This has been a bad two weeks for Tottenham Hotspur. First was the disappointment of drawing Stevenage in the FA Cup, forcing an unneeded replay. Then came the utter collapse at Arsenal, where an early 2-0 lead became a famous 5-2 win for The Gunners. Now, coming out of that game the news gets worse. Scott Parker is suspended versus Manchester United for Sunday. Kyle Walker is apparently battling an ankle injury serious enough that Adam Smith was recalled from his Leeds United loan. Gareth Bale has a torn hamstring, according to rumoured reports.
The injuries to the Tottenham back line come at a very bad point. As United comes to White Hart Lane for their second fixture this season, the spectre of the Red Devils' 3-0 opening game dispatching of Spurs looms. Tottenham were overrun in that game, as a central midfield of Jake Livermore and Niko Kranjcar were overrun. Tottenham does have Luka Modric to help open up play in the midfield, but the absence of Scott Parker will surely limit Tottenham's ability to break-up play. With his absence, the defensive play becomes so much more essential, as the backline tries to recover from Sunday's destruction.
Kyle Walker was woefully exposed in that United game by Ashley Young and Nani. And even though Walker has improved, it is clear that Tottenham would do well to have a more tactically sound right back. With Vedran Corluka on loan, it becomes clear that Younes Kaboul should move to right back. Kaboul has the pace to stay with United's wingers, and the tactical savvy to stay with a quick threat like Young or experienced architect like Ryan Giggs.
But as Kaboul moves wide, a void is created in the center of the pitch. Michael Dawson is an obvious contender to start. Dawson has looked strong since recovering from injury, and his decisiveness in tackles would be a welcome addition to a Tottenham side that suffered from not closing out Arsenal on Sunday. But alongside him, is where Tottenham's talisman will do much decide the result.
For the last decade, Tottenham has relied on the ever-injured Ledley King to shut down Spurs' toughest foes. But King, despite having a strong season, has shown an inability to stop top-class strikers. Robin van Persie ran riot against King and Mario Balotelli overpowered him. Because of this, it would be very tempting to give the nod to the wily Ryan Nelsen, who has led his All Whites New Zealand side to upsets with his defensive marshaling. Nelsen provides an athleticism and knowledge in the dark arts of the game that could do well to get in Wayne Rooney's head. Unfortunately, Nelsen is flying back from Wednesday's New Zealand friendly against Jamaica in Auckland. It seems to reason that the game ware and jetlag will diminish Nelsen's normal effectiveness.
Therefore, the defensive responsibility will fall on King. Tottenham needs to get the Newcastle United performance out of King, when the defenseman shut down the vaunted duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. To do so, Spurs need to protect against the counter attack, where King is at his weakest. It seems to reason that inserting Sandro and telling him to play an anchor role could help. By allowing King to sit deeper, Sandro can break up play without forcing King to move out of his comfort zone.
In the end, it seems likely that Assou-Ekotto, King, Dawson, and Kaboul will be the defense. That quartet is perhaps the most sound defensively for Tottenham, as Spurs look to play an old-fashioned counter-attacking game. Expect Spurs to sit deep and invite some pressure, as Sandro almost becomes a fifth defender. With the injuries and suspensions facing Spurs, don't expect them to dictate play against United. This game will be about enduring, and converting those couple of good chances when presented.