Pitchside

Why Man United will be praying Van Persie is fit to face Spurs

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How Tottenham go about responding to last Sunday's Premier League mauling at Manchester City is beyond the best of us.

That said, it is not up to anyone but under-fire manager Andre Villas-Boas to know. And while Tottenham's second string might have beaten Tromso in the Europa League on Thursday night, victory against a struggling Norwegian side will mean nothing when up against one of the best sides in the Premier League.

This weekend, the Portuguese manager returns to White Hart Lane, which should provide home comforts, but having recently criticised the support in N17, if things start to go wrong the atmosphere could turn nasty.

And against a Manchester United side that Spurs haven't beaten at home in 12 meetings, Villas-Boas will be up against it. That run dates back to May 2001, when Willem Korsten and Les Ferdinand were the scorers for Spurs in a team that paled in comparison to their star-studded team of today. Despite the many millions spent in the summer, they have scored only nine goals all season, and three of those were penalties, making their tally of six from open play the joint-lowest in the top flight.

Spurs can take solace from the fact that their only victory over United in their 28 meetings since that aforementioned match came last season at Old Trafford, when goals from Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey (two) saw the Lilywhites triumph 3-2. Then later in the season when United visited north London, Spurs dominated, attempting 25 shots to the Red Devils' five, picking up a point thanks to another goal from Dempsey.

However, Spurs have found it tough replacing the goals of Bale and the USA international, with midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson proving their biggest threat - penalties aside - this season. Creating shooting opportunities hasn't been the issue; Spurs have had more shots (219) than any other team in the Premier League this season. However, as with the draw with United last season, finishing their chances off has been the real worry.

One player who rarely has difficulty scoring goals, and netted in that match at White Hart Lane is Robin van Persie. David Moyes will be desperately keen to have his talismanic forward back from a groin injury this weekend given the Dutchman's incredible form and recent record against his former side Arsenal's fierce rivals.

Van Persie has netted 14 goals in his last 16 Premier League starts and also has five goals and three assists in his last six league starts against Tottenham. It would be a real boost to United should he be back in the line-up, and Spurs will have to be particularly wary of his movement across the backline having been so brutally exposed by City last weekend.

Moreover, while United were below par in their draw with Cardiff last weekend, they bounced back to unbelievable effect in midweek, recording their best ever away win in the Champions League by beating the Bundesliga's second-placed team, Bayer Leverkusen, 5-0.

In that clash, they were again without Van Persie, but Wayne Rooney stepped up to the plate, dropping deep to collect possession and leave space for the likes of Nani and Antonio Valencia to exploit in behind the Leverkusen defence. Ryan Giggs continues to defy his advancing years, completing 90 minutes only days before his 40th birthday, also picking up an assist with a perfectly weighted ball for Nani to run onto and complete the rout. While United will be stronger with Van Persie back, they proved in midweek that they are still a formidable outfit with him missing.

While a Tottenham defeat will pile yet more pressure on Andre Villas-Boas, he might even benefit from the fact that most will expect his side to lose. If his side can take a point or more from this game, things will be looking a great deal rosier with the busy Christmas period approaching. Nonetheless, avoiding defeat against Manchester United has proven too difficult a task for Spurs more often than not in recent years, and could be beyond them again this weekend.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Alistair Tweedale - @alitweedale

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