Match previews for games at Old Trafford are all pretty much based on the same template no matter the season. We sort of know we're going to lose so we dress up the pre-match war cry to cite how 'it's all about the performance' and that it's important to show a good account of ourselves by fighting with ample tenacity and display desire and other such emotive footballing clichés.
Arguably, losing to Manchester United is hardly something that will leave us tainted with disgrace across our faces. They've been known to win silverware, domestically and in Europe. They have instilled in them a belief system that is pretty much second to none. In other words, they know how to play and they know how to respond positively if they're on the ropes.
My point is, its pretty much okay to cite 'it's all about the performance'. If we go up there on Monday and play stupendously well in a ding-dong game and lose because of a moment of brilliance or the simple fact they deserved it that little bit more - it's not RIP or end of days. Take it on the chin, move on.
But there's more to it than just that. Hence the same recurring template no matter the season.
There is a deep rooted psychological issue at play. We capitulate. We choke. Sure, the great footballing script writer in the sky complicates matters by adding that seasoned ingredient of controversy, usually in the colours of the referee and his assistants. It's a supporting role, sometimes starring...but we still remain accountable for allowing our heads to drop and for the inevitable to consume us. We accept it on the pitch and then post-match we spit blood in protest.
We've done alright at the Lane against United. We just black out up north.
So, to make it as simplistic as possible, we need to play for the shirt and look to win the game. Take it to them. Don't think we need to over complicate matters tactically to combat their team. I don't mean that disrespectfully. United, regardless of their current transition, still won the title off the back of sheer guts and determination. And skill and luck. All glued together by that classic emotive cliché 'belief'. Obviously, that part about skill along with additional qualities like focus and tempo and punishing clinicality are equally essential. As are the top drawer players. Belief is hardly enough if you don't match your opponents on the field of play, pound for pound.
And we can do so. We've hardly got a shabby outfit. Perhaps not strong in certain areas but perhaps as strong in others.
We have a bloody good squad of players. Quality through the spine of the side and we'll improve further once we announce Adebayor and Diarra (and hopefully another player). There is no need for fear or even a sheepish look back in anger to the past painful defeats.
Look forward. Take the game to them. Play football, play it the Spurs way. And for the love of all things Lilywhite, remove the potential for any controversy to shape the games life-span by embracing destiny, in fact no, forget the embrace, just kidnap the dizzy cow, tie her up and throw her into the boot of the car. Take control, unequivocally and without remorse. Want it and want to win otherwise what's the point? We have the players to compete. We need that belief to glue it altogether.
No apologetic looks up to the sky or shrugs at the man with the whistle. No implosions or mistakes. No longer be the victim. Commit the crime. Be ruthless b*stards. I guess the question that needs answering is - do we have it in us (that combination of belief and quality of players) to see it through.
Speaking of the apologetics, worth noting that I'm not suggesting that its our fault Howard Webb is so horrifically inconsistent with decision making or the linesman who was looking down instead of across and missed the Mendes goal. Just that none of it will matter if we're simply better than them on the day and it pays off with goals. Like I said, remove the potential for it to be used as an excuse.
It's a big ask. It always is. But it's hardly impossible. I know that. Let's hope the players are just as aware. We've broken so many hoodoos in recent seasons. This is one that remains with much frustration and mockery.
This preview actually fits perfectly into the aforementioned seasoned template for this encounter. Let's hope the usual outcome doesn't knowingly nod it's appreciation.
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