With just two days rest, Manchester United travel to St. Andrew’s to take on Birmingham City in another festive period encounter in the Barclays Premier League.
United triumphed to a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford, but Birmingham’s match against Everton was postponed due to frozen pipes at Goodison Park, so the hosts should be well-rested.
With the victory, the Reds kept their advantage at the top of the Premier League table, but Sir Alex Ferguson knows to expect a very tough match against one of his former players.
With all things considered, Alex McLeish, who played under Sir Alex at Aberdeen, has done well at Brum since taking over in November of 2007.
To be fair, Birmingham will more than likely never win the Premier League without significant investments made to their existing squad, so they will always be one of those “yo-yo” club.
However, that will not stop the Blues from playing spoiler, because Birmingham City has already done that once this season with a run-against-play 1-0 home win over Chelsea.
The club currently sits right above the relegation places in 17th place having taken 18 points from their 17 matches.
What is truly amazing about the league this year, is that with maximum points from their next two matches, Brum could move all the way up to eighth place, and would only be three points off the of the Europa League place.
The reason for their demise this season – eight places worse than they finished at the end of last season – Birmingham has been very poor in front of goal, which sees the ranked 19th in goals scored in the Premier League.
The Blues has only scored 17 goals – which is only four more than Dimitar Berbatov’s league-leading tally is – and 21 fewer than United’s season total in as many games.
Contrastingly, their defense has been their saving grace having only conceded 20 goals this season, which is tied for fifth best in the league, and only four worse off than United.
There is one player on the Birmingham roster that will be looking to put in a very good performance against and that is their goalkeeper, Ben Foster, who transferred to the Midlands this summer after spending five seasons at Old Trafford.
McLeish talked Stephen Carr out of retirement nearly two years ago and made him his captain this season, and the right-back scored an absolute belter of a goal against United 11 seasons ago when he was with Tottenham Hotspur.
The club’s leading goal scorer is Craig Gardner, who made a deadly transfer move across the city from Aston Villa last season, with four goals, and down to him taking their penalties.
Their joint second leading scorers are Liam Ridgewell and Cameron Jerome and they both need special mentioning, because of their ability to score important goals.
Ridgewell became the first Villa player to transfer to Brum in 23 years when he joined in 2007, always seems to score his goals in the dying seconds, so United should be weary of him advance from his defensive position.
Jerome was a real handful for the United defense the last time these two teams met up – almost a year ago – as he scored the opening goal in their fully deserved 1-1 draw.
After watching the United’s match against Sunderland, McLeish will be more than likely stacking his midfield with Lee Bowyer, Keith Fahey and Barry Ferguson anchoring the center of it.
This tough stretch of three matches in eight days will see Sir Alex utilize his 24-man squad – which is not including Owen Hargreaves – so he does not wear out his players.
Ferguson took off Anderson, Ryan Giggs and Berbatov against Sunderland to rest their legs, and some are making something of the former being taken off and not sitting on the bench with the rest of the team.
Berbatov proved to the manager that he warrants a place in the starting XI with seven goals in his last two league matches, which will disappoint some of the other forwards waiting in the wings.
Last season, Sir Alex Ferguson said that Manchester United was grateful to take a point from this fixture, but this year and based on both their’s and Birmingham City’s form, the Reds should win this match and keep top spot heading into the turn of the New Year.
Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), P. Scholes (groin), J. O’Shea (calf); Probable: M. Owen (hamstring)
E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, Anderson, M. Carrick, R. Giggs; W. Rooney, D. Berbatov
Birmingham City 1 Manchester United 2