Manchester United host Cardiff City under the Old Trafford floodlights tomorrow in a Premier League game that is littered with interesting sub-plots.
The fixture sees the return of a former hero with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager of Cardiff after replacing Malky Mackay earlier this month but the spot light won’t be on the baby-faced assassin.
United’s new £37 million record-breaking signing Juan Mata is all set to make his debut after being unveiled at today’s news conference. There is a massive sense of anticipation around Mata’s debut because everyone is excited what he can do in a United shirt.
It’s been a week to forget on the pitch for David Moyes’ side as a 3-1 defeat at Chelsea was followed by an exhaustive loss against Sunderland on penalties, the latest in a string of turgid, unimaginative and defensively poor performances for the Reds. The signing of Mata should provide a timely psychological boost.
Nemanja Vidic is suspended while Michael Carrick and Nani are both likely to miss out through injury but the welcome return to training of Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are likely to be a further boost. It is now time for our squad to do the talking on the pitch and begin their charge to the top four.
Moyes’ men weren’t in action this weekend after their exit from the FA Cup a fortnight ago while Cardiff sealed their progression to the fifth round with a 1-0 victory over Bolton. However, the Bluebirds have lost their last two games in the league and currently lie bottom, a point adrift of safety.
Craig Noone and ex-Red Frazier Campbell are both likely to earn recalls after coming off the bench at the weekend. Noone impressed against Manchester City last weekend and Campbell is Cardiff’s top scorer with six goals. Gary Medel and Steven Caulker were also rested over the weekend and will come into the side.
The two sides met at the Cardiff City Stadium in November and drew 2-2 in a game where United conceded a late goal after Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney had turned the game in Moyes’ sides favour. The Wales based outfit last victory against the Reds was over 50 years ago and it is even longer since Cardiff last beat United at Old Trafford; a 3-2 victory in 1954.
Solskjaer’s side have not travelled well since their return to the top flight and are win-less in their last eight games away from home (two draws and six defeats). However, it is common knowledge that Old Trafford is hardly the fortress it once was when Solskjaer was leading the line for the Reds and three defeats in the last five in the league means the game is hardly a formality against a hungry side fighting hard for survival under their talented coach.
Mata may be a special player but even he cannot solve United’s inherent problems single-handedly. Although, the timely return of Rooney and van Persie could provide the cutting edge in front of goal United have lacked since the turn of the year and in addition to Mata’s creative powers, United could be ferocious going forward against Cardiff.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Cardiff