Manchester United travel to the Madejski Stadium to take on Reading, looking to secure a victory that will keep them top of the table and ahead of rivals Manchester City.
The Red Devils maintained their one point lead over Mancini’s men on Wednesday night after defeating a spirited West Ham United at Old Trafford, in the process recording only their third clean sheet of the season.
Robin van Persie struck inside a minute and although that proved to be the only goal of the game, United played some excellent football, and bar a few fantastic saves from Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Reds could have had three or four.
A different test awaits in Berkshire though, against a Reading side who despite losing their last two, have only tasted defeat once on home soil.
This should not perturb Sir Alex’s men however, who for the most part have been in good form in the Premier League. They have won eight of their last ten games, and with van Persie finding the net again on Wednesday, they have a striker hungry for goals.
The last time United played Reading at the Madejski in the league was back in the 2007/2008 season, with the Reds on a charge to seal a second successive Premier League title.
It was expected that the Champions would easily return to Manchester with three points, but the Royals matched United for long periods, and it seemed as though Sir Alex’s men would have to settle for a point. But as the game ticked into the last 15 minutes Rooney guided a Carlos Tevez cross into the bottom corner with the outside of his boot, before Ronaldo sealed the points with a smart finish on the counter attack as Reading pressed for an equaliser. A 2-0 score line to the away side again come 7:30 on Saturday night would be perfect for the Reds.
Team Selection Thoughts
Anders Lindegaard has started the last three games for United in the league meaning that David de Gea has found himself on the bench; somewhere he would rather not be. The young Spaniard went into the season looking to cement himself as first choice between the posts, but after a couple of shaky performances he has been usurped by Lindegaard. Fortunately though Lindegaard has excelled when asked to step in, and again on Wednesday he showed exactly why Sir Alex has faith in him, as the Dane made a series of smart saves to preserve the 1-0 lead over West Ham. He should start again at Reading with De Gea likely to be named in the 11 to take on Cluj in the Champions League in midweek.
United have been boosted by the news that Nemanja Vidic is close to a first team return and could even play in midweek. Rio Ferdinand was rested against West Ham and Sir Alex has confirmed that the classy centre half will start against Reading. With Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all fit, the Reds’ injury crisis is finally easing and the manager finally has a selection headache of a positive nature; pleasing news as the hectic Christmas fixture list approaches. Rafael and Patrice Evra will start at right and left back, with the former having his best season in a United shirt to date. The young Brazilian has improved defensively while maintaining his advantageous ability to attack, and when he plays well United are a much better team collectively.
In midfield the Reds are facing the prospect of a lack of width, with the news that Nani is out for around four weeks while Antonio Valencia remains sidelined with a hip injury. Ashley Young gives Sir Alex one option on the wing but the diamond formation could well be utilised once again with a narrow midfield four. Carrick, Cleverley, Anderson and Rooney started there against the Hammers with van Persie and Hernandez up front, and Sir Alex could stick with the same line up again. However Paul Scholes has returned from suspension and with Darren Fletcher looking to get minutes and match fitness Sir Alex may rotate once more.
Robin van Persie found the net for the 9th time in the league on Wednesday and he will be looking to break into double figures at the Madejski. The Royals have already conceded 23 goals this term and with van Persie on form, coupled with the attacking potency of Hernandez and Rooney, United will be hopeful of breaking down Brian McDermott’s side.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Hob Nob Anyone? and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
We’re scared. Many actually think we will concede more than 5 given our propensity to wave opposition attackers through our midfield, allowing us to play through us so often. Any side who has any kind of footballing ability causes us problems, just ask Peterborough. Or more recently, Wigan. Unfortunately you guys have footballing ability in spades. Big spades. Whereas our goalkeeper has serious question marks over him (you may remember him from the FA Cup 5th Round in 2007), our defence at least looked better on Tuesday after Gunter and Gorkks were dropped/injured, our midfield is seriously out of its depth although the attack has a goal or two in it provided they get the service. And there’s the rub – service. Stifle our wings and we create very little.
Team and formation McDermott is likely to pick, think he may make a change on the flanks – GK Federici, RB Cummings, LB Shorey, CD Morrison, CD Mariappa, RM McLeary, LM McAnuff, CM Leigertwood, CM Tabb, CF Roberts, CF Le Fondre. Bog standard 4-4-2.
United’s weaknesses? Your defence. Your full backs look to relentlessly attack which could lead to joy for our wingers. The flank is where all of our creative talent is. We’ll look to defend in numbers, hoping Tabb and Leigertwood can break up your attacking moves and get in the faces of your midfield, hopefully winning the ball in key areas and setting up attacks and bringing our forwards and wingers into play. Likelihood of that happening to perfection is small though. We fully expect us to be annihilated. You won’t keep a clean sheet though.
