A 3-2 New Year’s defeat to Blackburn and a dismal 3-0 drubbing by Newcastle have led to United’s title aspirations being rightly questioned in the face of stiff competition in an increasingly difficult league. Today, we line up against a Bolton side that are lying in 18th place in the table yet have taken four points from their past 2 games, so in terms of recent form they are flying much higher than United are considering we have taken zero over the same period. In the earlier fixture this season, United stormed to a 5-0 victory at the Reebok courtesy of a hat-trick from Rooney and a brace from Hernandez – will today be more of the same? Not for me. Although we will be galvanised by the victory of City in the FA Cup, United are sitting atop a pressure volcano that is about ready to erupt if anything but a victory happens today. We have coped with pressure well in the past and SAF will have to make sure our team knows just how important today’s result may be in the shaping up of the title race.
Although the return of Paul Scholes to the squad is a boost to the fans and the team, it is a sign of clear desperation for United and of the dire straits that our midfield is in right now. Tom Cleverley is still not fit to return, Fletcher is out for the season, Anderson is only just returning to fitness and Carrick was our only guaranteed midfield starter. Jones partnered Carrick fantastically in the middle but has since been forced back into defence due to injuries and the lack of a consistent midfield partnership is hurting our performances. The return of Scholes is a stop-gap for SAF as he doesn’t want to buy in January but it is surely an early sign that we will finally break the bank and buy a big midfielder in the summer? We so desperately needed one in the last transfer window, didn’t buy one and are now suffering the consequences, so I can’t see it happening two years on the trot, right?
What was happened to the rest of the team? The lack of leadership is apparent in every respect – the impact of the season ending injury to Nemanja Vidic against Basel becomes more obvious with each passing minute that United play. Our defence has lost its impregnable façade and teams are now not afraid to come at us this season and we are simply struggling to cope with it. Rio Ferdinand, as much as we want to hope that he will return to his previous best, is slowly dwindling in both presence and ability on the pitch in our defence. With Nemanja out, Ferdinand has to dictate and control the tempo of the defence because for the all the ability of youngsters Jones, Evans and Smalling, they need a veteran voice ringing in their ear to ensure that they stay concentrated throughout the 90 minutes. When you look further back than the defenders, our goalkeeper situation is a no brainer (for me) right now – Lindegaard must start in goal today. De Gea was my number one choice to come in when VDS hung his gloves up and I still stand by my decision but he really is struggling to adapt to the Premier League and it will be a while before we see his best performances week-in-week-out. As for Lindegaard, taking away the Newcastle game in which he couldn’t stop any of the goals, he has been fantastic between the sticks for us this year and has a presence in the box that comes with being seven years the senior of De Gea. I hope he starts in goal for us today.
Wayne Rooney, typically, has been the at the centre of a media furore following his “night-out” with Evans but after a tame performance against Newcastle, a brace against City brought him straight back into the right limelight. Rooney, much like Nani, really struggles to find any sort of consistency throughout a season and his goals come in gluts. We need him to lead by example today because we are desperately in need of leadership on the pitch and in need of a good result in the league to turn attention away from Old Trafford. With Tottenham breathing down our necks, the title race is hotting up and any slips against opposition at the bottom of the table will place unnecessary pressure on the upcoming games against title contenders. For me, the result today depends solely on the character of the squad and whether or not we can use the home advantage to help us against a Bolton side that are there for the taking.
Prediction : Manchester United 3-1