Tottenham Hotspur's record at Old Trafford has been miserable for so long that the manager's part is barely a cameo in the story. The club, who are back there on Monday, last won an away League match with Manchester United in 1989. "I wasn't here for many of the years," said Harry Redknapp, who was appointed in the autumn of 2008.

His side played in the Champions League last season and he hopes for a return to that arena, most feasibly by coming fourth in the Premier League and winning a qualifier, as they did in 2010. The current status of Tottenham is a delicate issue. Redknapp finds a way to sound optimistic while implying that his squad will not be strong enough without new signings.

He expects United to retain the title, with Manchester City and Chelsea in pursuit. Redknapp likes to envisage Tottenham finishing immediately behind them. "We'll get one or two players in before the window closes," he said "The chairman [Daniel Levy] is very close to doing a couple of deals. If we can, it will improve us again.

"You have to keep improving because all the other teams have. Liverpool have done it. Arsenal spent £25m on a couple of players [Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain]. We haven't really bought anybody. The goalkeeper Brad Friedel came on a free transfer. If we get one or two in, we'll be bang there again for sure." He regards Arsenal and Liverpool as his rivals for fourth.

There was a fillip for Tottenham in a 5-0 win at Hearts that has in effect ensured they will qualify for the Europa League group phase. The match was heartening, in addition, for the impact of Niko Kranjcar. Redknapp will have to count on more from other midfielders should Luka Modric be sold to Chelsea.

The Tottenham manager spoke warmly of Kranjcar but gently pointed out the trouble he will have making the starting line-up when his favoured position is on the left. "He's unlucky," he said, "that he plays where Gareth Bale plays. Not many people would get in the side in front of Gareth. But Niko keeps his head, keeps working, he's a fantastic boy. We all know he's class."

Tottenham have cause to suppose that they are developing and the right-back Kyle Walker, with his days on loan to other clubs behind him, is viewed as a candidate for England. Redknapp calls Walker "outstanding" yet puts matters in proportion by insisting that Liverpool's Glen Johnson, injured at the moment, ranks above his own player.

Walker's worth is about to be examined at Old Trafford. "It's a big test for Kyle against Ashley Young," Redknapp said. "Kyle's quick [but] he's still got a lot to learn. He has to slow himself down a little bit at times. He can't be 100mph all the time but he's certainly got the potential to be a very good player."

Redknapp remains his usual restless self, hoping to take Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City, with the Eastlands club subsidising his wages. Whatever the lineup, United will be a trial. He admires the way in which Sir Alex Ferguson has bolstered the squad so that there is cover for the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

"He has a fantastic young centre-half in Phil Jones," Redknapp said. "It's the time you buy, when you're going well. They win the championship and he goes out and brings a couple in. Ashley Young is a good signing, a player I tried to sign. We chased him. We chased Stewart Downing [now with Liverpool]. Their wages … it was always just out of our reach."

Tottenham aim to stay in contention at Old Trafford, irrespective of that fixture's history and the severity of the test nowadays.

Ferguson, meanwhile, believes Wayne Rooney is back to his best. "He's been flying in pre-season," the United manager said of the striker. "His fitness is terrific, he has the same energy all the time, he is a restless player on the pitch, he can never stand still. He is a tremendous asset."