Manchester United face Blackpool in the final game of the season on Sunday, and having already won their 19th league title last weekend can go into the game with the luxury of resting players ahead of the Champions League Final in a week’s time. It is however likely to be a poignant moment at the final whistle with one, probably two United legends making their exit from the stage in Old Trafford’s theatre of dreams. Both van der Sar and Scholes are expected to play in their last ever game at home for United, a sad moment indeed for the players and fans alike. It is also a hugely significant game for Ian Holloway’s men of course, who simply need a better result than their rivals to maintain Premiership status. This could effectively mean losing to United but conceding less goals than rivals Wigan, Blackburn or Birmingham.
Probable starting line-ups
Perhaps the one significant inclusion will be that of who plays right back; The Champions League Final spot seems to be between Fabio Da Silva and John O’Shea, so if Fergie wants to keep Pep guessing, he may well choose to elect Rafael or the forgotten Wes Brown who may well be coming to the end of his injury-ridden tenure at the club. If however one of the two players in contention starts on Sunday, it may well be the very player to miss out on the big day. In goal, van der Sar likely to start given that it is his last ever appearance at Old Trafford, with a send-off likely to be on the cards. Ahead of him then Evra is likely to want minutes, whilst we could see a partnership of Smalling and Evans at the heart of the defence.
In midfield, Scholes will similarly be given a start with strong rumours that this too could be his last game at Old Trafford (and given the strong competition for the squad next weekend, potentially his last ever). Alongside him, Anderson should get the nod, with perhaps Fletcher asked to play wide right, and tucking in to form a 3-man middle at times during the game, allowing for a 3 v 3 in the centre of the field with a likely opposition trio of Southern, Vaughan and Adam. United’s player’s player of the year Nani should complement the midfield on the left hand side, with Berbatov (attempting to finish the season as the league’s leading scorer) and Owen favourites to start the game up front as Hernandez and Rooney are in much need of recuperation.
Blackpool typically line up in a 4-3-3 system and like to play expansive, attacking football. Holloway will however offer instruct his side to defend in numbers when relieved of possession, with Taylor-Fletcher and Puncheon asked to drop deep forming a bank of five across the middle. Puncheon has impressed in the last half dozen of games; neat on the ball with good movement, his pace is used to good effect especially with the ‘false 9’ movement of Campbell as the latter seeks to pull the centre half out of position and create space in behind. Both Fletcher and Anderson will alternate in the deeper central midfield role alongside the ‘Ginger Prince’, and will have to be wary of the clever movement between the aforementioned front three.
Much has been made of Adam’s contribution to the team this season, but in Vaughan they have a tidy yet traditional central midfield player who likes to put in the defensive duties (see chalkboard for his high pressing game) as well as join the attack at every opportunity. In Taylor-Fletcher, who plays slightly further ahead, they don’t have a fantastic athlete in the mould of Essien or a midfielder with the finesse and precision of Silva, but they do have a clever and probing player who is willing to seek that ‘killer pass’. As the site Tangerine Dreaming concluded recently, ‘…his role is less about making the right runs, but more about the sleight of hand and the risk to make a pass.’
Vaughan: Attempting 9 tackles v Bolton last weekend (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Blackpool will also be a threat from corners, with Adam’s left foot he can whip a fearsome ball into the box (highest completion rate in the league with close to 55%), and Man United will be cautious to this threat, especially after the two goals they conceded at Bloomfield road from Adam centers. Adam often seeks to release Campbell and Puncheon early with the long diagonal, allowing his team to make the transition from defence to attack; Smalling and Evans will thus have to assist the fullbacks with aerial duties and be aware of this likely tactic. If Fletcher and Scholes can harry the Scottish International as soon as possible, Adam’s composure can often be lost with the resultant effect being misplaced passes. But as with the 2-3 result at Bloomfield Road, Man United will have to remain vigilant throughout the game, as the Tangerine’s like to take the game to the opposition and take that added risk that might, just might keep them in the country’s elite division.
Referee: Mike Dean. A referee in top form, took charge of the Wigan v West Ham clash last week as well as the Carling Cup Final.
Prediction: 2-1 to United, Berbatov and Scholes to score the goals.
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