Ahead of one of the biggest games of the Premier League season so far, Sportsvibe caught up with Derek Rae, ESPN football commentator, to find out his views on the clash at Old Trafford tomorrow between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Derek offered us his views on Spurs' new manager and players, how he sees Alex Ferguson fitting in his star players, and ultimately whether Spurs can end their 23 year win drought at the Theatre of Dreams.
How do you think Andre Villas-Boas is getting on at Tottenham and how do you see the game going tomorrow?
"Tottenham, even though they haven’t had the best of starts, I think there are green shoots there. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Spurs on their American tour and I think AVB has got a better opportunity for himself at Spurs compared to the one he had at Chelsea. I think he was onto a hiding for nothing at Chelsea given there were a lot of senior players who were a very strong group and I think at Spurs there is more scope for him to put his own stamp on it."
"I think we have seen signs that he’s putting his stamp on it but obviously Spurs want to be reminded of 1989 when they last won at Old Trafford and it’s never easy going there. I expect this to be a pretty open game and Spurs should have an opportunity. Manchester United for me have started okay but they have been vulnerable in two or three matches. They were maybe a bit fortunate to pick up the three points last week against Liverpool and they got lucky against Fulham but they are United and they do often find a way so I think it will be a fascinating contest tomorrow."
With the loss of Nemanja Vidic and the lack of other centre backs, how do you see Alex Ferguson managing the situation?
"When you look at somebody like Nemanja Vidic, you almost take him for granted until he’s injured. I think it will be interesting to see what Alex Ferguson does. All the way back to his Aberdeen days, I’ve seen Fergie pull rabbits out of the hat but having said that I’m not quite sure what that will be in this case. Vidic has been one of the best defenders in the Premier League’s history and Spurs will certainly look at that and see that as an opportunity."
Wayne Rooney looks set to feature after being out with a leg injury. How big is that for Manchester United?
"In a word, it’s massive! Wayne Rooney has his detractors from areas not to do with football but he’s a smashing footballer and someone who can carry a team on his shoulders when he’s fit and in the mood. From a neutral point of view we hope that Rooney is raring to go and can make that impact in a game like this as it is certainly one of the more attractive games of the early part of the season."
New signing Shinji Kagawa has settled in well at Manchester United. Can you see Kagawa, Rooney, and Robin Van Persie all playing together?
"When you have Robin Van Persie in your ranks, you want to start him and when you have Rooney in your ranks, you want to start him. I saw quite a lot of Shinji Kagawa when he was at Borussia Dortmund and when you’ve got him then you want to have him in your side but you wonder if, in a game like this, all three can fit in. I think that is the question for Ferguson in terms of how he does set it up. I don’t know if Kagawa might be the one who sits this out because I’m just not sure about the three and how you would configure it. Kagawa was a player who came from nowhere really at Dortmund, without much fanfare or a huge transfer fee, and he took German football by storm until he suffered an injury and he’s trying to do the same thing at Manchester United. That being said, I can see it being Rooney playing just off Van Persie in this game."
Jermaine Defoe has been in good form so far this season. Do you think there are any specific reasons for this?
"I’ve always got the feeling with Jermaine Defoe that he’s a confidence type player and I think a lot of the best strikers are like that and when their tails are up then the ball seems to go in the back of the net. I think over the years we just haven’t realised quite how good Defoe is. Perhaps it’s because he is English and we expect the best strikers to be foreign! I think he’s a fantastic finisher and a fantastic footballer but he’s also had to deal with personal tragedy recently and he’s bounced back from that and I think it’s great to see. Coming up against a Manchester United side without Vidic and with a defence that isn’t at its strongest, Defoe is the sort of player who could take advantage of that."
There have been some new players at Spurs. Some have settled well, like Jan Vertonghen and others, like Hugo Lloris have struggled. What do you put this down to?
"I think Jan Vertonghen comes from a very good football school, having learned his trade at the Ajax school. One thing you see from the players who have spent any period of time at Ajax is that they carry themselves properly as footballers and they are fearless in terms of their technical ability. I know Vertonghen has wanted to move to English football for a while and I think he probably saw Spurs as the right fit for him. It’s been no great surprise that he’s settled in well and the good thing about the Belgian is that you can put him at full back or centre back so you can slot him in anywhere and he will do a good job."
"Hugo Lloris on the other hand, I feel a bit for him. I think he’s certainly in the top 10 goalkeepers in the world. Should Tottenham have bought him in the first place? You can certainly wonder why if they are happy with Brad Friedel, Carlo Cudicini, and Heurelho Gomes but I think that if the French international number one comes to Spurs then he’s entitled to think he’s coming in to be the man between the posts. It’s nothing against Friedel who continues to defy the odds in terms of his age and he’s been a great Premier League goalkeeper but I don’t really see the point of forking out for somebody like Lloris to then see him sitting on the pitch."
Finally, a prediction for the game?
"I certainly think there will be goals in this but I don’t think I can be as bold as to say that Spurs will end the Old Trafford jinx! I think Spurs can definitely get something from the game and so I’m going for a 1-1 draw."
Derek Rae was speaking ahead of ESPN's live and exclusive coverage of Man United v Spurs at 4.30pm on Saturday. Visit espn.co.uk/tv for details.