Manchester United travel to West Brom on New Year’s Day (1/1/11) for what could be a highly entertaining match given the aesthetic ambitions (yet stark weaknesses) of the Italian manager ‘Robbie’ Di Matteo. The home team will be hoping to avoid a 4th successive defeat in the league, whilst Man United will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing 1-1 draw at St Andrew’s this week after controlling the game for large periods.
West Brom are likely to stick with a 4-2-3-1 with Fortune and Odemwingie vying for the single striker spot. Exciting talent Jerome Thomas will start wide left (though may drop to a central position when without the ball, see chalkboard), with Tchoi who started well versus Blackburn but faded late on, likely to lose out to Dorrans on the right with the return of Chris Brunt to the centre of midfield. In Brunt, Morrison and Mulumbu the home side have a central midfield mixture of flair and guile; Indeed Brunt has been fantastic this season particularly going forward with a deadly left-foot, but don’t underestimate defensive side of his game as he harries and challenges the opposition across the park (see chalkboard).
Ferguson has the continuing dilemma of whether to stick with the successful (domestically at least) 4-4-2, or match the Baggies with a 4-2-3-1. Im gambling on the former, given that 4-4-2 can be a wonderful foil to an attacking 4-2-3-1, with the flanks often an attacking outlet with the space squeezed in the middle. With Anderson having played 7 games in a row since his return to the side, I expect Fletcher to partner either Gibson or Carrick in centre midfield (who has been instrumental in the team’s defensive shape and return to form (Michael Carrick: Midfield Genius). Hernandez could be a surprise starter with Rooney looking a little jaded mid-week. His electric pace the perfect foil for the in-form Berbatov who will continue to play in the ‘false 9’ position, dropping deep where necessary and taking it in turns to lead the line in the final third. Scharner, a midfielder by trade, does not have the positional acumen at centre half to make this position his own, and Berbatov should enjoy pulling the Austrian out of position and bringing the wide players into play. The back four was solid yet again v Birmingham despite conceding, but don’t be surprised to see either Neville or Fabio selected in the starting 11.
As Di Matteo will welcome the return of Brunt, Ferguson should be able to call on the services of his most influential player this season in Nani. In tandem with Scholes and Berbatov in particular, the Portuguese star has been a sensation, constantly threatening opposition with his direct running, keeping high and wide up the pitch, and crucially, varying his play by bringing the ball inside and linking with the front-men. Nani’s crossing is also vastly improved (aside from corners bizarrely) and could be vital to the outcome of this game with space in behind the attack-minded fullback, Shorey. On the left, Obertan could earn a recall at the expense of the evergreen Giggs who might find it tough going starting 3 consecutive games returning from injury. Obertan will relish the chance to come up against the match-rusty Reid who is a late call-up due to injuries in the defence which could also be missing Scharner due to illness.
Still unbeaten, and with a chance to freshen things up, rumours of the squad’s demise are thus greatly exaggerated; with many a pundit/journalist perhaps starting to realise what Ferguson meant when he said there was no value in the market (today confirming there will be no signings in January).
Last time out: 2-2 draw. The less said about Van der Sar’s shocker the better!
Referee: Chris Foy – has enjoyed much progression on the circuit in the last 5 years and is regarded as one of the top referees in the country for his calm and methodical manner. Refereed United in both the 0-0 draws at Sunderland and M. City.
Highlights: Playing a great advantage on Nasri as he raced through on the Fulham goal for Arsenal, scoring one of the goals of the season thus far.
Lowlights: Not sending Ivanovic off as last man for a late challenge on Welbeck as he went clean through on goal at the Bridge at 0-0 (though we all know how that one ended up!). Blowing the final whistle after only 2 mins at the Stadium of Light v United when the Black Cats ran down the clock persistently during the game.
Prediction: Can’t quite see a 5-0 mauling as was the case here in 2008-09, but it could be an open game: I’m going for 3-1 to the reds, Berbatov (9/2 1st scorer) to continue his good form with Nani and Obertan helping us come away with the points and a slightly belated birthday present for Sir Alex.
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