After producing one of their best results of the season, Manchester United will attempt to translate that momentum into a much-needed away win as they take on Blackpool at Bloomfield Road tonight.
On Saturday, United dominated from start to finish in a 5-0 demolition of Birmingham City, with Dimitar Berbatov leading the way with his third hat trick of the season.
The win moved United two points clear at the top of Premier League table, and if they can secure all three points against Ian Holloway’s side, they’ll be five points up on Arsenal with the same number of games played, six clear of Manchester City with a game still in hand, and ten clear of Chelsea with the same number of games played.
This season, that’s an endeavor that has been easier said than done, as United have only experienced the joys of celebrating an away win twice in ten away Premier League matches, at Stoke City in October and at West Brom on New Year’s Day.
Blackpool’s inaugural top flight campaign was expected to be a struggle, as they looked to be the weakest of this season’s promoted teams, with Newcastle and West Brom boasting more resources and more Premier League experience.
However, not only have Blackpool brought plenty of entertainment off the pitch, thanks to the quote machine that is Ian Holloway, but they’ve brought plenty of it on the pitch as well and have gotten quite a few results out of it. As it stands, they’ve not only in an excellent position to survive if they can stay the course, but a top-ten finish is also well within reach. The Seasiders are currently 12th in the Premier League table, six points clear of the bottom three and only three points behind seventh-placed Blackburn.
Blackpool haven’t shown any fear when it comes to taking opponents on, and they’re tied with Tottenham for seventh in the league in goals scored with 32. Only three more teams have scored more away goals than Blackpool’s 17, and all three of them are in the top four – Arsenal (23), City (19), and Chelsea (18). While some of the world’s best have been behind the scoring for that trio, the names at the top of Blackpool’s scoring charts are DJ Campbell, Marlon Harewood, Luke Varney, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and Charlie Adam. Household names? Not so much. Effective? Yes.
The one of that bunch who’s garnered the most attention is former Rangers man Adam, who’s notched four goals and four assists this season and has been linked with the likes of Aston Villa and Liverpool, who both have money to spend and a need to spend it. Last week, Liverpool put in a 4m bid for Adam that Holloway branded ‘disgraceful’, but disgraceful as it may have been, the interest looks to have turned Adam’s head, as he put in a transfer request yesterday.
The request was promptly rejected as expected, but one could imagine that the last thing Holloway would want on the eve of facing the league leaders is having to deal with his best player’s open desire to leave. A focused Adam is a dangerous Adam, and if he’s got his mind filled with dreams of Anfield and not the task at hand, it could be a real dent to Blackpool’s hopes of earning a positive result tonight.
Whether or not Adam’s at his best, Blackpool won’t be shy about coming forward, and United will need to avoid the lapses that have been a thorn in their side far too often this season, and not just away from Old Trafford.
United were without a couple of their defensive stars against Birmingham, with Rio Ferdinand out due to a groin injury and Rafael serving a one-match suspension after his red card against Tottenham. Rafael will be in the starting XI tonight, but Ferdinand is still a doubt. However, Chris Smalling put in a good display against Birmingham, and he’ll be ready and able do the business if called into action.
Speaking of defense, United need to exploit and take full advantage of the home side’s defensive shortcomings. Blackpool have allowed 38 goals in 22 matches, with only Aston Villa (39), Wolves (41), West Brom (43), and West Ham (43) allowing more. They’ve allowed two or more goals a dozen times in the Premier League, including three at home against City and away to Villa and West Brom, four at Arsenal, and six at Chelsea.
It would seem that Untied are due for a dominant away win, and if there’s any time for it to happen, this is it.
Not only are United fresh off of their five-star showing against Birmingham, but with Blackpool’s defensive struggles in mind, there’s also no reason for United to not play as they’re capable from the start and taking the game by the scruff of the neck, which is the approach that we hadn’t seen too much of this season prior to Saturday. Could this be where Wayne Rooney rediscovers his scoring form? It’s fair to expect him to have at least a few chances to do so, and if he can convert, it’ll be just what the doctor ordered heading into a key stretch of United’s season.
Of course, even if the attack is sharp once again, United also need to be on their toes defensively, with or without Rio, but if United can keep Tottenham at bay down a defender for the last quarter of the match, there are no excuses, even if it’s young Smalling that’s partnered with Vidic.
Simply put, there are no excuses for United to not deliver a second straight quality performance and take all three points tonight. But will they?
Prediction: 4-2 United
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