After a miserable midweek Champions League match against Besiktas, the Premier League is here to save the day as bottom club Portsmouth host the Champions at Fratton Park. However, Sir Alex begins his two-match ban, so Mike Phelan will be handing out the touchline instructions.
It is Avram Grant’s first game in charge of Pompey after the departure of Paul Hart on Tuesday, and he seems up for the challenge,
“The spirit of the team and atmosphere are good. The squad is good enough to take us from the bottom, but we need some players who can improve us.”
It is Grant’s second spell at the club as he left Fratton Park in July 2007 to take up a director of football role at Chelsea succeeding Jose Mourinho in September of that year, but he was sacked at the end of the season despite guiding his side to second in the Premier League and the Champions League final, where they lost on penalties to our good selves.
Many of you may also remember Avram Grant’s first game in charge of Chelsea, a 2-0 defeat against the mighty reds. Lets hope history repeats itself on Saturday. Omens look positive for us as Portsmouth have been stuck at the bottom of the Premier League table since August and have the least effective front line in the Premier League, scoring just 10 goals in their 13 games. Vidic may have to wait for his contract and also some defensive tasks on Saturday.
Goalkeeper David James looks likely to miss the match with a calf injury, and should be replaced by Jamie Ashdown. Pompey could welcome back Papa Bouba Diop, who has recovered from a hamstring injury. John Utaka and Steve Finnan may also make it to the bench. One player to look out for is Aruna Dindane, Portsmouth’s top scorer with 4 so far this season (3 of which came against Wigan). Jamie O’Hara is another to look out for, he has been one of few bright lights at Fratton Park this season, providing the energy in the Pompey midfield and also an attacking threat we should be wary of.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been very gracious and respectful to his opposite number,
“He’s very experienced and I’m sure he will get the right reaction from his players. We’ve kept in touch quite a lot and he will be glad to get back into management. He has got a big challenge, but they have some good players and they might be in a false position.”
A much changed line up from Wednesday won’t include Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves who are definitely out, while Jonny Evans and John O’Shea have not made the trip south. This means Wesley Brown, “the best natural defender in the country” according to Ferguson, will continue his partnership with Vidic at the back. Evra should be recalled and Gary Neville will take up his usual position, as will Van der Sar.
With Portsmouth weak at left-back, Valencia will start to give the side a potent attacking threat down the right. After a rest in midweek, Carrick and Fletcher should form the midfield pairing, with Ryan Giggs battling it out with Gabriel Obertan for the left side position. Giggs should be given the nod as he searches for his 100th Premier League goal.
In the final third Dimitar Berbatov should be back after missing the last four matches and Wayne Rooney will commence service as well with Michael Owen dropping to the bench as has become the norm.
A word of caution: We have only managed two victories at Fratton Park in the Premier League out of six attempts, we have lost our last two away fixtures, not three in a row since 1996. Portsmouth haven’t scored in the last three matches between the sides. A comfortable victory and one that would be our 2,000th in the league, should ensue given the majority of the first team has in effect had a week off and should be fresh.
Portsmouth will have that air of confidence a new manager brings, but ultimately we should be too strong.
Probable Line Up: Van der Sar, Neville, Brown, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov
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