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Ferguson relishing 'big challenge' posed by Spurs

Manchester United will travel to Spurs tomorrow hunting their 100th league goal at White Hart Lane.

With Wayne Rooney returning to the fold and Dimitar Berbatov back on his old stomping ground, Alex Ferguson's side will not lack firepower in targeting the century mark.

United enjoy their strolls down memory Lane. Drawing confidence from a record that reveals they have reached 99 goals in 73 visits and not lost at Spurs for a decade, United will expect to score. Yet Ferguson knows that securing victory against a team revitalised by Harry Redknapp will be a "big challenge".

"Tottenham are one of the traditionally really good clubs with the proper philosophy of the game," said the United manager yesterday.

"You have to look back to 1961-62 under Bill Nicholson, the first club to win the Double, who were an incredible team and had exciting players like Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay. It was an incredible spell. That will always be the standard Spurs have to set for themselves."

Under Redknapp, Spurs have begun to live up to the expectations of the Glory Glory days. "One of the most amazing factors this season, apart from challenging for the league, is Spurs' progress in the Champions League, which has been tremendous," said Ferguson before adding a warning. "The bigger challenge is coming up for Spurs: whether they can stand that test of combining the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League.

"I cannot remember Spurs challenging for the league in my time at United, so that is the change of fortunes under Harry. He's playing very positively -- 4-2-4 in some games. He's certainly having a go. He's got width. They have some exciting players like Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart and Lennon.

"Van der Vaart has given them a goal ratio that Harry's not had from many of his midfield players really. Van der Vaart has made a contribution goals-wise (11) and he's got good ability on the ball. He's been a good signing.

"But the best contribution has without doubt been Bale, who's got 11 goals, a really good return for a wide player. Bale has tremendous speed and is a great crosser.

"We tried to sign him as a 17-year-old boy. They (Southampton) had a Scottish chief executive (Jim Hone) and George Burley the manager and didn't accept our offer. We made a good offer but they turned it down."

The understanding at the time was that Bale felt he would start more regularly at Spurs, with Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs on the left for United.

One of the key duels will be Bale against Ferguson's rapidly maturing right-back, Rafael.

"He's not making any rash decisions," said Ferguson of the Brazilian. "He was quite an impulsive young boy last season. Against AC Milan away, he over-ran the ball in the middle of the pitch, they got their second goal and made a game of it. In the second leg against Bayern Munich he had a slight tug on the player (Franck Ribery) and got sent off.

"He has learned. His concentration levels have improved. He's only 20. You don't expect young defenders to be consistent, but he has been this season. His form this season has been brilliant." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Irish Independent