw a spanner in the works.

    Gomes
    Hutton Dawson Gallas Bale

    Lennon Palacios Jenas Modric

    VDV
    Defoe/Crouch

  • Comment number 29.

    16. At 3:10pm on 14 Jan 2011, Rich_Owl wrote:
    CorpusBoy,

    You may be right that SAF with go for a flexible 4-5-1 (converts to 4-3-3 when in possession) but I can't help thinking that to properly work that needs Parks box-to-box energy in the middle
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Park hasn't really played through the middle this season. He's played wide from what I've seen.

    You and other people are forgetting about Giggs, who is in form.

    I think Utd will play Rooney as the spearhead, Nani and Giggs wide of him, and Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher as a midfield 3.

  • Comment number 30.

    What utter rubbish. THe first sentance is a bit like saying "Man U win when Berbatov scores a hat trick".

    Also name one game this season when the threat of Van der vaat has been 'nulified'.

  • Comment number 31.

    'Park hasn't really played through the middle this season. He's played wide from what I've seen.'

    He has played mostly wide but has played one or two games through the middle this season, such as against Pool

  • Comment number 32.

    Interesting analysis but I think the real battle will be in the middle with Fletcher & Carrick/Anderson trying to nullify the play of Van der Vaart & Modric. But if Bale has his day, Manchester United are in for a drubbing & Rafael a day to forget.

  • Comment number 33.

    #29 - I hadn't forgotten about Giggs, and he's a fantastic footballer capable of influencing the outcome of any game. However, I'm not certain whether he is still fit enough to be getting forward to support Rooney in a 4-3-3 then track back to help out with Lennon or somebody else as a 4-5-1 when ManU lose possession. Can he do this for the full 90mins? I've not seen much of United this season (my sights are usually lower down the pyramid!) so I'll bow to you on that!

  • Comment number 34.

    Hav u 4goting dat sir alex ferguson is d master tatician, he knows how to stop any player he wishes to stop.

  • Comment number 35.

    Interesting analysis but I think the real battle will be in the middle with Fletcher & Carrick/Anderson trying to nullify the play of Van der Vaart & Modric. But if Bale has his day, Manchester United are in for a drubbing & Rafael a day to forget.
    ---------------------------------------------

    I think this sums up the match perfectly. The ebb and flow game won't be dictated by what happens on the flanks but in the middle of the park... however, i think it's going to be from the flanks where the game is won and lost. (if that makes sense - it does in my head. Nitpickers - fill your boots)

  • Comment number 36.

    Hav u 4goting dat sir alex ferguson is d master tatician, he knows how to stop any player he wishes to stop.
    -------------------------------

    I think Messi would disagree with that.

  • Comment number 37.

    Raphael is indeed a talent, but i often worry that a red mist will descend and he will get sent off. This is of course the naivety of youth and he will learn to control that as he matures (i hope). I do wonder how they know that United are not playing RAphael in one half then getting his kid brother to where Raphael's shirt for the second half.....

    Bale is of course a wonderful player, and someone who i would love to see playing for Man Utd as he seems to have it all; boundless energy, pace, great final ball and can finish. He also seemingly has less ego than most superstars these days, i personally i like that; a footballer who focuses on playing football!

    Bale seemingly was nullified in the OT match by being made to come inside rather than bursting down the flank, once that happened a lot of his impact was taken away. That is what needs to happen again on Sunday. I think we got the tactics spot on at OT, but whether this can be done at WHL i am not so sure.

    I am struggling to see Utd winning the game to be honest, but i would defintely be happy with a draw to keep that unbeaten record going.

  • Comment number 38.

    Rafael gave Bale a lesson at Old Trafford and I expect much the same at White Hart Lane. Van der Vaart has been the real class act in attack for Tottenham this season and if United can keep him quiet I would expect United to nick a result

    - - - - - -

    Rafael did play well at OT.....but you'd expect that, you are, afterall, Manchetser United and not many turn up and turn you over. He also had Park in front of him, which made his life easier as he puts a shift in everytime. Not sure who will fill that role at WHL.

    What was also obvious from that game was that United were very concerned with the threat of Spurs. Rafael barely got forward at all, the game was even. The first goal was a set piece and the second was madness. With 30 minutes left, Berba was taken off and a midfielder added.

    The game could have easily been a stalemate, and on balance it would not have been an undeserved point for Spurs if it had ended a draw.

