The international break has come and gone and United return to Premier League football this Saturday with a testing away fixture to Bolton. The break was rather productive for a few United players with Fletcher, Rooney, Young and Hernandez all scoring for their respective countries and with no fresh injury concerns emerging out of the period, despite Romania’s best efforts to bury Patrice Evra’s ankle in the turf, SAF will be secretly happy at the way the break worked out. Considering the break came at the worst time for United after we slaughtered Arsenal 8-2, SAF will be happy his players continued their recent run of form. Concentrating back on the Bolton game, this will be an important game for a variety of reasons.
David De Gea may have had a shaky start to his United career despite 3 wins and a clean sheet in his first 3 Premier League appearances but he has yet to face the physical side of the league that it is renowned for and an away fixture at the Reebok should be a tough introduction. Kevin Davies has been talking the talk and has vowed to ‘bully’ De Gea during the game, probably a euphemism for elbowing him in the face, such is the style of his game. De Gea will have to have an assured performance between the sticks and deal with a plethora of aerial duels if United are to keep it tight at the back but with Vidic and Rafael still out, it will be up to our youngsters once again to provide a stalwart wall in front of him. I have every confidence that David will stick it to his doubters tomorrow: the penalty save against Van Persie would have done him the world of good as he progresses onwards and if he can build on the continual improvements he us already showing, then it won’t take long before people think that the £20m paid for him was a steal.
Rio Ferdinand might well be fit again but the solid performances of Jones, Smalling and Evans over recent weeks might keep him out. SAF may choose to leave Evans out for the fact that he might get a rasping reception at the Reebok following his tackle that unfortunately broke Stuart Holden’s leg last year and if he does, then a partnership of Jones and Ferdinand would satisfy me, with Ferdinand likely to hold back and let Jones gallop forward effortlessly as he has done already this season. However, SAF has rightfully said in his pre-match talks that none of the back four deserve to be dropped, keeping Ferdinand on the sidelines for another game. The other defender in form is Chris Smalling who will be buzzing after making his England debut and keeping 2 clean sheets in his first competitive games for his country, despite playing in an un natural right back position. Many questioned whether we would have the full back cover after O’Shea and Brown were sold but I knew that Smalling’s versatility would shine through at some point this season, I just didn’t anticipate it would be this early on. He brings an assurance that Rafael and his questionable temperament do not: he will have a fight on his hands to get back in the squad when he returns from his shoulder injury.
Few could of predicted how strong our midfield would look this season after the indomitable Scholes wasn’t immediately replaced but as SAF rightly stated, only Xavi and Iniesta could have filled that gap from outside Old Trafford. Internally the rise of Tom Cleverley, the form of Anderson, the ever present Michael Carrick and the return of a fully fit Darren Fletcher give United genuine options in the middle of the park. Despite Fletcher’s fantastic performances for Scotland, I can’t see SAF justifying breaking up the partnership of Anderson and Cleverley after it has returned such riches so far this season. United have returned to a flowing style of football that we havent seen since the 2008 Champions League winning squad and I think SAF has every faith in their partnership, even against a physical opponent like Bolton. I hope that Fletcher will get some minutes under his belt and as an impact sub tomorrow, he could well play an important role in the latter stages of the match if United are to win tomorrow.
Last but definitely not least, United fans will be itching to see what happens when Rooney, Hernandez, Young and Nani all start a match together. The counter attacking pace off that team is dangerous to even think about and Rooney will relish the chance to play off Hernandez once again, with Young and Nani likely to provide a dynamic width to the team. Antonio Valencia also returns to the squad tomorrow and United find themselves spoilt for choice going forward, a lovely position to be in. I fully expect United to constantly threaten the Bolton goal and having scored 13 goals in our first 3 fixtures, Bolton will be hard fought to keep us out for 90 minutes.
What will the result be? This one is a tough one to call because United were such a different team away from home last season but an opening day victory against West Brom means we have already won 20% of the total away games won last season, so hopefully the away form was a phenomenon associated with last season only. With Rooney having scored a goal every 54 minutes this season, I hope he will continue the trend and score in his fourth consecutive Premier League game but Bolton will be no pushover and the likely debuts of Kakuta, N’Gog and Boyata will give Bolton some wind in their sails considering how much tougher a team Bolton are under the guidance of Owen Coyle. The corresponding fixture last season saw a 2-2 draw play out but I think United will be too hot to handle right now. As a working team, our weaknesses are categorically out weighed by our strengths and I think United can walk away from Bolton with a 3-1 victory, with Anderson and Rooney both to get on the score sheet (you heard it here first).