It really is a disheartening experience gaining promotion knowing that the next season will be one spent battling it out for 17th place, but that’s the problem you have with the Premier League set-up, not Man Utd’s problem. Only in utterly exceptional circumstances will you get a team making their way up from the second division and challenging at the top end of the higher division next season. I suppose that answers whether I’m enjoying Premier League life or not… I could have just said no though!
As expected, we’re struggling. Anybody with half an ounce of sense knew where we needed to strengthen this season – we strengthened but for one reason or another the major signings, Pogrebnyak and Guthrie, have not shone at all. Expectations for the season are to at least valiantly fight against relegation; unfortunately most don’t think we’ll manage to escape the trapdoor though. We’ve shown enough to suggest we’ll get a few wins under our belt with a little bit of luck and the odd refereeing decision going in our favour, so at least it’s almost guaranteed we’ll not be as bad as Derby were in 07/08!!
Players Of The Season
Alex McCarthy (now injured), Nicky Shorey and a big plus has been Sean Morrison. Shorey is consistent and has a superb left foot delivery from set pieces. Morrison impressed whilst on loan at Huddersfield last season and seems to have made the step up relatively comfortably, towering centre half who is a real danger at set pieces.
The irony of this, despite keeping just one clean sheet all season, is that these are a goalkeeper and two defenders.
Love him. Everybody loves him. Even if he were to be sacked tomorrow, despite the errors he may have made this season we’d still love him and welcome him back with open arms should he ever step through the Madejski Stadium doors again. The side is his, he gets the best out of what he has in the main, so were anybody else to come in should he leave over the next few months we’re not sure they’d do any better unless they were a truly world class manager. McDermott has shown at the lower Championship level he can get results with limited resources and he has also shown a canny knack of either subtly or bluntly changing the style and emphasis of play dependent on who he has lost. At first the loss was Sigurdsson, now at Spurs via Hoffenheim, the emphasis of play being a 4-2-3-1 with Sigurdsson the focal point and central creative spark playing just behind Long. Sigurdsson was sold, Long became the focal point of our attack and the midfield took on a much more bulky, defensive look with the addition of Leigertwood from QPR, took a while to adapt but we eventually recovered to get to the playoff final travesty. Long was then sold, the focal point of attack took a massive shift again to the flanks, Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff. That is where we are now. That adaptive ability stands McDermott in good stead, but he seriously needs better personnel to enable us to be able to compete on a more even footing. Let’s see what January brings…
Three Key Battles
Robin van Persie vs. Sean Morrison
The Dutchman had gone three Barclays Premier League games without scoring before West Ham, and that goal could be the start of a prolific run for United’s number 20. Morrison will be charged with the task of subduing the striker and the youngster has impressed in recent weeks, even finding the net away at Wigan and laying on a goal away at QPR. However Saturday will prove to be his toughest test yet, and if van Persie is on form Morrison will be in for a very challenging 90 minutes.
Mikele Leigertwood vs. Anderson
So far this season Sir Alex’s management of Anderson has been excellent and last weekend the Brazilian showed what he’s capable of when coming off the bench to inspire a comeback win over QPR. When he’s on form Anderson can drift past players at will using his energy and power to dominate opponents. Leigertwood has been a steady performer for the Royals and the midfield battle will be key on Saturday, but if Anderson can get a grip of the game he could drive the Reds on to victory.
Jobi McAnuff vs. Patrice Evra
United will want to dominate possession and concentrate on attacking but there will be times when Reading come forward and in McAnuff they have a very skilful and dangerous winger. Evra has struggled against pace at times down the years and if McAnuff sees plenty of the ball and has the chance to run at Evra then the Royals could create chances. The Frenchman has improved defensively in recent weeks though and will have to continue that form to keep McAnuff quiet.
The Reds face a trip to the Etihad next Sunday, and Sir Alex will want to go into that game ahead of City. Reading have been quite hard to break down at home, losing only once though and they even defeated Everton 2-1; a side who have been excellent all season. Undoubtedly the Reds will have to play to their potential to consider returning to Manchester with three points, and the manager will probably use Norwich as an example of what can happen if you don’t concentrate for 90 minutes. However with van Persie back amongst the goals and the defence finally finding the formula for a clean sheet, United will be hopeful of securing three points in Berkshire.
Reading vs. Manchester United match day thread HERE.
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