    So in my opinion, Rafael's performance was part of a disciplined defensive effort by the whole team, and not just his own genius in keeping Bale relatively quiet (as was Neville's when Bale was regularly double or trippled marked)

    As i said already, who will be the disciplined one in front of Rafael at the weekend, and similarly on the right with Lennon vs Evra. A 433/451 with Rooney & nani coming from wide will require them to pitch in and help defend, or leave the RB/LB exposed which will inturn drag either CM or CBs out of position to cover, leaving space in field.

  • Comment number 39.

    Good technical article. ManU are a very resourceful side after years of experience of palying CL football and winning trophies. Spurs are novices in that respect as they yet to grasp waht it takes to win great matches. While I'm full of admiration the way they palyed against Inter Milan and others in their group, there is a little bit of the old Cameroon World Cup effect. Let's have a go attitude and see what happens?

    ManU are nothing if not resilient. They set their stall out to win, intimidate and bully. You don't have a zero on the losses side of your record in the PL by being benevolent. This is apparently their poor season. Ssshh! Spurs should recall when under Hoddle's charge, they were 3-1 up at halftime at WHL and ended up losing 3-5 at full time. If that'not a salutory lesson than I don't know what is. ManU are consummate professionals and while Spurs are having a splendid year, they could learn a lot from them.

    Lots of talk about on Spurs day they can beat anyone. Well on Sunday it is their day to prove that point. One has to go back to 2000-01 season on the last day when again under Hoddle's charge and the title in the bag for ManU that Spurs won 3-1. Spurs need to replicate it now when it matters. A win would truly be a great fillip for their season.

  • Comment number 40.

    Harry has spent more than most managers since his arrival with the exception of Mancini of course. Spurs have have always had a decent team but now they have greater numbers of quality players. The only problem is that they traditionally roll over for United and Harry is afraid of Ferguson. This one is going to be another gift.

  • Comment number 41.

    34. At 3:35pm on 14 Jan 2011, Kazola1 wrote:
    Hav u 4goting dat sir alex ferguson is d master tatician, he knows how to stop any player he wishes to stop.


    Did you text 'dat' in?

  • Comment number 42.

    But if Bale has his day, Manchester United are in for a drubbing & Rafael a day to forget.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Not necessarily. Bale had his best day yet against Inter in the San Siro but Spurs still lost.

  • Comment number 43.

    A draw would be a good result, but I think we've had too many 'good' results away from Home this season and not enough 'Great' results.

    Tactically I think Fergie has it over redknapp, but I think for the first time in a long time Fergie will adjust his tactics to negate Spurs rather than doing his own thing and let Spurs worry about us.

    The most important players on Sunday will be Evra, Rafael and Carrick.

    Stopping Lennon and Bale getting behind the fullbacks and not allowing Modric and VDV space or time to dictate the play will give us a great chance. I think we'll go 4-5-1 with Rooney on the left and Berbs up top on his own.

  • Comment number 44.

    A few of you Man Utd fans seem to be mentioning Park. While I particularly like him, he is away playing on the Asian Cup.

    Could be a bit of a loss. Is pretty under-rated (by others). I think the Man Utd boys know exactly how important he is to them.

  • Comment number 45.

    'Raphael is indeed a talent, but i often worry that a red mist will descend and he will get sent off. '

    He has only received one yellow card this season.

    Has only been sent off once in his United career.

    He certainly isn't as rash as the stereotype of him suggest, nowhere near.

  • Comment number 46.

    I don't think the title is right.
    Teams that allocate one player for Bale are doomed to be defeated if Spurs is on song. I don't think it was only Rafael marking him the first time round. And to say that if you nullify Bale and VDV is a bit off the mark. Spurs have other dangerous players in Modric, Lennon, Defoe, the tall forwards, etc.

    I'm expecting a cracker.

  • Comment number 47.

    Unfortunately, for all the good Tottenham have done the fact remains they, like Liverpool, are a two-man team.

    That's not to say that without Bale and van der Vaart they would fade rapidly into mid-table mediocrity in the same fashion Liverpool have done without their two main men on form, as there are plenty of good players in Crouch, Dawson, Gomes and King etc, who on their day can compete against any side, and the likes of Modric who are a cut above, and easily top-class European standard.

    However, without Tottenham's Welsh wizard and Dutch maestro, there is no way they would be equipped to challenge the top four in a serious way, something evidenced by season after season prior to last year where they lagged well behind (in terms of quality, if not points) the traditional 'Big Four'.

    So, before getting too carried away by Tottenham, remember we're still a developing club, and can still be very easily stifled by taking these two out of the game, which is something, although it pains me to say, is not a problem for the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal, Man City and, in general, Chelsea.

