Manchester United host Bolton tomorrow afternoon in what could be a very entertaining game given the aesthetic ambitions of Coach Owen Coyle, but with the odds firmly with the Manchester side having beaten Bolton in their last seven visits to Old Trafford. United ended the run of two straight defeats with decent showings versus Arsenal and Marseille in the past week, but Sir Alex will be more than aware that his side are facing the prospect of three straight league defeats, and the damaging effect this could have on United’s title challenge.
Probable Starting Line-ups (4-4-1-1 v 4-4-1-1)
With an horrendous list of injuries further exacerbated by the latest knocks to both John O’Shea and Rafael Da Silva midweek, Fergie will once again have to re-shuffle his pack and try to ensure that his team does not lost that vital balance.
Evans if fit again after training all week and could earn a surprise recall at the heart of the defence, with Fergie perhaps weary of Elmander’s aerial threat coming in from wide positions. This would mean Brown taking up the right back slot ahead of Fabio, with Smalling and Evra retaining their positions. Evans has had a relatively poor season by his high standards, but ironically the one game where he did shine was Bolton at the Reebok; in a game where the United defence were always going to lose their fair share of aerial battles, Evans managed to win over half his personal aerial challenges against Davies and Elmander in particular – in fact when we compare his stats to Vidic (who is usually impeccable) in the same game, the Serbian only managed to win three out of nine challenges, as Elmander ran riot and took the man of the match award.
Evans/Vidic clearances v Bolton (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
In midfield, Fergie may well elect to give Valencia his first start in 2011, perhaps offering him the chance to give Nani a well-earned rest after his recent injury scare from the Carragher horror tackle. Park has also trained well and could be in line to start in place of Giggs who played midweek. Keeping high and wide may well elicit some success for the home side, as Bolton’s major weakness is in the fullback position; Robinson in particular positionally lax, often sitting either far too deep, or staying up the pitch once a Bolton attack has broken down – Valencia’s pace and direct approach play could cause the fullback a plethora of problems.
Keeping possession of the ball in the middle of the pitch will be a key factor in the game, and Gibson should come in for the suspended Scholes to join Carrick. Fergie may well be tempted to rest Rooney who has covered a lot of ground in the last three games in particular, offering a chance for Berbatov to partner the in-form Hernandez. However, it may well be a timely opportunity to rest the Mexican striker (who has scored 10 goals in the league from just 14 shots!) given his fantastic contribution in recent games, so don’t be surprised to see the Rooney-Berbatov partnership resume business, with both players taking it in turns to come deep and take on the creative duties.
Bolton boss Coyle may well be tempted to play 5 across the middle but that would be entirely against his attacking ethos; aside from Steinsson then, he has a fully fit squad from which to choose. If Steinsson fails to recover from a virus we can expect Robinson to be switched to right back and Alonso to come in on the left. In midfield Petrov should continue to get the nod over Lee and Taylor, having been the preferred choice of late due to the fact he has improved the defensive side of his game so much this season. In the centre, Holden and Muamba continue to provide the finesse and the bite respectively, with the young American in particular catching the eye this term with some neat midfield play and the ability to ‘mix it up’. As the chalkboard demonstrates, his passing range is fantastic, as is his ability to get box to box offering defensive attributes and an eye for an assist in the final third.
Holden midfield variation and assist vs. Everton (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Sturridge should continue alongside Davies, who will be looking to make it 5 goals in 6 league starts for the Wanderers. This will mean Elmander should start ahead of Taylor and Klasnic and take his position on the flanks; Typically Elmander’s instruction has been similar to the one he carries out for Sweden in a wide right position, joining the attack at every opportunity; but don’t be surprised to see him start on the left (switching throughout the game with Petrov) given that Coyle may well expect youngster Fabio to start at right back.
Owen Coyle has rejuvenated a very average looking Bolton side from last season, espousing the very attacking characteristics he displayed as a player. Keeping the ball very well and working it to the flanks where Petrov and Elmander can be a real threat is something Bolton have done well in recent games; Davies will also look to come deep for the ball, and the pacey Sturridge will seek to work off the target man, hoping to get in behind United’s makeshift defence. Man United should take the game to the opposition however and finding Valencia or Nani on the right as early as possible may pay dividends.
Referee: Andre Marriner. Officiated excellently in the Manchester Derby, despite showing Giggs a relatively soft booking after Tevez seemed to run directly at the Welshman.
Prediction: 2-1 to United. Back Sturridge or Berbatov to score 1st at 9/4
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