Berbatov can be main man for the champions, says Allen

CLIVE Allen believes that infamous ex-Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov will become a key player for Manchester United this season, as the champions resume life without Cristiano Ronaldo at White Hart Lane...

By Ben Pearce

CLIVE Allen believes that infamous ex-Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov will become a key player for Manchester United this season, as the champions resume life without Cristiano Ronaldo at White Hart Lane.

Allen - a former Lilywhites forward himself - scored 112 goals in 173 appearances between 1984 and 1988, but can be found on the front row of the bench these days, talking tactics with Harry Redknapp in his role as Spurs' development coach.

This week that means preparing to host Sir Alex Ferguson's side. And, although Allen is pleased to be facing United early in the season, he is tipping Berbatov for a stellar campaign after a mediocre start at Old Trafford.

"Traditionally they tend to start slowly so I think playing them early is good for us. And when you take out the goals that they've lost over the summer, particularly from Ronaldo, they're never easy to replace," Allen told Ham&High Sport.

"Time will tell if the new signings [Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen] can fill the gap left by Ronaldo and [Carlos] Tevez, but I would never question Alex's judgement when it comes to buying players.

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"I think Berbatov will now become the player that United were intending to buy from us last year. He's an outstanding talent, and he can certainly handle the pressure if he's asked to play a bigger role now. I think he could become a massive player for them this season."

Berbatov netted twice against Spurs last season after his move to Old Trafford, helping United to victories in both the FA Cup and league in Manchester.

However, the Bulgarian cut a frustrated figure on his return to N17 in December, when struggling Spurs deservedly secured a goalless draw.

This time Tottenham sit above United with a three-point advantage and, undefeated at home since November, the Lilywhites will feel that they can maintain or even increase the gap.

Saturday's match is then followed by a trip to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge the following weekend, as Tottenham face two of their top-four rivals in a row.

Allen admits that Spurs already face a pivotal fortnight in their season, and concedes that back-to-back defeats would be a major blow for the club's ambitions.

"We'll know a lot more about ourselves after the next two games, and it's always a good chance to look at which of our players can compete at that level," he said.

"There's no doubt that Chelsea are going to be big challengers for the title, and my own feeling is that whoever finishes above them will win the league.

"We've had an exceptional start and we've given ourselves a real chance to break into the top four.

"But there's a long way to go and we proved last season that where you are after four games doesn't have a huge bearing on where you finish. We had two points from eight games and still finished seventh.

"If we suffer a dip in form over the next four or five games, we won't exactly be in a difficult position, but we certainly won't be where we want to be."

For now, Allen is enjoying Tottenham's perfect start - their best since 1960, when his dad Les was leading the line for Spurs. Indeed, 48-year-old Clive was born in May 1961, the month that Spurs won the League and FA Cup double.

And he reveals that Harry Redknapp's training methods have been an important factor in the transformation over the past year.

"The players are training at match tempo - the sessions are shorter but they're played at a higher speed and intensity," he said. "I wasn't involved in Juande [Ramos]'s training sessions but the impression I got from the players was that they were longer and slower.

"Harry's given the players the freedom to express themselves, while insisting on a lot of hard work as well. That's what he's demanding now."

Allen also admits that it was a "relief" when the summer transfer window closed, this time with all of Spurs' key first-team players still at the club.

"There's always a fear at the end of the season that you're going to draw interest in your players, and receive massive bids for key people," he added. "At the moment that team is obviously Manchester City, and we have to be realistic and accept that every player has his price.

"Mark [Hughes] had the whole of last season to watch players and identify his targets, and of course he's in a very strong position to land them. So it was nice for us that he didn't come knocking for our players. It was a relief.