  • Comment number 48.

    42. At 3:46pm on 14 Jan 2011, We all follow United wrote:

    But if Bale has his day, Manchester United are in for a drubbing & Rafael a day to forget.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Not necessarily. Bale had his best day yet against Inter in the San Siro but Spurs still lost.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Bale had an equally good game against Inter at home and Spurs won 3-1. If my memory serves me correctly, he didn't just torment Maicon with pace at WHL, he produced some moments of skill which made the Brazilian look average.

  • Comment number 49.

    Unfortunately, for all the good Tottenham have done the fact remains they, like Liverpool, are a two-man team.
    -----------------------

    that is laughable - truly... we yo-yping between third and fourth in the league last season by the time Bale managed to force his way in to the team (January 2010) and VDV was still at Real Madrid.


  • Comment number 50.

    47. At 3:52pm on 14 Jan 2011, jps_7777 wrote:

    Unfortunately, for all the good Tottenham have done the fact remains they, like Liverpool, are a two-man team.

    ------------------------------------------

    You have just got to laugh at some comments.

    lol

    lol

    lol

    This is so far from the truth it is unbeleivable.

    Neither of the two players you mention are even our most important player, (Modric).

    He is the player that really makes us tick and also allows lesser ability players, (such as JJ and Palacios), to shine in his presence. God if only Thudd was fit we would be even better.

    I really think it's funny that people believe all the hype about Bale (and to a lesser extent VdV). Both brilliant, don't get me wrong, but certainly not the most important players at Spurs.

    Now to throw a bit of a bomb out there, what does anyone think about us signing Downing and playing Bale at full back again?

  • Comment number 51.

    47. At 3:52pm on 14 Jan 2011, jps_7777 wrote:
    Unfortunately, for all the good Tottenham have done the fact remains they, like Liverpool, are a two-man team.

    That's not to say that without Bale and van der Vaart they would fade rapidly into mid-table mediocrity in the same fashion Liverpool have done without their two main men on form, as there are plenty of good players in Crouch, Dawson, Gomes and King etc, who on their day can compete against any side, and the likes of Modric who are a cut above, and easily top-class European standard.

    However, without Tottenham's Welsh wizard and Dutch maestro, there is no way they would be equipped to challenge the top four in a serious way, something evidenced by season after season prior to last year where they lagged well behind (in terms of quality, if not points) the traditional 'Big Four'.

    So, before getting too carried away by Tottenham, remember we're still a developing club, and can still be very easily stifled by taking these two out of the game, which is something, although it pains me to say, is not a problem for the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal, Man City and, in general, Chelsea.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Not sure I agree with Spurs being a two man team. In no way am I suggesting that they are near to Arsenal, Chelsea, Utd and City, in terms of all round quality, but a two man team.

    With reference to previous season, Spurs had two consecutive fifth place finishes with Jol (one of which was only a point behind Arsenal - Lasagne - gate). They then sacked Jol and, as we know, employed the wrong man in Ramos. Harry took over a team bottom of the table and qualified for the UCL within 18 months without VDV and, for the most part, Bale. Now both are having an exceptional seasons and all of a sudden they are a two man team!

    The new 'big four' have got something the rest of the teams haven't got. Chelsea and City have more money than anyone and Arsenal and Chelsea have the two longest serving managers in the football league. Granted, all four have more quality but calling Spurs a two man team is an overstatement.

    Would Liverpool take Modric, Dawson, Defoe? - in a heartbeat!!

    Would Spurs take Meireles (sp), Agger and N'gog? - Doubtful!!

  • Comment number 52.

    Rafael is a typical Utd player, very talented and always gets away with fouling opponents.

  • Comment number 53.

    Oops - Should have said Arsenal and Utd have the two longest serving managers

  • Comment number 54.

    A really well constructed and almost scientific article, I hope King Harry reads it!

  • Comment number 55.

    Some good points on here and glad you like discussing the tactical details of a game like I do.
    Rich_owl you are right in saying that if right-backs facing Bale hold their positions it makes life easier, but what about when Bale is in the final third, or Spurs are breaking on the counter attack? There are many decisions to be made and you would suspect the likes of Phil Neville are well equipped to deal with Bale's various threats.
    In that game against Everton at White Hart Lane it was interesting that Bale came inside quite a bit when Seamus Coleman was following him, allowing space for Assou-Ekotto to run into on the wing. Unfortunately, the left-back didn't use the ball too well but it showed you Bale was thinking of different ways to combat Everton's right side.
    Corpusboy - Rafael looks like he is developing into some player. He had a good game against Liverpool last week I thought and in the match against Spurs at Old Trafford you could see he was concentrating on stopping Bale turning and getting a run on him.
    The Brazilian was pretty attack-minded to begin with in that game and curbed his runs when United went 1-0 up, which shows you he has a decent head on his shoulders and he's only 20 any road. His job is made harder by having Nani in front of him but I get the sense he likes the one-on-one duels and hopefully we'll be in for a cracker on Sunday. Like Jimbokav1971 says, the first goal will crucial.

