Manchester United were forced to rely heavily on their defensive linchpins to extend their impressive streak against Tottenham, but it could have been very, very different this time around.
On top of reclaiming the top spot in the standings, the Reds also elongated their impressive unbeaten streak over Spurs to 20 Barclays Premier League games – 24 overall – but unbiased bystanders, including a somewhat troubled-looking Sir Alex Ferguson, would have thought it was Tottenham who were the holders of that streak.
Based on this performance, the Gaffer witnessed first-hand that he may have his worked cut out for him if United are to claim the title this season with the very depreciated squad options he currently boasts.
Unfortunately, the highly-entertaining, end-to-end match has been given an unnecessary black eye because of Mike Dean’s deplorable decision send off Rafael, which compounds the limitations of Sir Alex’s squad.
Harry Redknapp, who has been hell bent on getting David Beckham’s signature on a short-term loan deal, showed that his side is filled some of the better players in the Premier League.
Young Rafael’s dismissal will certainly leave Sir Alex short at right-back options for United’s match against Birmingham City next weekend, so it will be very interesting to see which player gets to fill in for the Brazilian.
Some may have picked up on the very conspicuous decision by Sir Alex for not selecting a full-back, or an utility defender for that matter, to United’s substitute bench for the match against Tottenham.
The only defenders that Ferguson named to the bench were Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans, and neither of those young central defenders could have handle either of Tottenham’s wingers’ – Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon – pace.
Wes Brown’s falling out with the manager on this summer’s tour of America coupled with John O’Shea’s injury and Gary Neville’s lack of pace has kept all of them out of the squad against Spurs, and the lack of depth could very well have well cost them a point.
Fletcher did well to fill in at right-back, but, what some are failing to acknowledge is that if Dean’s pugnacious decision happened a minute later, the Scottish midfielder would have been withdrawn in favor of Paul Scholes, which would have left United in real pickle of a situation.
Somewhat amazingly though, was that Fletcher’s withdrawal from the center of United’s midfield actually helped the Reds see out the draw, which is why he was about to be substituted.
This season, Fletcher has been well below his best, and has not shown the form that saw him be selected to Premier League Team of the Year in 2009/10.
His performances this season have been very shaky, and against Tottenham, Fletcher was constantly and needlessly gifting the ball right back to them after one of his teammates did well to win the ball back.
To be fair, Fletcher’s midfield partner, Michael Carrick, was also careless with the ball, and his misplaced pass from the kick-off could have forced United to fight an uphill battle for 90 minutes.
However, Carrick’s performance against his former club vastly improved in the second half with some very timely interceptions and cleaning up at the back, but this new role for him has been something that some of United fans have failed to accept.
When he arrived from Spurs in 2006, Carrick was seen as an attack-minded midfielder, and was to compliment Scholes in the midfield, but he has emerged as a well-disciplined, holding midfielder.
Like what has happened in the last couple of matches, United midfield has failed to take the game by the scruff of the neck, which is handcuffing Sir Alex’s options in what formation he is able to choose.
Anderson was introduced with a half hour to play, but instead of replacing the ineffective Fletcher, Ferguson had to withdraw Nani with hope to get more possession of the ball to limit Spurs’ attacking pressure.
There was more evidence that Sir Alex had limited options for the match, because there were no wingers on the bench, either.
Nani was well below what United fans have come to expect from him in the last year, which he desperately needs to bounce back quickly.
Especially with Ji-Sung Park gone on international duty, Ryan Giggs not able to lumber through every game and Antonio Valencia not ready to return, Nani needs to shoulder the responsibility to assist the United attack.
With Gabriel Obertan not ready to secure a permanent first-team place, Sir Alex will be quite appreciative that United has six days to prepare for their next match, because it will give Giggs some time to recuperate from exertions in his 600th Premier League match.
Although he was unable to get some minutes under his belt against Spurs, Scholes will certainly play in United’s next match to add some imagination to their passing in the attack.
If anything, the outstanding passing performance from Luka Modric should make Sir Alex think about making a serious bid to bring the creative Croatian playmaker to Old Trafford in the summer.
At the moment, there is a bit of predictability of the United attack, which needs to be address, or United will be forced to become even more dependable on their defense and do well to even grind out more goalless draws.
Sir Alex Ferguson will have to see this result against Tottenham as a point gain in the closely-contested Barclays Premier League title race, but he will also have to do better to ensure that Manchester United has more balance options with his squad selection.