Reading who? Manchester United brace themselves for the unknown

Reading? Reading who?

Not PC and definitely not respectful, but after losing out to Arsenal at Old Trafford and having a whole week to prepare quietly for the next spell of 3 games in 9 days (Reading away on Saturday, Benfica away on Tuesday and Newcastle at home on Sunday), the last thing Manchester United needed was a match against an unknown team that has proven that it can win a couple of matches.

I’d rather have Manchester United travelling to Middlesbrough (but only if someone can kick Woody out of the game in the first half), Sheffield United (ok, that’s too easy) or even Newcastle United.

And while Manchester United have been lucky enough to meet Fulham and Charlton early on in the league, teams such as Blackburn, Villa, Everton and Portsmouth are not going to be easy to beat.

Reading, on the other hand, have the advantage of being unknown. Their decent run (3 wins, 100% home record and signficantly better than their promoted brethren, who are at 19th and 20th) means that like Wigan last year, Reading will be a very tough team to play and especially score against.

I expect the Ronaldo-Rooney-Saha axis to start firing again and while United will miss Giggs, there is enough quality in our attack to allow us a convincing win. Defensively we’re still suspect, which is why I’m eager to see Vidic return and get an extended run in the side. His presence could have a calming effect on Rio and more importantly, force Brown to improve as well.

Rio Ferdinand has to play well for Manchester United to come away from the Madejski with a win. I’m hoping one of the Reading players winds him up early on – he plays best when he’s pissed off.

Rio Ferdinand playing for Manchester United

Manchester United Injuries Update

Manchester United have Edwin van der Sar available again, and according to Queiroz he will be starting against Reading. Silvestre will be out though (is that a sigh of relief I hear?) and Evra should take his place.

Giggs and Park are out long-term – Giggs should be back next month, but Park may not return till Christmas. Heinze is likely to be rested for now, maybe we’ll see him for the Benfica game? Vidic could get a start (with Brown on the bench) but Smith will not be risked yet.

Expected Manchester United starting lineup

Ferguson will stick with the same players that started the Arsenal game, with only injuries (and recoveries) making changes necessary.

van der Sar

But that’s not the lineup I’d like to see. There are several different things Ferguson could do here, depending on the fitness of Vidic and Heinze, as well as the degree of confidence he has in Scholes and Carrick working together in midfield.

He could start with Vidic and / or Heinze at the back, with Brown and Evra sitting out. Richardson could start on the left, with Ronaldo restored to his right-wing slot. Scholes, Saha and Rooney are sure starters, which leaves one midfield berth for Carrick, O’Shea and Fletcher to fill. My money’s on Carrick – Ferguson must give Scholes and Carrick the time together to prove that they can work in midfield and more importantly for Manchester United, if Carrick is to develop as a player he needs an extended run in the side.

Soccerlens Prediction

A tough, nervy game for United (much like the one we had against Watford). Reading could easily take a point of United tomorrow at the Madejski. It’s a must-win game for Manchester United after their loss at home to Arsenal, and no one knows that more than Ferguson.

Manchester United 2-1 Reading – we’ll concede a goal, but Ronaldo and Scholes (and Carrick, if he plays) should have a blinder. Rooney? The slump could continue for another game, but the man who claims to be better than Best is more likely to fire against Benfica.

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