  • Comment number 56.

    What's this? A football column on BBC discussing football?

    Interesting read.

  • Comment number 57.

    I am surprised at Harry's seeming lack of belief in the ability of this good Spurs side to beat United. I think this explains their performances against the big three, except when they go the extra mile against Arsenal. The first step to victory against Utd is to overcome the fear Sir Alex and his side put in the opposition. Harry was more confident talking of a victory when they faced Inter than he seems right now.

  • Comment number 58.

    Bale has been displaying some wonderful runs, this against good backs also. Rafael, can bve a good player, but when will the Ref's please s top all the arm pulling and tripping he does

  • Comment number 59.

    No team has been able to stop Bale without doubling up on him

    Oh and Bale destroyed Neville. That is why Neville had to resort to dirty tackles.

  • Comment number 60.

    #57, Redknapp isn't as delusional as fans, he realises United aren't just some lucky side that gets bailed out by refs, but are infact a tough opponent to break down and keep out.

    Spurs work is cut out, Redknapp is under no illusions.

  • Comment number 61.

    Bale had an equally good game against Inter at home and Spurs won 3-1. If my memory serves me correctly, he didn't just torment Maicon with pace at WHL, he produced some moments of skill which made the Brazilian look average.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Maicon has made his name as an attacking full-back, he's always been average defensively. I know he had a great game at WHL as well, i'm just answering a comment that said Spurs would definately win if Bale plays well. It'll be a great game and who wins is too close to call in my opinion.

  • Comment number 62.

    55. At 4:16pm on 14 Jan 2011, Alistair M - BBC Sport

    I think Nani deserves a bit more credit than he gets at times. He seems to be labelled as a full attack minded player when in reality he puts in a decent shift of protecting his right back. One of the things that has elevated his performances both last season and this, is his defensive work stifling forward runs from opposing full backs and not leaving either Evra or Rafael with a 1 v 2 situation.

    One of the things that has really allowed Rafael to florish is that we had no full recognised right back with both Brown and Neville injured for a long period. He came in and the potential was certainly there but he had a good run of consecutive games. Fabio on the other hand has been more unlucky in that he has suffered a number of injuries himself and Evra really seems ever present in the team.

  • Comment number 63.

    I aint no Spurs fan but if I was i'd be very concerned. Redknapp is obviously not happy with the kind of characters he has in his dressing room, and knows that his squad lack a winning mentality.

    This is why he has identified Ultra professional Beckham and P. Neville as players he'd like to bring into the club. This suggests to me that he fears that some players are not taking their professional duties as sportsmen as seriously as they should.

    Defoe, Crouch, King, Bentley, Huddlestone, Lennon, Jenas are all players with checkered lives in the public eye. Are these players undermining him?

  • Comment number 64.

    60. At 4:25pm on 14 Jan 2011, Kapnag wrote:

    #57, Redknapp isn't as delusional as fans, he realises United aren't just some lucky side that gets bailed out by refs, but are infact a tough opponent to break down and keep out.

    Spurs work is cut out, Redknapp is under no illusions.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    To question the most farcical goal ever awarded doesn;t make fans delusional. At OT, United probably did edge it. No Spurs fans I know are under any illusion that Utd will be bailed out by the ref. The last league game at WHL saw Scholes sent off early on and Spurs still lost. Great help the ref is!!!

  • Comment number 65.

    Both Bale and Rafael are the current best players in the premier league. If Spurs can get them playing excellent football. Then Spurs do have a chance of winning against Man Utd on Sunday.

    But I believe Man Utd will win this match on Sunday
    Man Utd cannot afford to draw or lose this match. They need to improve their away form. Another draw with just make their away form worse.

  • Comment number 66.

    Man Utd cannot afford to draw or lose this match.
    ------------------------------------------------

    If any team can afford to not when their next game, it's Man Utd.

    This game is far more important to Tottenham than to Man Utd... it's the difference between being solidly back in the title race or having to scrap for fourth til the end of teh season more than likely.

  • Comment number 67.

