United's Christmas Wish List

There are only 26 shopping days left until Christmas, but before the Manchester United players can even think about celebrating the joy of the holiday season with their families, the Reds have five season-changing matches in three different competitions to contest with.

The Reds’ are first away at Upton Park against West Ham United in the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup, then they travel to Bloomfield Road to take on Blackpool in the Barclays Premier League, after that they host Valencia at Old Trafford for a group-deciding match, followed by a visit of Arsenal and an away trip to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.

The annihilation of Blackburn Rovers will surely boost their confidence going into the tough 20-day stretch, which could very easily make or break United’s 2010/11 season’s objectives.

United has continued their unbeaten streak to 29 matches, but they will do well if it reaches 34, because they will surely be extended to extremes against their next five opponents.

Most managers would be cringing at the thought of facing Valencia, Arsenal and Chelsea in back-to-back-to-back matches, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be licking his lips, and his players will chomping at the bit at three-match stretch.

Before they get those matches, United has a tricky trip to Upton Park to face a West Ham team that has just “saved” their season with a 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic at the same venue.

United's Christmas Wish List

It will be interesting to see whether Avram Grant plays his first-choice players or not, because the Hammers are in a real fight for their Premier League life.

Like what Grant did last season with Portsmouth, the Carling Cup could offer West Ham a welcomed-relief from their struggles in the top flight of English football or it could be seen as an unneeded distraction, too.

The match that United should be weariest of, is the short, hour-long trip to Bloomfield Road to take on newly-promoted Blackpool, because it is in the mix of some very high profile matches.

Holloway, who leaped to the defense of Manchester United during the whole Wayne Rooney saga, has done an admirable job turning the fortunes of the Seasiders around in less than a year and a half at the helm.

The Tangerines have already upset Liverpool at Anfield 2-1 at the beginning of October, and Blackpool are only six points off the Europa League spot (5th).

Three days later, United will look to secure top spot in Group C with either a draw or win against Valencia at Old Trafford.

United has yet to concede a goal in any of their five UCL matches, which included an impressive, but late 1-0 victory over Los Che at the Mestalla in October.

There are couple of factors that could play into United’s favor with this match, and that is; 1. Valencia has a grueling match at the Santiago Bernabéu against Real Madrid, which is a team United desperately would like to avoid until the later rounds of the competition; and both teams have already qualified for the Knockout phase, which will take some gloss off the significance of this fixture.

Sir Alex will more than likely field a team with a mixture of youth and experience to see how his young players will cope with the pressures of facing highly-potent European team with the next rounds beckoning.

The next two matches could see United build a real gap between themselves and Arsenal and Chelsea, who have identical records after 15 games.

The first match will have United playing Arsenal at the Theater of Dreams, and the Gunners have the best away record in the Premier League.

Prior to the match with United, Arsenal host Partizan Belgrade in a must-win match in the Champions League after their shock 2-0 defeat to Braga last week.

Hopefully that will force Arsene Wenger to shift his focus on getting through to the next round of the UCL rather than the match against United, because if the Gunners fail to advance to the next round, it would be quite detrimental to their chase for that elusive piece of silverware.

On their day, Arsenal can dominate any team with their precise passing, but, as United proved last season, United have the ability to press them high up the pitch and then hit them with a blistering counter attack.

At the beginning of November, United were five points off Chelsea and in third place, but with an inferior goal difference by 14, but just 27 days later, the Reds have not only pulled ahead of the West London club in the standings, but they have also drawn level in the goal differential column at +19.

Prior to them hosting United, they face a really short, but very tricky trip to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham.

Last season, United were subjected to two controversial refereeing decisions that went against them and for Chelsea, so if the Reds do not have to battle the 12 men that Wayne Rooney claimed then this should be another even match.

All in all, if Manchester United play as they did against Blackburn, the Red Devils should be through to the Semi-Finals of the Carling Cup, secured the top spot in their UEFA Champions League group and, most importantly, increased their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League after the next five decisive matches.

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