It seems foolish now, when thinking back, that Spurs fans were all so concerned about the prospect of a Wilson Palacios suspension. The groans following his booking at Wembley were only tempered by the fact that Tottenham had just conceded a penalty, all but condemning the team to defeat in the FA Cup semi-final with Portsmouth. However-and I do not believe I’m guilty of hyperbole here-Tottenham rose from the ashes of Wembley like a phoenix, and secured victories over two of the best teams in Europe in what were also London derbies. However, Wilson Palacios is now suspension free, and available for selection. However, Should Redknapp change a winning formula?
The heart says no. Tottenham beat Arsenal and Chelsea without the busy Honduran, so Tottenham should simply keep lining the up, and knocking them down with the same team. Huddlestone compensated for his lack of pace by refusing to cross the halfway line, whilst Modric never once stepped foot out of position, preferring to hit quick, accurate passes to Bale, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko, rather than get caught to high up the pitch. The effect was that, even at home, Spurs played like an away side, and counter attacked their London rivals, rather than attempting to dominate possession, and Spurs held out admirably in the process.
The problem Tottenham may have at Old Trafford however, is the size of the pitch. Tottenham have often lacked pace and power over the course of the Premier League’s history, and at Old Trafford, the wide pitch has allowed the likes of Giggs, Cole, Ronaldo or Rooney, to exploit the space and time afforded them. Tottenham’s midfield will not be able to get as close to their opposition without pace and agility, whilst in wide areas, if Tottenham defend as narrowly as they did at White Hart Lane, Valencia, Nani or Giggs could have a field-day.
Whilst the heart would like to see Modric and Huddlestone have a shot at disrupting Manchester United’s three man midfield, the head says Tottenham will need Palacios at Old Trafford. On a pitch as wide as Old Trafford, Spurs will need to get amongst the Manchester United midfield, and the best way to do this would be to utilise Palacios.
The problem that arises is who does Harry drop? Huddlestone and Modric have surely played themselves into the team. Likewise, Bale should be given licence to attack Neville or whoever is selected for United at right back. Assou-Ekotto has a history of playing well against Manchester United, and Tottenham should arguably refrain from changing a settled back four. The solution is to either deploy Modric on the right, dropping Bentley, or to play Modric as a second forward. Neither would suit Modric in particular, and would also render Spurs impotent in attack with one out and out striker.
The problem, fortunately, is Harry’s to solve. Last season, Palacios played the full 90mins, and Tottenham still ended up losing 5-2, despite taking a two goal lead. Perhaps you should never change a winning team. Further, perhaps the best way to beat United would be to deploy two midfielders who would not only keep the ball with more intelligent passing, but would also be more dangerous offensively?
Modric and Huddlestone are likely to be given the nod on Saturday, and if they do play, they will have earned their place in the starting eleven. However, whatever team Harry picks at the weekend, there can be few insurance policies waiting in the wings at tenacious and potentially effective as Tottenham’s Honduran midfield general… sorry for the hyperbole.