Madjeski Stadium, Reading
1st December, 17:30 GMT
Relegation threatened Reading host table toppers Manchester United at Madjeski Stadium on Saturday in a classic David versus Goliath encounter. For the Royals, any point gained from this fixture will be considered a bonus in what is bound to a season long arduous quest for survival whereas the Red Devils will look to consolidate their position at the top.
Reading might have made a flying start the last time they were promoted to the Premier League but this time around life in the top flight is proving to be much harder. After 13 games, they are precariously positioned at 19th in the table and a good four points off safety. It took 11 games for them to register their first win, which surprisingly came against Everton, but that was promptly followed by successive defeats to fellow strugglers Wigan and Aston Villa.
In both those games, the Royals conceded the winner late in the match – a tendency which will be disconcerting to manager Brian McDermott, especially when his team is about to take on a team whose reputation is scoring late goals. Reading though should take heart from Norwich’s performance against United a fortnight back and should believe that if they can work hard, keep their discipline and take their chances, they may just come away with a famous result.
Manchester United, truly speaking, are yet to get going this season but the fact that they have still managed to get hold of the top spot can be interpreted as an ominous sign for the rest of title challengers. Alternatively, it can be argued that if the present level of performances continues, it will just be a matter of time before they are dislodged from the top. In fact, with three defeats already their belt, their league leader status has more to do with failings of others than their own supremacy.
Marrying performances with results has been a real thorny issue for United this season and the same was the case in their previous two league fixtures, both at home. Against QPR last weekend, it needed a shock goal from the visitors to wake United up from their slumber and slam in three in quick succession. On Wednesday night against West Ham they got off the blocks early with van Persie’s deflected effort but failed to get out of second gear for the rest of the night.
Team News & Tactics
Reading boss Brian McDermott will be without the services of winger Jimmy Kébé, goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and midfielder Danny Guthrie, all for whom the match has come just a bit too early. Chris Gunter apparently picked up a hamstring injury prior to the match against Villa and it is still unknown whether the defender will recover in time.
Brian McDermott had played a 4-4-2 formation in recent weeks but doing that against United might be too risky a proposition. Goalkeeper Adam Federici has been one of the better performers this season for the Royals and is bound to retain his place. In defense, Adrian Mariappa, who was brought into the team for the midweek match, may retain his place alongside the talented young centre-back Sean Morisson. Veteran Nicky Shorey will be at left back and Shaun Cummings will deputize at the opposite flank if Gunter remains sidelined.
In the middle, Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood will be entrusted with the job of stifling Manchester United’s opposing numbers while Jay Tabb and Hal Robson-Kanu will man the wings. Brian McDermott may well drop Jason Roberts in favour of Garath McCleary as an extra man in the midfield and play Adam Le Fondre as the lone man upfront.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1): Federici; Cummings, Morisson, Mariappa, Shorey; Tabb, McAnuff, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu, McCleary; Le Fondre
Injury wise United are in a better position than they were a month ago with the return of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young to first team duties in the recent weeks. Shinji Kagawa, Nani and skipper Nemanja Vidic still remain in the treatment room. Antonio Valencia though is expected to have recovered from a minor hip injury which had kept him out of the games against QPR and West Ham.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who has tended to rotate his keepers around, may put David De Gea between the posts after Anders Lindegaard started three successive league matches. In the defense, Rio Ferdinand is expected to return after being rested for the midweek encounter and should be partnered by Jonny Evans. Rafael has been ever present for United this season in the league – barring the opening fixture – and it will be interesting to see whether Sir Alex opts to give the right back a well-deserved break and put Jones there instead. Patrice Evra, who has been in excellent form in recent weeks, should retain his left back spot.
While Sir Alex reverted to a midfield diamond against West Ham, the return of Valencia may precipitate a more traditional flat four in the midfield. Anderson would feel he had done just about enough on Wednesday to warrant another start while it’s difficult to see Ferguson choosing any one apart from Michael Carrick as the other midfielder. Ashley Young should return to the starting lineup in his customary left wing role and upfront Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie pick themselves. However, if Valencia is not deemed fit enough to start the game, Young may start on the right with Danny Welbeck on the left, as was the case against QPR last Saturday.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Young; Rooney, van Persie
- The highest attendance at Madjeski Stadium was recorded at 24,134 when Manchester United last visited in the Premier League in January 2008.
- Reading have conceded 18 of 23 goals in the second halves of games.
- Reading have got the third worst defensive record in the league while their opponents on Saturday have got the best offensive record.
- Manchester United are the only team across the top four division of English football who are yet to draw a league game.
- Manchester United have kept only one clean sheet away from home this season.
Player To Watch Out For
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutchman has been in scintillating form this season and recorded the quickest goal in Premier League this season against West Ham on Wednesday. He may not have found the back of the net in United’s last two league encounters before West Ham, but against a leaky Reading defense he has the potential to run riot and overtake Luis Suarez in the scoring charts.
Reading 0-2 Manchester United
Even though United’s performances have been patchy this season, it is difficult to see beyond them for this fixture. Reading may frustrate them for a while but ultimately United should prove much too strong for the hosts.
Blast From The Past