Manchester United vs Reading: Match Preview
The Red Devils are in seventh heaven with a 12 point lead over Manchester City, their closest rivals both geographically and competitively, but poles apart as far as season’s performance is concerned.
Looking back to their last Premier League defeat – a 1-0 loss at Norwich City in November – gives you an idea of the league’s unquestioned deference to their regaining the title.
In direct contrast, the recent form of the Royals has been poor and betrays their regal moniker.
Brian McDermott’s reign ended on Monday with Reading in 19th place, four points from safety with nine games remaining.
It is the 10th time in the league’s history that a club in the bottom three have changed managers after February – and the previous nine all went down.
The omens are nothing short of apocalyptic, and games like Saturday’s against United and those that follow against Arsenal and Liverpool give caretaker manager Eamonn Dolan and his eventual successor – not to appointed until at least next week – a mountain to climb.
Manchester United, while dominant in the league, may have been shaken by results in the FA Cup, where complacency allowed Chelsea to take the tie to a replay, and in the Champions League, where United were beaten by Real Madrid at home since their last league match.
With a United win verging on a certainty – a view justified by their frighteningly consistent home record – they will be hoping that the holders City will slip up in a what is potentially challenging away fixture at Everton, regardless of the Toffees’ recent decline.
There should be no repeat of the seven goal-splurge that ensued in the reverse fixture, with Rio Ferdinand in imperious form and Nemanja Vidic gradually returning to his domineering self despite his fitness needing to be carefully managed, which saw him begin on the bench in the cup last weekend.
With the combined haul of the strike force of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie amounting to more than Reading’s team put together, this game seems a mismatch personified. Nani (hamstring) is ruled out however, while Phil Jones and Paul Scholes are also unavailable.
The situation that has unravelled in Berkshire over the last few days is a quite exceptional one that has sent shockwaves throughout English football.
If the dismissal of Nigel Adkins at Southampton was not sufficient warning, McDermott’s demise serves to highlight the perpetual insecurity of management that no amount of progress can guard against.
For owner Anton Zingarevich, top flight survival is primordial to his ‘project’, especially given the injection of television money set for the summer.
With Reading on fewer points after 29 games than in either of their previous Premier League campaigns, and with only one victory on the road all season, finding form in such a turbulent week – and holding back United’s formidable attack – will be no mean feat.
In the absence of Pavel Pogrebnyak (suspended), the Royals’ top scorer Adam Le Fondre, who notched in the reverse fixture, will need to be on his game.
Dolan, who reportedly intends to consult the dismissed McDermott on team selection for Saturday, will be without injured duo Adam Federici and Jimmy Kebe to boot.
With the hosts smarting after a feeble second half display against Chelsea and, of course, the perceived injustice of their Champions League exit, expect their resolve to wrap up the title to be doubled.
They are a side constructed in the image of their manager, with their ruthless mentality allowing them to really get in the ascendancy and dominate sides at home regardless of league position.
Reading, however, are reticent travellers and have neither the defensive stability nor the counter-attacking brio to really trouble the champions elect.
Tom Harle’s Prediction: Manchester United 3 Reading 1