    Good article, but it ignores one of the main causes of Neville's success against Bale, namely kicking him all game and the referee allowing it to go largely unpunished.

  • Comment number 68.

    ' always gets away with fouling opponents.'

    any conclusive evidence for that or is it just the usual neanderthal logic?

  • Comment number 69.

    Webb of deceit - not sure Neville resorted to dirty tackles to stop bale, it looked like he was using all his experience to put him off: an early reducer, a little nudge on other occasions, and then successfully working in tandem with Coleman. Classic defending I'd say and fascinating to watch

    We all follow united - you're right in saying Maicon is renowned for his attacking qualities. But under Mourinho he was awesome as a defender when they won the Champions League. As long as the gaffer tells him what he wants, I am sure Maicon could do anything. Great player.

  • Comment number 70.

    63. At 4:31pm on 14 Jan 2011, tomefccam wrote:

    I aint no Spurs fan but if I was i'd be very concerned. Redknapp is obviously not happy with the kind of characters he has in his dressing room, and knows that his squad lack a winning mentality.

    This is why he has identified Ultra professional Beckham and P. Neville as players he'd like to bring into the club. This suggests to me that he fears that some players are not taking their professional duties as sportsmen as seriously as they should.

    Defoe, Crouch, King, Bentley, Huddlestone, Lennon, Jenas are all players with checkered lives in the public eye. Are these players undermining him?


    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    City signed Viera, Villa signed Pires, Even Owen to Man Utd, Davids to Palace - so clubs only bring experienced players in becuase the rest of the team are undermining the manager.

    And listing a group of professional footballers who you suggest have had checkered lives is like me listing Cod, Mackerel, Salmon and Trout and saying these are all fish that have ever been in water!!!!

    How can there be a dressing room problem when Spurs are currently fourth and in the last 16 of the UCL? If you want to see evidence of a dressing room problem, look no further than Chelsea!!

  • Comment number 71.

    Bale is a fad, like leg warmers. An excuse to explain Tottenham's success, i believe its the other way around though, the strength of the surrounding players allows bale to exploit his speed etc and look like a ronald beater, honestly i think he's average, that Tottenham squad would make my Gran look talented on the left wing.

  • Comment number 72.

    @ 20.

    If you think that an away game in the San Siro on a wednesday night, when Spurs had 10 men for 80 minutes and Bale ran and ran and ran until the last minute, scoring a sensational hat trick, followed by a lunchtime Saturday kick off vs Everton will not leave Bale (and the rest of the team) jaded, then you are crazy.

    The whole Spurs team that day were jaded after their midweek efforts....Bale gave more than most in that Inter game, was not at his best vs Everton when he was double and tripple marked....

    Get some realism!

  • Comment number 73.

    66. At 4:38pm on 14 Jan 2011, The Good Dr_M wrote:

    Man Utd cannot afford to draw or lose this match.
    ------------------------------------------------

    If any team can afford to not when their next game, it's Man Utd.

    This game is far more important to Tottenham than to Man Utd... it's the difference between being solidly back in the title race or having to scrap for fourth til the end of teh season more than likely.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Absolutely. I expect the other three title hopefuls to win this weekend. A win for Chelsea would see them leap frog Spurs before this game even takes place. Anything but a win for Spurs will make it extremely difficult to even finish fourth, because I can't see Chelsea being as bad as they have been forever.

  • Comment number 74.

    At last Rafael is starting to get plaudits for his displays this season. He has been one of our top performers week in week out.

  • Comment number 75.

    It's likely the game will be won and lost with the attacking elements on either side. Nani and Bale have been ear-marked as the defining factors for both sides - but in all reality, there are so many players on show that are capable of game defining moments that it's a very difficult game to call.

    It's going to be anything but a straigh-forward tie and it wouldn't surprise me if Nani or Bale are BOTH kept quiet - as there will be a strong emphasis on both sides to earmark those players for 'special treatment'.

    You then look at the midfield and you're left to question whether the battling midfield of Utd can choke out the creativity in Tottenham's.

    We can hypothisize all day long, but I can see this game being won on one moment of brilliance, be it Modric, VDV, Bale, Nani, Berbs or Rooney. The two teams are so aware of what each other are facing that I can't see the managers once the players take the field having too much of a say after that.

    The game will be won by the players, not the tactics.

  • Comment number 76.

