What's The Hype About A "Goalless" Draw?

There is an argument, extreme some might say, that in the event of a goalless draw no points should be awarded to either team. The players have, after all, failed in the object of the game, which is to score.

Why should Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United who failed to score a single goal receive the same bounty as, for instance, Liverpool and Everton, sharing four goals at Anfield on Sunday? This match was the rejoinder to that. It was as ferocious as a contest can be without the release of a goal. Neither manager made a negative move, even when referee Mike Dean reduced Manchester United to 10 men with the dismissal of right back Rafael.

Faced with a large hole where his full back once was and Gareth Bale, the most improved and impressive player of the season, looking to fill it with his rocket-fuelled presence, Sir Alex Ferguson did not flinch. He simply detailed Darren Fletcher to play right back, instructed Wayne Rooney to cover right midfield and left two defensive substitutes, Johnny Evans and Chris Smalling, on the bench.

It was testament to his faith in Fletcher and the resilience of his outstanding cent ral defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, that he was prepared to gamble in this way. He reinforced this certainty by replacing Dimitar Berbatov with another striker, Javier Hernandez, with 13 minutes to go. Many managers would have sacrificed a forward, but Manchester United are not conservative like that. Tottenham Hotspur's expansive style brought the best out of them, certainly out of Rooney, who looked more dangerous than at any time this season.

Tottenham, meanwhile, were throwing the kitchen sink at it. Scenting blood with United down to 10, Harry Redknapp introduced Jermain Defoe for his defensive midfield player Wilson Palacios, meaning he ended up with a central midfield of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, two wingers and two strikers.

Tottenham's barren run against Manchester United may have extended to 24 games - they last beat them in 2001 and even that was a dead rubber, a game played after United had won the league - but it was not for want of trying. The problem for both teams was not absence of ambition or willpower, but the quite tremendous resilience of the four central defenders. There is no better partnership in the Premier League right now than Vidic and Ferdinand but, on Sunday, Tottenham's Michael Dawson and William Gallas were no more than half a step behind them.

Ferguson knew he had been in a fight. "The draw was a fair result, we'll take a point," he said. Redknapp agreed, "Both teams defended for their lives and cancelled the forwards out. There is a reason United are unbeaten this season but we could not have been more open by the end, we couldn't have gone for it any more than we did."

Far from doubting the title challenge from an unfamiliar corner of north London, Redknapp insisted this performance proved his team remain the dark horses of five. And it did. No, there was not a surfeit of chances at either end but United needed to be at the peak of their defensive powers to resist, particularly when Luka Modric was on the ball. A magician in a midfield in which time and space were little more than fond illusions, he eclipsed the stellar performers of Tottenham's season - most notably Bale and Van der Vaart.

"An amazing player. His touch, awareness, control, they were all exceptional. He could play for any team in the world. I heard the television people ask him about space being tight and I didn't understand it. Of all the players, he seemed to find it and he always wanted the ball." said Redknapp

So when critics talk of the Premier League levelling out this season in a more of mediocrity, remember this day. Indeed, this match proved that, with a good manager and the freedom to make ambitious investments in the transfer market, the playing field will find its level anyway.

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