Well hello again. Over the last two weeks, we’ve had the end of the summer transfer window and plenty of international football to be distracted by, but it just doesn’t quite fill the void, does it? As nice as it is to see the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young succeeding on international level, the two-week international breaks still feel a lot longer than they actually are.
When last we saw Manchester United as a team, we witnessed one of the most memorable matches in United history. In case the break has wiped away your memory, the scoring went a little something like this: Welbeck, Young, Rooney, Rooney, Nani, Park Ji-Sung, Van Persie, Rooney, Young. Or to sum it up further, a hat trick for Rooney, a brilliant brace for Young (and three assists), eight goals for United, and a wake-up call for Arsenal.
It’s highly, highly unlikely we’ll see United have such a goal barrage today at Bolton, but coming out of this short but tricky trip will ensure United keep pace with City and Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table heading into next weekend’s clash with Chelsea.
Last season, United took four of six points against Bolton, and they were made to work for the results they received in each fixture.
In their visit to Bolton last September, United fell behind twice but came away with a 2-2 draw thanks to a late Michael Owen equalizer.
Then in March, United weren’t able to break Bolton for more than 80 minutes, and Jonny Evans was sent off with less than 15 minutes remaining. But with time running out, Dimitar Berbatov saved the day, pouncing on a spilled Nani shot and slotting home a dramatic, important winner.
Bolton enter today 10th in the table, but they’ll be looking to perform much better coming out of the international break than they did leading up to it.
A 4-0 win at QPR on the opening day of the season was quite the start, but Owen Coyle’s side hasn’t been able to build off of that against much tougher competition. City came to the Reebok Stadium and left with a 3-2 win, and then Bolton went to Anfield and were dominated by Liverpool in a 3-1 defeat.
Those defensive issues aren’t what you want to be dealing with heading into a match against a potent United attack, but while their depth is hurt by the absences of Marcos Alonso, Tyrone Mears, and Sam Ricketts, there are a couple of defensive boosts for Coyle. Bolton signed promising City defender Dedryck Boyata on loan shortly before the end of the window, but more importantly, they managed to hold on to in-demand center back Gary Cahill, who seemed to be headed for a late move to Tottenham but stayed put after the two sides couldn’t agree a fee.
Coyle also bolstered his attacking options late on, with striker David N’Gog arriving from Liverpool and Chelsea youngster Gael Kakuta moving to the club on loan. Both should get their Bolton debuts today, as should Boyata.
Their midfield isn’t nearly as strong as it could be, as Lee Chung-Yong is out for an extended period of time after suffering a broken leg in preseason, and Stuart Holden is still not quite ready to make his return from a knee injury suffered in that March meeting at Old Trafford.
Even with the injuries, Bolton should pose some problems, with the new signings all looking to make an instant impact, Ivan Klasnic in fine form to start the season, and the ageless Kevin Davies, who can’t wait to face United.
United haven’t survived the start of the season unscathed, but where there is an absence, there’s also an opportunity.
With Nemanja Vidic still working his way back and Rio Ferdinand unlikely to start even though he’s available for selection, we should see Phil Jones and Jonny Evans (who likely won’t receive a warm reception from the Bolton faithful) partnering up in the center of defense for the third straight match.
Elsewhere at the back, Chris Smalling has made a fine argument to remain first choice at right back even after Rafael returns next month, and with it, he also may have found where his immediate England future lies.
It’ll be interesting if we see the same quartet in midfield as we did in the first three matches, with Young and Nani on the flanks and Anderson and Tom Cleverley in the middle. Antonio Valencia is fit and available, and Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, and Park are all due for a start sooner or later (perhaps against Benfica on Wednesday), but that quartet has been fantastic thus far. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it certainly ain’t broke.
If there’s a place where United are never starved for options, it’s in attack. Rooney has come out guns blazing to start the season, finding the scoresheet in each of the first three Premier League matches.
The odds are in favor of that run continuing today, even with a change in his strike partner. Danny Welbeck took advantage of Javier Hernandez’s concussion-related absence to make his mark in United’s early fixtures, but it’s the opposite now, with Chicharito set to make his first start of the season in place of Welbeck, who went down against Arsenal with a hamstring injury.
Fortunately, Welbeck won’t be out as long as initially feared, as he should return to training next week, but Fergie will have quite the dilemma once he does return, especially if Chicharito makes the most of his return to the starting XI. And considering how well he and Rooney worked together last season, that looks more probable than possible.
With their early-season form, those who are into football betting are far more likely to back United, and that’s the right way to go.
However, it likely won’t come easily. It isn’t always easy to make a running start right out of an international break, and Bolton won’t at all be intimidated, even with a few new faces in the lineup.
But the break won’t have dented United’s confidence in the least, and the train will keep on rolling heading into a big week.
Score Prediction: Bolton 1-2 Manchester United
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