    We all follow united - you're right in saying Maicon is renowned for his attacking qualities. But under Mourinho he was awesome as a defender when they won the Champions League. As long as the gaffer tells him what he wants, I am sure Maicon could do anything. Great player.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm not saying he's not a great player, just that his defensive game is not great. In my eyes anyway that was shown in the game at White Hart Lane. Maicon had been roasted by Bale the week earlier so obviously needed to change his approach to playing him i.e get tight to him as Rafael and Phil Neville did to great effect but didn't and got skinned again. That shows to me a lack of defensive know how. Not to take anything away from Bale though, he's a great player.

  • Comment number 77.

    It's a good analysis on Bale, but Spurs are not Bale only. Lennon is as dangerous, on the other side. What I know from now is that, by the end of the match, both teams will have given everything they have, the match will have been played in the length and the width of the team and that both teams are fresh for the game.

    I don't think United will try to nullify individuals. United's approach in such matches tends to be ensuring the opponent's midfielders will not be given time and space to play their game and United have rehearsed this countless times, against strong opposition. Of course, Bale and Lennon will be denied space. While Pavlyuchenko and Crouch have enough aerial power, Ferdinand and Vidic can deal with that - they've gone through much more dangerous forwards.

    In matches like this, I want a fit Park and I wish Valencia was back, but United have had worse days, injury-wise.

    There is no way SAF will play for the draw. This is a key match for United as much as it is for Spurs. United will play to win it and it is well into their capabilities.

    Overall, even defeat wouldn't be critically bad for United, but win the match and see Wenger, Ancelotti and Mancini hiding their real thoughts about the rest of the season. If United manage to win it, they'll have a strong psychological advantage, until the next so called big match.
    I'm confident about Sunday.

  • Comment number 78.

    United don't need to win.

    Fergie is very aware of Spurs attacking threat and the atmosphere that will be driving Spurs on.

    He also knows a defaet will put Spurs and teh rest back in the game, giving them all a huge lift.

    For this reason he will turn up with as defensive a setup as possible, looking to strike on the counter and stiffle the midfield (who feed our wings).

    Park will be a miss because without him neither full back will get much protection....probably Rooney and Nani as the wide players in a 451/433



  • Comment number 79.

    I'll have to stick my neck out and say i see a 3-1 to Spurs.
    COYS

  • Comment number 80.

    76. At 5:00pm on 14 Jan 2011, We all follow United wrote:
    We all follow united - you're right in saying Maicon is renowned for his attacking qualities. But under Mourinho he was awesome as a defender when they won the Champions League. As long as the gaffer tells him what he wants, I am sure Maicon could do anything. Great player.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm not saying he's not a great player, just that his defensive game is not great. In my eyes anyway that was shown in the game at White Hart Lane. Maicon had been roasted by Bale the week earlier so obviously needed to change his approach to playing him i.e get tight to him as Rafael and Phil Neville did to great effect but didn't and got skinned again. That shows to me a lack of defensive know how. Not to take anything away from Bale though, he's a great player.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think the point is as to whether it was Maicon's decision making or the overall team moral under Benitez, who has was sacked after a woeful run of form. The same player was defensively sound in both legs when Inter, under Mourinho, eliminated Barca who are anything but conservative in their attacking play.

    You don't go from a treble winning player to mediocre overnight. To me, Maicon looked like a player playing with zero confidence in the UCL this season. Much like most of the Inter team, to be honest.

  • Comment number 81.

    This is one of many interesting battles on Sunday. Rafael has been excellent this season, and is playing with a maturity that belies his age. When you think some of the big games he has had against some of the best wide midfielders in the world it just shows the potential he has.

    Like others have mentioned though, amazing as Bale has been there are plenty of other threats in that Spurs mid and it is going to be a very tough game. As a United fan I can't help but feel a pang of envy evertime I see VdV play for Spurs and thinking we missed a trick there, best PL signing for a long time.

    Hopefully the game lives up to the potential, and we see a 0-5 to United ;) more likely a score draw though.

  • Comment number 82.

    I'm not sure that I agree with the comments that Nevill kicked Bale off the pitch, (remembering I am a Spurs fan here before you kick off guys).

    There is no doubting that that style of play is an important asset in the make-up of Neville, but just as in it's only off-side if the assistant pits his flag up, and it't only over the line if the ref says it is over the line, well it is only a foul and a booking if the ref actually says it is a foul and produces a yellow card.

    I must admit that I am a long-term admirer of the younger Neville and I think Moyles, (who is an excellent manager by the way), would be absolutely start staring bonkers to let him go whatever the price.

    For a long time Spurs have been viewed by others as a nit of a soft touch at times, (most of the time actually), and it is only recently that we seem to have a different attitude about putting a foot in or even going toe-to toe with some of the big-boys and refusing to back down.

