Happy New Year! With a change in year comes a change in competition, The FA Cup begins in earnest and Manchester United begin the competition with a mouth-watering third round tie against arch rivals Leeds United;
a fixture that has been off the regular calendar since 2004
However, Leeds are a side on the up and sit six points clear at the top of League One with a game in hand. Two divisions separate the teams, but come 1 PM, a proper cup-tie will ensue.
Leeds are unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions stretching back to October and boss Simon Grayson is confident in what they can achieve at Old Trafford,
“We’re in a decent run of form and we’re very confident in what we can try and achieve,” he said. “I feel we have got some talented players that can perform, certainly in the next level and hopefully the next level after that, but the proof will be in the pudding on Sunday. Hopefully we will be able to handle it. We’re going into the game with a huge amount of confidence and belief. “They will believe by the time the kick-off comes around that’s for sure. The last thing I will tell them is good luck, and make sure you win the game.”
Going into the match Leeds Defender Leigh Bromby is suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Stockport, but other than that the visitors have no new injury worries and are missing only long-term absentee Ben Parker and defender Rui Marques, who is on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Angola. Jermaine Beckford is the obvious choice as danger man, the tall striker has bagged 19 goals in all competitions this season leading to speculation over his future as he is out of contract in the summer, he will most likely be looking to impress on the biggest stage.
United on the other hand will be joyful of each passing day as more and more defenders are passed fit. Sir Alex Ferguson will look to use some more of his squad giving club captain Gary Neville a starting berth as he has recovered from a groin injury. Fabio may get in ahead of Patrice Evra, giving the French left-back a well earned break, but expect Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic to continue in the centre of defence. The game comes too soon for Rio Ferdinand, who has been doing some light jogging, but Jonny Evans could feature following a return to fitness. John O’Shea is still out.
With Edwin van der Sar on compassionate leave, Ben Foster may be given another chance to stake a claim for the number one spot, leaving Tomasz Kuszczak to watch from the bench.
The United midfield could see the return of Paul Scholes who has recovered from a hip complaint. Along side him will be Darren Fletcher or Anderson — more likely the Scot could be selected to give the midfield some added bite. Expect Gabriel Obertan and Ji-Sung Park to be given the wing berths, while Nani and Owen Hargreaves are still sidelined. Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia should be on the bench.
As for the strike force, the big question is will Michael Owen make his 400th appearance for an English club? If so then Dimitar Berbatov will partner him, with Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench giving the United talisman a well-earned breather.
Sir Alex underlined the importance of the game during his press conference, stating,
“I don’t need to spell out to Manchester United fans and players what Leeds games have meant over the years,” said Sir Alex, “They were fantastic, feisty occasions every time we met, there was always a tinge of hostility hovering around the game and we always told the players to behave themselves on the pitch. I used to enjoy the games – they made us perform. We had some great games at Leeds because the atmosphere was always electric and our record was good, I think we only lost once there. They were two competitive teams then, but it’s a different United team now, and we just have to make sure we play our normal game. They’re bringing 9,000 fans, so it will be a brilliant atmosphere and a fantastic cup tie.”
Let the War of the Roses commence.
Prediction: 3-1 United
Probable Line Up: Foster, Neville, Brown, Vidic, Fabio, Park, Fletcher, Scholes, Obertan, Berbatov, Owen.
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