United Strategy & Intel
United are closing in on a record 19th title and could take a 9 point lead with a victory in the weekend’s early kick off. With the ECL semi coming up on Tuesday I think Ferguson will shuffle his pack from the midweek draw at St James and setup something like 4-3-3 with Nani and Valencia playing higher up the pitch supporting Berbatov with Anderson the closest central support. Obviously this would mean that Rooney isn’t selected, but his record against us is pretty tepid, with just 2 goal in 11 starts against his boyhood idols and no goals against the Blues at Old Trafford.
Nani will be the one to watch. Whilst us Blues feel rightly aggrieved that Leighton Baines was ignored at the PFA Awards, the exclusion of Nani from the Player of the Year reckoning was inexplicable. For me, he has been the most consistent performer in the league for the last 12 months, recording 14 assists this season and creating a chance for an opponent every 46 mins. I think he is better on his right cutting in – 7 of his 9 top flight goals this campaign have come on his left foot- but he will probably start on the left this time to accommodate Valencia on the right.
United under Ferguson are great architects of executing a ‘stretch and compress’ Ajax approach to closing and exploiting space. This basically means that when we attack they will contract and press as a unit, constricting the space we have to operate in. When United win the ball back they will use the wings and make the pitch as big as possible to exploit the space. Ferguson has always built sides on pace down the flanks and this is where they will attack us. As mentioned earlier, Rooney will perhaps sit out Saturday’s game, but in Berbatov they have a striker who has been on fire at Old Trafford this season; the league’s top marksman has registered 81% of his 21 league goals on home soil.
Previous Meetings/Current Form
The stats don’t make good reading for the Blues. In this the 19th season of the Premier League, the Blues have registered just one win on United soil since its inception back in 92/93 when a Peter Beardsley inspired Blues trounced United 3-0. Since then the best we have had is a couple of draws. Indeed, we haven’t won at any of the established top 3 sides (man u, arsenal, Chelsea) for 15 years – a quite frightening statistic. Jermaine Beckford is the caveat to this, having struck the winning goal on this ground last year for Leeds in the FA Cup.
The Red Devils are still unbeaten in the league at home this season, with 13 wins on the bounce in all competitions on their own patch. They also have the best home defensive record in the league with just 9 goals shipped and have also registered the most goals scored at home. Our away form has been decent though, with only United & Arsenal having fewer defeats on the road this campaign.
I would expect a slight tweak to our tactics from the setup which has served us well in recent weeks. United will attack us down the flanks so I think we will play 4-5-1 when out of possession and then 4-2-3-1 when we have the ball. In terms of personnel, Coleman is expected to be ready to return and I think his defensive qualities will mean he is preferred to Magaye in the only personnel change. Osman’s form from the centre is certainly too good to tinker with ; 3 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 matches is testament to the vital role he has played and he comes into this game as arguably the leagues form player. The Blues will need to show real mental toughness and focus for the full game – United may not have their best side in terms of quality during Ferguson’s tenure, but they probably have the fittest. Indeed, United have have won more points (8) with goals scored in the last five minutes than any other team in the division.
Whilst our record here is not great we go into the game in a great recent run of form and with absolutely no pressure on the players. United are a fantastic side and we will need to be at our best to thwart them. I fancy us to get something here though, so will be going for a 1-1 draw.