    VdV has a bit of a "streak" in him and Palacios and Pav and Assou-Ekotto and Hutton also like to stick it in on occasion but it seems more than that and something that rather than a mind-set of individual players seems to be a coached and trained and almost tutoured mindset which has come from the back-room staff at Spurs.

    I think for a long time players at Spurs have been satisfied with playing nice attractive football and doing a bit in the Cups and really just being in the 2nd tier of English clubs. That seems to have changed pver the last few years though and as much as the standard of play and the abilities of individual players has improved, it also seems if there has been a change in mentality at Spurs. I'm not sure that you would call it ba "winning" mentality like they have at man Utd or like they had at Liverpool when I was a kid, but it's certainly getting there and moving in the right direction. I supose I would call it a "Competetive" mentality, which is a significant improvement from the attitude that Spurs has shown over the last 20-30 years.

    I think Spurs are certainly beatable on any day. Everton beat us recently and Man Utd might well beat us on Sunday, but the difference now is that you at least have to compete with Spurs and have to be good to win. I have seen us lose many mant mant games over the years when the opposition were not good, (not anywhere near good). They were just better than us. Now though, if you want to beat Spurs I think you have to play well, and then hope that you are able to stop Spurs playing just as well.

    This is quite a new feeling as a Spurs fan and I am liking it.

    Part of it is about individual characters,

  • Comment number 83.

    "Decent football blog on the BBC website" shocker

    What no McNulty to tell us what the tabloids are banging on about?


    Anyhoo, Rafael is a fine player and his own worst critic as well. His improvement is often exaggerated in my opinion, and those who used to slate his positioning or his decision-making have mostly shut up these days as the youngster's physique has allowed him to start dominating his direct opponent more and his options have improved as a result. He can take anyone on anyway they want to, but the one thing he can't do with Bale is give him a head start.

    The blog rightly mentions Fletcher as Rafael's ally at OT and especially given the, admittedly limited, Scot's excellent energetic display in United's 10-man defeat of Spurs in the corresponding fixture last season I imagine Fergie will include him specifically to help try and contain the threat of Bale and VDV.

    It seems highly unlikely that United will leave Rooney out if fit, so I'd expect him to pull wider allowing Giggs to be the link between Berbatov and the midfield two of Fletcher and either of Carrick or Anderson. United's options are one of the biggest reasons for their dominant position in the title race, and their squad, ridiculously cited as a weakness by some in the first half of the season, has recently begun once more to be rightly recognised as their key strength. This match gives Fergie the chance to highlight that again, but it is a tricky call exactly which of Carrick and Anderson to leave out if he is to use Fletcher to support the Nani/Rafael combination.

  • Comment number 84.

    @ Alistair M - BBC Sport

    This blog is a refreshing change, really. It's nice to read an analysis of an important match to be played, including graphics showing where key players operate and comparisons, like this one between Bale and Maicon.

    It would be nice if this carries on and includes post match analysis of this sort.

    Great work!

  • Comment number 85.

    I am agreeing with every one here that Rafael can help manchester utd on the right back but the problem is his tackles on such a key player like Bale.

  • Comment number 86.

    As a United fan I think that this article places far too emphasis on the battle between Bal and Rafael. Undoubtedly one of the players of the season, Gaeth Bale was effectively nullified by Rafael who has consistently impressed me with his performances. He has the natural talent and is only now beginning to show us why SAF brought him to OT. He had Ribery in his back pocket before his silly sending off last year and since then has much improved. The contest I'd be more interest in seeing is down the other flank. Looking back on previous encounters between the two sides, Aaron Lennon has consistently go the better of Patrice Evra. Despite being one of the best left backs in the world, Aaron Lennon appears to be a player that evra just cannot get a hold of.

  • Comment number 87.

    post 45 Giggsy -

    Yes i agree he [Rafael] doesnt have that rep, but take the weekend game against Liverpool as an example, there was a moment when i thought he was going to go all in on Mereiles and cause himself a problem which Gerrard found himself in a few moments later. All i am saying is there are moments when he goes in rather rashly, but i think it is something he will learn to control as he matures.

    I dont agree that Lennon is as dangerous on the other wing as Bale. Yes he has blistering pace which can skin most defenders, but more often than not his final ball/shot are less impressive. If he could improve that area of his game then it would be a massive boost to Spurs and to England.

    IMO the game will revolve around how well United deal with VDV and Bale - they did this very well at OT but replicating it in the cauldron of WHL is another matter. Fingers crossed!

