Manchester United are back in action this weekend after the midweek postponement of the Carling Cup semi-final. The F.A. Cup 3rd Round loss to Leeds United has been hard to swallow, with many of the team in for harsh criticism, so expect two things against Birmingham later today. First, a number of changes and second, the dreaded United backlash.
A week dwelling on an embarrassing defeat is almost over and the team will be looking to make amends at St. Andrews, but it will be by no means an easy match. Birmingham are unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches and have equaled the record set in 1907/08, ironically, a run which ended with a 1-0 loss to Manchester United on 29th February 1908. They have also kept nine clean sheets so far this term, only Chelsea have done better.
Sir Alex Ferguson said after the Leeds match he would be ringing the changes for the following Manchester Derby. Since it was called off, these changes will be made against the Midlands side. So it looks as if it will be the 100th consecutive game he has made changes to his starting line-up.
One constant will be Tomasz Kuszczak, who, despite his error against Leeds, will continue to keep the number one spot from Ben Foster or even Ben Amos.
The defence will have a couple of changes: Patrice Evra coming in for Fabio at left-back and the other twin, Rafael, replacing the abysmal Gary Neville at right-back. The centre-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Wes Brown was not up to standard against Leeds, but due to injuries it will remain intact for this match. Sir Alex and his fitness team have now worked out what is wrong with Nemanja Vidic; it appears he has tweaked a nerve in his leg and will be out for just over a week. Rio Ferdinand is edging closer to a comeback, but he is about two weeks away from that. John O’Shea is out for a while yet.
The midfield should look completely different from the weekends match, Antonio Valencia will be restored to the right side of midfield, Ryan Giggs should come in on the left, while Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher will take up their customary roles in the heart of the midfield four. It should be expected that Anderson will see some action against Birmingham, as he was one of the better players at the weekend along with Valencia. Owen Hargreaves has stepped up his rehabilitation from his knee troubles but is only training with the reserves at the moment.
The strike force will inevitably be Wayne Rooney and one other. Dimitar Berbatov was atrocious and it is also rumored he is carrying an injury that needs operating on. Berbatov has scored six league goals so far this season, but none of those have come against a side higher than 10th in the current table. Birmingham are 8th. Will Michael Owen get a chance to start? He should, given the Bulgarians form.
We have not lost to the Blues since 1978 and Paul Scholes is confident we can get back on track, “We’ve been written off so many times before and come back and proved people wrong, so hopefully we can do that again,” he said.
Alex McLeish’s team should remain unchanged for the ninth successive league match. Look out for the centre back pairing of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, who have both been imperious this term, and behind them Joe Hart is staking a serious claim to be England’s number one goalkeeper at the World Cup. Lee Carsley, Stuart Parnaby and Gregory Vignal are all ruled out through injury
Newly crowned manager of the month McLeish will be definitely be looking to get one over his mentor, as yet he has never beaten his former boss. In jovial fashion, he joked, “The big one for all of us who have played for Sir Alex is to beat him – but you’re not allowed, I’ve never done it. We lost 1-0 at Ibrox in the Champions League when I was manager of Rangers and then got thumped 3-0 down the road. I’ve lost two games since I’ve been here at Birmingham — both 1-0 — so I’m getting closer.”
Lets hope he doesn’t get any closer and 3 points are on their way back to Old Trafford.
Prediction: 1-0 United
Probable Line Up: Kuszczak, Evra, Evans, Brown, Rafael, Giggs, Fletcher, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Owen.
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