It’s rare that expectations are low for Manchester United, but after the back-to-back disappointments against Blackburn and Newcastle, United were the clear underdogs heading into last weekend’s FA Cup showdown at City. But as has happened time and time and time and time again, United delivered when the chips were down, and while the 3-2 triumph doesn’t make everything better in an instant, it served as yet another reminder that it’s never a wise idea to write off Manchester United.
However, that win, as sweet as it was, won’t matter if United can’t build off of it, and today, United host local rivals Bolton looking to snap the league losing skid.
1. This is Bolton’s 11th straight season in the Premier League, but they look to face a real fight to make it a dozen. Owen Coyle’s side has spent most of the season at the lower end of the table, and they currently sit 18th, one point behind fellow strugglers Wolves and QPR.
Bolton started the season with a 4-0 win at QPR, but they proceeded to go 2-0-14 in their next 16 matches. Their play has started to pick up as of late, however, as they’re 2-1-1 in their last four matches.
But today’s match marks the start of a tough three-match stretch, as they follow up today’s trip to Old Trafford with home matches against Liverpool and Arsenal. Fortunately for them, after a trip to City in early March, they have only one more game against the current top six for the rest of the season (a home match against Spurs on 14 April), which could be helpful for their survival hopes.
2. For what it’s worth, Bolton have been better away from the Reebok thus far this season. While they’re 1-1-8 at home, they’re a 4-0-6 in away matches, and they come into today’s match with wins in their last two away matches in the league.
3. Bolton sit 10th in the league in goals scored with 25, with seven of those strikes coming from Ivan Klasnic. Kevin Davies has been a consistent performer for Bolton over the last several seasons, but he’s struggled to find the net this season, as he has only two goals in 18 league appearances. Speaking of Davies, he’s likely not too fondly thought of in these parts, as he
4. Statistically, Bolton are at the bottom of the league defensively, as they’re tied with Blackburn for most goals allowed with 43. On the season, they’ve posted only two clean sheets, one in the season-opening win at QPR and the other in their only home win of the season, a 5-0 win over Stoke City in October.
They’ve allowed multiple goals only once in their last four league matches (a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle on Boxing Day), but they’ll face United without their best defender and prized asset, Gary Cahill, who’s on the verge of completing a £7m move to Chelsea.
1. United haven’t lost back-to-back home matches in the Premier League since 2001, when Chelsea came into Old Trafford and won 3-0 on 30 November and West Ham followed that up by downing United 1-0 a week later. Those consecutive home defeats were at the back end of a run that saw United pick up only one win in seven league matches (with five of those matches coming at home).
2. United have scored 30 goals in 10 home matches this season, and they’ve scored multiple goals seven times in those 10 matches. So, scoring shouldn’t be an issue today, especially with Bolton no longer having Cahill to call upon.
However, it would be refreshing, even if it’s not necessary, to see a strong defensive performance today, as United have let in eight goals in their last three matches.
Of course, with United’s defense it’s been about ‘play whoever’s fit and can slot in at the back’ due to all of the injuries and illnesses that have wrecked United’s defensive depth this season, but Chris Smalling came back for the win at City, and Jonny Evans could be back today. If he is, then Phil Jones can move back into the center of midfield, which, as I’ve stated here and there, is his best position for now and for the future.
3. The 5-0 win at the Reebok in September took United’s unbeaten run against Bolton to eight matches, with Bolton’s last win against United being a 1-0 win in November 2007. Speaking of the number eight, United have won eight straight home league matches against Bolton, and in that run, United have outscored Bolton 21-3.
4. At this point in the season, you’d rather not be dealing with a debate about who your #1 keeper should be, but that’s the position United still find themselves in. Who’s got the edge right now? Anders Lindegaard made a rare mistake in spilling a shot that allowed Sergio Aguero to score and set up a tense, tense finish last Sunday, but he’s still the best man for the position at the moment, when it comes to command and communication, mental steadiness, and being better equipped to handle the physical requirements.
Manchester United: Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Nani; Welbeck, Rooney.
Subs: De Gea, Fabio, Pogba, Park, Giggs, Berbatov, Hernandez.
Bolton Wanderers: Bogdan; Steinsson, Knight, Wheater, Ricketts; Eagles, Muamba, Reo-Coker, Petrov; M.Davies; Ngog.
Subs: Lynch, Riley, Boyata, Pratley, Tuncay, K. Davies, Klasnic.
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