“O, pardon me that I descend so low,
To show the line and the predicament
Wherein you range under this subtle king”
Henry Percy, King Henry IV, Part I
I’m not sure Louis Van Gaal is so subtle, but the original Spur nailed this Sunday’s coming clash. United have fallen into a predicament, and their line—the back four—appears woefully low. The shocking defending tonight, culminating in Valencia’s soft back pass that Welbeck easily converted into the game winner was matched only by the repeated diving from the likes of DiMaria and Januzaj that Michael Oliver, to his credit, would not be fooled by. Playing for a Top Four finish is not supposed to be part of the bargain at the Theater of Dreams, but that’s all 250 million pounds sterling has purchased, hasn’t it? LVG looked a bit lost last night as if he has tired of wrestling the bear for eight months and now may just let the beast have its way.
And enter our Lilywhites. Pochettino and Co. have rebounded quite nicely from the double disappointment inflicted by first Fiorentina and then Chelsea, as the wins over Swansea and QPR, while hardly error-free, showed a squad with energy and commitment—still pushing for that one remaining goal. It is here that we should note—at the risk of inspiring every jinx known to man—that we have not lost to United for three seasons. Thanks to the heroics of Bale, Adebayor, Dempsey, Walker, Sandro, Lloris and Eriksen, the last five contests resulted either in a White Hart Lane draw or an Old Trafford victory. Not once in those five games were United clearly the better side— the draw last season could easily have been a win barring a Kyle Walker muff and Hugo Lloris penalty; the draw this season was fair; the twin victories in Manchester were both stirring and deserved.
Off of last night’s performance, I can’t see Spurs being denied a goal—and if things break right, two. Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Valencia and Co. are simply ragged—they remind me of a certain back four we get to observe on a regular basis—and will be exposed by Kane, Eriksen, Townsend or whomever on Sunday. Without DiMaria—sure to earn a suspension—the Red Devils attack turns into “Long Ball United”, as Big Sam aptly put it after a game yours truly attended a month ago—Vertonghen and Dier will have ample time to prepare and train for those chipped balls. After all, it was pretty much 90% of the QPR attack Saturday to little avail, particularly after a somewhat shaky opening for Spurs. Can Van Gaal rally this Rolls-Royce of a side to care about dispatching another London side—after a week when the howling will probably reach fever pitch?
On Sunday we will find out… But we have our mark now. Arsenal have the easiest run-in of our two main competitors—a team which must play a FA cup replay and possibly two more Cup ties, plus another with the toughest remaining schedule are the real targets. A victory on Sunday would do wonders. So as Hotspur concluded his first scene in the play that gave our club its moniker: “O, let the hours be short till fields and blows and groans applaud our sport!” Sunday can’t come too soon.
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