Lee Dixon: Van der Vaart can teach Spurs lost art of winning big away games. But not today

The Weekend Dossier
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Tottenham go to Manchester United today facing the daunting task of trying to reverse their terrible record at Old Trafford, a ground where they have not won since December 1989.

But it's not just their 25-game winless streak at United that worries me. They have not won at Arsenal either since May 1993, nor at Chelsea since February 1990.

In all, Tottenham have gone 68 games at the homes of the three biggest clubs in England since they last came back with a win. You can't twist that kind of statistic around and say they have been unlucky. That kind of record is definitely down to psychological factors, both individually and collectively.

I am a great believer that you have to have a winning mentality. When I was a player at Arsenal I looked at players like Thierry Henry, Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, and that gives you belief in the team, even if you are not feeling so great yourself. And when you have won a trophy or two you gain confidence from knowing that you have come through difficult periods and are better able to cope with them the next time they come around.

At a club like Tottenham, where they have had a few lean years, the opposite is true. Players have got used to playing for European places, rather than challenging for the title.

I used to look over my shoulder and see my team-mates at Arsenal and have a warm, family feeling. I thought if I didn't play well, then Tony Adams would help me out, or Ray Parlour would do some of my running for me.

At Tottenham, now they can look at players like Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric and take confidence from them. In fact, Van der Vaart could have an important role today, without even being aware of it. He has not shared in any of Tottenham's disappointment and he will not be travelling to Manchester thinking, "It's another trip up the M6 to get a doffing from United."

Because players do go to places like Old Trafford and fear they might get stuffed. On the outside there will be a lot of positive talk but inside some of them will be thinking, "Here we go again."

You can't help those thoughts coming into your head. But you can deal with them and the best players do. You take positives from your team-mates around you, and that is where Van der Vaart can help. He is a great player with a big reputation, who grew up as a Manchester United fan, so you can think, "He has played for top clubs, he will be buzzing, he will really want to do well today."

I'd like to think Van der Vaart brings a freshness to the Tottenham dressing room, with the mentality of a winner. Seeing him pull on a shirt alongside you should give you a boost. The mental side of the game is huge.

It's not just about how many times you can juggle the ball in the air, or whether you can bend the ball over the wall into the top corner. If I'd have kept the ball up 100 times it would have been a miracle. Part of my strength was being mentally focused and never giving up.

It is particularly true when you are playing at a place like Old Trafford. If you get too caught up in the place, the badge, the red shirts, then you will lose. You have to humanise their big names, make them vulnerable.

Ultimately, it is down to Tottenham's individual players but there are things that manager Harry Redknapp can do to help. One of those things he has already done, by bringing in players with the correct attitude. Managers spend a lot of time checking their transfer targets are made of the right stuff, so you know they are going to fight to the end. Hopefully, Van der Vaart is like that.

Redknapp will also have been vocal in training all week, building up the players and giving them confidence. It has been a great idea bringing in respected former players like Clive Allen, Les Ferdinand, Tim Sherwood. They can really help individuals with bits of advice about small details concerned with playing in their particular position, while Redknapp can focus on the bigger picture. All managers could take a leaf out of Harry's book on that, by tapping into the experience of former players.

Given the progress Tottenham are making, sooner or later they are going to end their miserable run at the Big Three, and it could happen today. However, I favour United, who are so strong at home.

Five Asides

1. Hughton couldn't do much more

I was disappointed this week when I heard about the speculation that Chris Hughton might be sacked as Newcastle United manager if they lose the derby to Sunderland tomorrow. Uncertainty over the manager's position does unsettle players, and the club's board should be thinking about offering him a new contract now, not in the new year. I have been impressed with the way Chris has grown into the job after years as a No 2. They are ninth in the table – that says enough for me.

2. Age may be catching up with Lampard

It has been two months since Frank Lampard last played for Chelsea, and at 32 he is at the age when it becomes harder to recover from injury. I can remember playing in agony because I couldn't afford to miss too many training sessions. It is not surprising he is finding it hard.

3. Grant stokes the fire for West Ham fightback

Avram Grant comes with the reputation of being a good coach rather than an inspirational figure. But he must have said something right in the dressing room on Wednesday night as West Ham came from 1-0 down to beat Stoke 3-1.

4. Liverpool remain a work in progress

A better performance from Liverpool in their victory over Blackburn, but there is a long way to go. They still need a new ground and a new team.

5. Hernandez header just perfect – with a big P

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez scored the best header I have ever seen last weekend against Stoke. What a prospect.

Team news and weekend verdict

Arsenal vs West Ham United

Team news: Kieran Gibbs (knee) and Jack Wilshere (suspension) miss out for Arsenal but Cesc Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin return. Matthew Upson (hamstring) is out for West Ham.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Home win

Blackburn Rovers vs Chelsea

Team news: Steven Nzonzi (knee) is out for Blackburn but Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen return. Carlo Ancelotti's side are without Frank Lampard (hernia) although Alex could start.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Draw

Everton vs Stoke

Team news: Midfielder Mikel Arteta (hamstring) faces a late fitness test after missing the draw at Tottenham. Kenwyne Jones and Jermaine Pennant (illness) are doubtful for Stoke.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Home win

Fulham vs Wigan Athletic

Team news: Andy Johnson may make a first Fulham start in 10 months after returning from the bench last week. Gary Caldwell could feature for Wigan but James McCarthy is out.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Draw

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Manchester City

Team news: Mick McCarthy welcomes Karl Henry back from suspension although Jody Craddock is out. Carlos Tevez misses out for City, but Kolo Touré could return in defence.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Away win

Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur

Team news: Man United have no new worries, with Ryan Giggs (hamstring) a week away from returning. Tom Huddlestone (ankle) remains out for Spurs, as does Ledley King (groin).

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Dixon's verdict: Home win

Aston Villa vs Birmingham City

Team news: Villa's John Carew is struggling to feature after missing the Burnley game with flu. Craig Gardner (suspension) and Alexander Hleb (knee) return for Birmingham.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 12pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Dixon's verdict: Home win

Newcastle United vs Sunderland

Team news: Steven Taylor (shoulder) is not ready for a Newcastle comeback, while Sol Campbell (thigh) is also out. Kieran Richardson (hamstring) could return for Steve Bruce's visitors.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Dixon's verdict: Draw

Bolton Wanderers vs Liverpool

Team news: Ivan Klasnic will be considered for selection by Bolton manager Owen Coyle. Dirk Kuyt is not quite ready to return for Liverpool, but Glen Johnson (thigh) could feature.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Dixon's verdict: Draw

Blackpool vs West Bromwich Albion

Team news: Charlie Adam (ankle) should recover for Ian Holloway's side. Peter Odemwingie (knee) remains out for West Bromwich but Marc-Antoine Fortuné and Jonas Olsson are back.

Kick-off: Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights SS1, Tues, 1am)

Dixon's verdict: Away win