Manchester United have failed to capture all three points in any of their away fixtures this season, but Sunday’s trip to the Reebok Stadium will give the Red Devils another opportunity to finally secure maximum points away from Old Trafford. Bolton currently reside in 13th place in the Barclays Premier League having managed only one win all season. United may have struggled away from home this season, but recent history suggests this may be the turning point as United have beaten Bolton in all five of their previous meetings.
Draws at Fulham and Everton have haunted United as title rivals Chelsea experienced a perfect start to the campaign in their first five fixtures. Victory at the Reebok will be United’s first away win of the season, and although it’s still early days falling further behind Chelsea could be cause for concern. Bolton are also coming off a Carling Cup elimination at the hands of manager Owen Coyle’s former club Burnley, a fact which will likely play in favor of United.
At this point, Dimitar Berbatov is surely the first name on the team sheet. If you had told me I’d being typing those words last season, I’d have believed you to be crazy. The Bulgarian’s form this season has been nothing short of incredible which has included a hat trick against Liverpool. Pairing Berbatov in attack will surely be Wayne Rooney. Despite the Englishman’s dip in form this season, he still remains nearly undroppable. There’s no telling when he’s going rediscover his form. Rooney has scored once this season, but is still goalless from open play. Although, Rooney ended his goalless drought in 06/07 with a hat trick at the Reebok. Could history repeat itself this season?
If Berbatov isn’t the first name on the team sheet, then the only other player it could be is Paul Scholes. The 35-year-old midfielder has been brilliant this season becoming the Premier League Player of the Month for August. Partnering him in the centre of midfield is likely to be Darren Fletcher. We’re currently lacking options out on the wings due to Antonio Valencia’s injury. I believe Nani will be given a chance on his favored right wing with Ryan Giggs out on the left.
For once I am hoping I’ll get this prediction right: once again I am picking Rafael as right back. John O’Shea has failed to impress so far this season and surely it’s only a matter of time until the Brazilian gets the chance to establish himself at the right back spot. There is little doubt that Patrice Evra will be in the other full back position, with Rio Ferdinand and newly-appointed skipper Nemanja Vidic partnering in the centre of defense. And, of course, in between the posts is likely to be Edwin van der Sar.
Bolton typically have key players at both ends of the pitch, but will be missing one of their star men through suspension. Gary Cahill would’ve hoped to stop Berbatov’s run of form at the heart of the defense for Bolton, but he’ll be forced to miss out. That leaves Kevin Davies and his physicality to cause problems for the United back four. Coyle has also earmarked Johan Elmander to make an impact this season in the build up to United’s visit. The Red Devils have yet to manage a clean sheet away from home; and while I think United will finally claim victory on the road, I also believe Bolton will manage at least one goal.
I’m counting on Berbatov to continue his goalscoring ways by bagging one against Bolton. I’ll also go (somewhat) bold by predicting that Rooney can finally reach last season’s levels by grabbing two goals at the Reebok. I think there is another goal in the squad, but I’m not entirely sure where it’ll come from. Simply out of my desire to see him continue his brilliant improvement, I’m singling out Nani to get himself a goal as well.
Prediction: United 4, Bolton 1
A Saturday of shocking results means victory at the Reebok would see United jump to second in the table and within one point of Chelsea. The league leaders fell to their first defeat of the season against Manchester City. It was a close affair, ending 1-0 in favor of the home side thanks to a goal from former-Red Carlos Tevez. Elsewhere on Saturday, other top sides suffered shock results. Arsenal suffered a 2-3 home defeat against newly-appointed West Brom, while Tottenham became West Ham’s first victory of the season. Hated rivals Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw against Steve Bruce’s Sunderland.
While getting back to winning ways away from Old Trafford is crucial, the results of Saturday has added extra significance to the fixture at the Reebok. Sunday’s match now gives United the opportunity to move ahead of Arsenal in the table and within striking distance of Chelsea.
*Updated to include significance of Saturday’s results.
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