  • Comment number 88.

    I like Bale, I think he's a decent player but he is still young which means he is also inconsistent. However, I don't recall United having to double up against Bale at least not when he was running the left wing. I do recall him coming inside and coming up against Fletcher and being similarly stifled.

    That said, Spurs were missing Dawson, Crouch and Defoe so were probably missing some key players and options on the bench.

    For me Rafael has been the most improved player for us this season. He has become stronger and more aware but crucially he has learned to play well in partnership with Rio meaning defensively we are solid down the right. Bale may well consider switching to the right but then this might stifle Lennon.

    Ultimately I can see us winning this but it could easily go either way. I hope we go for the win though because White Hart Lane has a superb pitch and I have seen some fantastic football played there in this fixture.

  • Comment number 89.

    #85 Rafael is not a dirty player but he is a good defender so he can expect some solid challenges.

  • Comment number 90.

  • Comment number 91.

    @ 88 United Dreamer,

    if you have a look at some video of the match, you'll notice perhaps that Bale was being denied space. Alan Hansen and Dixon made some good points, if I recollect correctly, at MOTD. They had said that the best way to stop him being such a danger is to deny him space. And, since, I pay attention to how defenders close him down. Hansen and Dixon were right, of course.

    They also said, though, that Bale and Spurs have to get used to that approach and change themselves accordingly. We'll be able to see on Sunday what improvements they've done on this, as I don't expect any team to give him the space that Inter Milan gave him. It was a crucial error by Rafa.

  • Comment number 92.

    @59

    I think it's a very logical tactic. These games are very important to the clubs that take part. The Premiership is the pinnacle of British football. Every game has to be taken seriously.

    So if a player is consistantly performing well, scoring goals and making defenders look like fools which has the knock-on effect of devaluing the defenders so the club makes less money when they sell them...

    What's the best course of action?

    Take them on or be aggressive and hope to injure them so they play less effectively?

    Just look at Rooney, a world class striker last season, he got injured and now he has lost his clinical edge.

  • Comment number 93.

    Nice analysis of the said previous fixtures from this season.

    I think Spurs should take a wiser approach to the game by working out how to expose the other flank: if Fergie and co are that bothered by Bale on one side, there needs to be more focus on the United left from Spurs. Lennon (if fit) has a big role to play against Evra, and will need support from whoever is behind him if they want to cause United problems (which is why I'd hope Hutton is playing rather than Corluka).

    A much more key part of the fixture lies in Modric and his midfield partner against United's pairing. With Modric in there, the ball retention should be a lot better than if, say, Jenas or Huddlestone were playing. I'd be delighted to see Spurs come out on top, but I can't see it all going so smoothly.

  • Comment number 94.

    "A much more key part of the fixture lies in Modric and his midfield partner against United's pairing. With Modric in there, the ball retention should be a lot better than if, say, Jenas or Huddlestone were playing. "

    That's a better way to say it. Naming VDV as main threat along with Bale is unfair on him as he's one of the most vibrant, influencial playmakers in the premiership.

  • Comment number 95.

    The idea that Tottenham are a "2 man team" is absolutely absurd. Modric is their key man in my opinion and they have quality all through the side. Im an Arsenal fan and am happy to admit that we are more of a 2 man team than Spurs are.

    Good blog on the whole bar the first sentence. Just an utterly pointless statement, you might as well start with teams win when the opposition don't score. Has any team this season been able to nulify the threat of both Bale and Van der Vaart anyway?

    http://jackbradshaw.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 96.

    Who said Spurs are a two man team? :)

  • Comment number 97.

    If Spurs start with Jenas, we have lost.
    I really wish Harry would buy a decent left winger to put in front of Bale, that way we would be able to get rid of our weak link (Assou-Ekotto) and have Bale at left back, which let us not forget is his natural position. As good a winger as he has been recently, I personally want to see Bale playing regularly and gaining experience at left back, learning the defensive side of the game because he already seems to have the attacking side sussed.

  • Comment number 98.

    Rafael kept Bale quiet at Old Trafford. He was one of out best players on that game and all season in general. Rafael has had a good record against skillful players. He seems to know how to handle them. He faced Robinho, Ronaldinho, Arshavin, Bale, Malouda etc and young Rafa came out on top. In my opinion he is the best right back in Europe this season alongside Alves from Barca.

  • Comment number 99.

    Bale sure to run rings around rafael
    Maicon was considered the best right back in the world and look what Bale did to him?

  • Comment number 100.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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