Bolton Wanderers vs. Manchester United Match Preview

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By Tom Bell.

Introduction

We were all aware of Arsenal’s shaky start to the season, but how many of us expected us to put eight past them when they visited Old Trafford? The Bookies certainly didn’t. Ladbrokes weren’t even offering odds on 8-2 for the game. The result saw Arsène Wenger scurry off to the transfer market after some questionable early season results.

This weekend Manchester United travel to the Reebok Stadium to face Owen Coyle’s Bolton side. Although only sitting on three points from a possible nine, they have begun this season’s domestic campaign admirably, putting in some respectable performances. So far they have beat Premier League newcomers QPR in an impressive 4-0 away victory and put in commendable performances against Liverpool and big spending Manchester City, although ultimately both ending in losses. They’ve improved various areas of the squad, adding both strength and depth; and will be looking for at least a point against United in this Saturday’s 5:30 kick-off.

Both teams played out a 2-2 draw in last season’s encounter at the Reebok. Zat Knight’s early opener was cancelled out by magnificent individual goal from Nani. The Portuguese International picked up the ball in his own half and ran directly at the heart of Bolton’s defence skipping past would be tacklers and scored with a low finish. Martin Petrov restored the home team’s lead thanks to a deflected shot only for Michael Owen to net late on in proceedings.

Team selection thoughts

Welcome back Chicharito?

I empathise with Danny Welbeck; he’s had the chance in the last four games to impress and has taken that chance by the scruff of the neck. However, he was forced off during the Arsenal game with a hamstring injury, though he is set to return to training next week. However, the silver lining is the match fitness of our little Mexican – Javier Hernandez; who featured as a substitute against Arsenal following an early season injury. I imagine he’ll start up front with Rooney, with Berbatov on the bench.

Some valuable experience

Bolton can be a tough away game, regardless of last season’s result. Rio Ferdinand was on the bench against Arsenal, which would suggest he is close to match fitness, especially following the international break. I can see Ferdinand starting, however it’s a toss-up between Phil Jones and Jonny Evans being selected as his partner, after both have looked impressive in the first few games of the season. I would imagine Jonny Evans will start because of his greater experience. Whoever plays will be in for a tough battle against the robust Kevin Davies.

Who to play in the middle?

What a pleasant selection headache. Anderson has started the season magnificently in the slightly deeper role. Darren Fletcher should be available for selection after seemingly recovering from the mystery virus that curtailed his 2010/11 season. The Scot has completed four 90 minutes matches including two reserve outings and two International matches. Michael Carrick who normally hits top form during the autumn and winter months has yet to have an impact on the new season, but if called upon will sit back in midfield and offer protection to the back four and then there is Tom Cleverley who with his quick intelligent passing has stepped up to the plate this season putting in a string of fine performances against top opposition.

With the return of Champions League football and midweek fixtures predicting Sir Alex’s team selection becomes a little more fraught. The manager has perfected the art of rotating his team ensuring players remain near peak fitness for the latter stages of the season. Why change a winning team? I think we’ll see Anderson start he offers strength, pace and the option of that killer through ball. I think we will see  Cleverley start again. The pair have formed an excellent understanding aiding fluency, however due to their attacking nature greater space exists between defence and midfield. The space allowed to opposition attackers is less of an issue at Old Trafford where visiting teams are not inclined to push forward, but it may be a concern for away fixtures. If Sir Alex is wary of offering greater protection to the defence he may opt for Darren Fletcher, the slightly more defensive option. With experience Anderson and Cleverley will gain an understanding of their attacking and defending responsibilities, a la Roy Keane and Paul Scholes.

Opposition Thoughts

We spoke to Bolton fan and footballing blogger Chris Tyldesley who blogs at BWFC Blogging and James Peach from Voice Of Bolton about the upcoming game and how Bolton have coped in the early part of the season.

Saturday’s Game

It’s not been the worst start to a season in all fairness. Even though we are sitting on three points from a possible nine in the Premier League it really has been a good start to the season. With the exception of most of the Liverpool game we have been playing some really good stuff, we did it against QPR and showed that we could be an attacking force (even with Muamba in the team.) We showed that we have a ‘never say die’ attitude when we played a buoyant Manchester City team and then showed we could get the job done with squad players in the league cup.

We need our defenders to step up and be counted, and by that I mean show that you are just as good as the opposition. I’d hope that during Cahill’s international break, he’s been watching Rooney and Young and was taking notes.  I think flow is one of the biggest things, if you can stop the forward line of United getting into the rhythm of the game then it starts to push Rooney further back, and even though he does well when he does this, he can’t really hurt us from the halfway line.

