Manchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur – Carling Cup Final Preview

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Manchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur
Stadium: Wembley Stadium, London, England
Competition: Carling Cup Final
Date: 1 March 2009
Kickoff: 15:00 GMT, 10:00 ET

Manchester United’s dream of an unprecedented Quadruple could begin or end with their trip to Wembley Stadium to contest the 2008-2009 Carling Cup. Standing in their way will be the defending Carling Cup champions Tottenham Hotspur.

Unlike in previous years, Manchester United have consistently fielded strong (albeit younger) teams in this competition, and as such, there will be many established first-team players who could end up getting shut out of the lineup for the Final. Sir Alex Ferguson has said that he will give preference to the players who helped get United into the Final, and he’s already indicated that midfielder Darron Gibson will start. Additionally, anything short of a starting role for Carlos Tevez, the joint leading scorer in the competition with Tottenham’s Roman Pavlyuchenko, will surely result in a massive uproar that could distract the club and seal Tevez’s departure in the summer.

You wouldn’t expect Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Vidic, or Rio Ferdinand to miss out, which only diminishes the number of spots available to the rest of the team. Additionally, Ferguson has tipped Gary Neville to lead the club out of the tunnel, which can’t make Rafael (who has started every single Carling Cup match thus far) happy. Record-breaking goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar, who hasn’t started a single Carling Cup match, could also lose out to Ben Foster, while Dimitar Berbatov could find himself on the bench against his old club. Clearly, with a club as deep and as talented as United, it’s inevitable that a lot of excellent players will have to miss out. However, the players at Manchester United know that the goal is not to win one, two, or even three trophies. The goal will be to win four. And that will, no doubt, keep the team focused no matter who makes the squad for this match.

Harry Redknapp, however, could have the opposite problem as he’s hoping to find enough quality to give United a good run for their money. Defender Ledley King is still a question mark as a result of nagging knee and hamstring injuries. Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe remains a long-term absence due to injury, new acquisitions Robbie Keane, Wilton Palacios, Carlo Cudicini, and Pascal Chimbonda are all cup-tied, and Frazier Campbell is ineligible to play per the terms of his loan agreement from Manchester United. As such, Redknapp will have no choice but to play out-of-favor Darren Bent up front with Pavlyuchenko while praying that no one gets hurt against Hull City on Monday.

Tottenham has a UEFA Cup tie in midweek against Shakhtar Donetsk, but have all but conceded defeat to the Ukraine side that earned a 2-0 victory against Spurs last week. Harry Redknapp showed his intentions by resting Luka Modric, Jonathan Woodgate, Wilson Palacios, Aaron Lennon and Carlo Cudicini for that loss, and it’s very likely that he’ll do the same thing for the return trip to Donetsk. For Redknapp, the priorities are retaining the Carling Cup and avoiding relegation. It’s a far cry, indeed, from Sir Alex Ferguson’s lofty ambitions.

So, Tottenham will be a massive underdog going into this match. Do they have a chance at winning? Of course they do. Anything can happen in a cup final, and if it goes to a shoot-out, they have one of the best shot-stoppers available in Heurelho Gomes. Also, remember that Tottenham was a big underdog against Chelsea in last season’s Carling Cup Final, and we all remember how that one turned out. Plus, Harry Redknapp knows a little something about winning at Wembley, having won the F.A. Cup with Portsmouth last season (and eliminating Manchester United along the way, at Old Trafford no less).

Additionally, Tottenham played Manchester United tough when they met in the Premier League earlier in the season. They were also leading United, at Old Trafford, during their fourth-round F.A. Cup tie before United stormed back behind two quick goals from Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov. If Spurs play the way they’re capable of playing, then it could be a long night for Manchester United.

Of course, Manchester United are heavily favored for a reason. They’ve romped to the top of the Premiership on the strength of 14 consecutive clean sheets in the league, a run that was finally stopped by Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. They’re playing their best football of the year and just got important starters Rooney and Patrice Evra back from injury. They’ll have a tough match in midweek against Inter Milan, but should be focused and ready to contest the Carling Cup.

Will Manchester United’s dream of a Quadruple come crashing down? Or will they dispatch Harry’s boys with the same kind of ruthless efficiency that they’ve displayed with their league rivals? In any event, it should be a great match.

Also See: Carling Cup Final 2009: Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur.

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  1. Alan Aldis 25 February, 2009
  2. Dan Stratford 25 February, 2009
  3. mark 28 February, 2009
  4. Patrick 1 March, 2009