With Boyata, Kakuta and N’gog all coming in on transfer deadline day it was a nice piece of business by Coyle (as well as keeping Cahill, of course,) but it’s hard to see how they fit into the team that has played well so far this season. Strength in the depth is something I have never seen at Bolton, but this is something we actually have this year and with players such as Lee, Holden and Mears all to come back from injury our team can only get stronger.

I’m expecting a good go from the white men, but to no avail, and I can see us getting out played and the stress on our defence will become too much, unfortunately.

Season Expectations

There’s no doubt in my mind that after this transfer window, we have a much stronger squad with a bit more depth in it. I would doubt our Europa credentials, but you just have to look at the Fulham squad that made it to the finals in 2010 to think that maybe we do have a shot. A string of good performances and we can shoot right up the table.

Cahill Importance

Words can’t really describe how important Gary Cahill is and after his two performances for England this week, he showed he could play alongside the big-time players. Now the window has slammed closed, hopefully Gary can start to put the speculation behind him and can sit down with Coyle to work out a new contract. he’s been such a professional during the whole thing and him coming out saying he’s committed to Bolton and only Bolton means so much to the Bolton faithful I wouldn’t mind if it was only a one-year extension, as long as we can keep him to the end of the season and not lose him on a free.

Come this time next year though, I think, unfortunately, he will have left us behind.

Owen Coyle Impact

To be fair, after having a non-football approach from Allardyce and Lee, followed by the sheer clueless Megson, I would have been happy with almost any manager! However, in Owen Coyle we have gained a fantastic manager. He proved his man managing skills with what he has done for both Wilshere’s and Sturridge’s careers. And unlike his predecessors, under Coyle we are finally starting to play attractive and proper football. Petrov, Eagles, Lee and Holden allow us to do so much more with the ball in the centre of the park!

Lee Blow And Holden’s Return

It’s a massive loss. Lee is one of, if not the most naturally talented players on our team. I don’t think it will be long until there is a Cahill-style transfer saga surrounding him. His pace on the right gave us such an advantage against most teams, but fortunately we brought in Eagles who is seeming to cover him well. And he recently said he could be back at the start of 2012- much sooner than expected!

As far as Holden goes, it’ll be like gaining a new player! His influence on the pitch is fantastic, and will probably lead to him being a future Bolton captain. He played most of a reserve game last week, so hopefully he’ll be fit enough to at least be sat on the bench when we play you this weekend!

Key Battles

Jonny Evans & David de Gea vs. Kevin Davies

Yes, two United players vs. Kevin Davies.

David De Gea’s start to his Man United career is well documented. His performance levels have been to higher standard than those in the media would have you believe. De Gea will most definitely come under a severe test against the physical Davies, who will look to disturb the young goalkeeper at every opportunity. The same applies to Jonny Evans, who last season had the tendency to struggle against a physical presence. After last season’s woes the defender has made a bright start to the new campaign and he will look to reaffirm his form with a convincing performance against Davies. Encouraging displays from Evans and De Gea will be a real confidence booster for the young United duo. The pair will undoubtedly be in for a bruising battle.

Wayne Rooney vs Gary Cahill

Wayne Rooney has started the season in fine form, insisting that it is because of rest over the summer. He continued his league goal scoring on the international stage against Bulgaria, linking up well with Ashley Young for both club and country. Gary Cahill has looked steady despite a lot of transfer speculation in the last few weeks, looking confident for England too. Cahill is Bolton’s defensive talisman; he’ll have a difficult time marking Wayne Rooney though who will look to build on his hat trick against Arsenal.

Gretar Steinsson vs Ashley Young

Steinsson is a physical fullback, although he has had a torrid time for Bolton so far this season, he’s under pressure with the deadline day signing of Dedryck Boyata and will be looking to hold his place in the first team. Ashley Young has turned out to be a marvellous piece of business so far this season and will potentially be a nightmare for the Icelandic defender. Ashley Young has the option of whipping the ball in, or cutting inside and pulling the trigger and shooting. Steinsson may well be in for a bad game should Young carry on his fine form.

Summary

As much as I don’t like to say it, I can see both teams scoring. I’m predicting a United win however. Bolton will put up a good fight but will buckle under the pressure of United’s attack. I think it’ll be a scrappy affair overall though. You have to hand it to Owen Coyle too; he’s been a fine acquisition by the Bolton board since moving from Burnley to Bolton.

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