AUTHOR: – Doron
One point away from making history. One point from a record breaking 19th title for United. A party like few seen before could just be 90 minutes away for players, staff and fans alike. However, it was at Ewood Park last year that our title challenge came unstuck and with Blackburn desperate for the win that would all but seal their survival in the top flight, there’ll be no premature celebrating from the United camp. Fortunately for United fans, this is the season’s last away game, the torture ends here!
Last time United faced Blackburn it was Sam Allardyce in charge. That day, United thumped Blackburn 7-1 at Old Trafford, still their biggest win of the season to date. Since then, he’s been sacked by the new owners, the Venky’s Group, and replaced by Steve Kean. With just 1 win in their last 13, Kean is already under pressure at the club and now has the task of making sure they remain in the Premier League next season. Blackburn can still finish as high as 10th and as low as 20th. They are though just three points ahead of Wigan and Blackpool who are both in the relegation zone and are at home this weekend with very winnable games.
Under Kean, Blackburn have tended to play a 4-1-2-1-2, with a diamond in the middle. It’s anchored by talented young defender come midfielder, Phil Jones whilst on-loan Jermaine Jones and one other usually play ahead of him. David Dunn heads the diamond linking the midfield with the strikers. Both Dunn and Phil Jones were injury concerns for Blackburn but have been passed fit. Mame Diouf is unavailable due to the terms of his loan agreement from United so two of Kalinic, Santa Cruz, Roberts or Benjani will play. This is a game Blackburn cannot afford to lose so they may choose to go one up top in order to make sure they avoid defeat rather than play for a win.
The aim for Blackburn is of course survival, a mid-table finish may have been possible after a slow start but solid period from the end of October to mid-December; however their form in 2011 has seen them drop deeper and deeper into trouble. Their form at the moment isn’t great, they’ve taken only 6 points from the last 18 available – only five teams are in worse form but importantly, four of them are below Blackburn in the league. Similarly, at home, Blackburn have taken 6 from the last 18 which ranks as the 3rd worst current home form of any Premier League side. This is their last home game of the season, they’ve managed to take 27 points from 54 which is below average in the league. Their defence though has been tight, 15 goals conceded is the best record outside the top five teams yet they’ve been let down in front of goal, only managing to score 21 at home, the same number of goals they’ve scored away from home!
The Blackburn squad isn’t quite fully fit – Grella and Nelson are long-term absentees whilst Rochina is reported to be unavailable despite scoring two wonderful goals at Old Trafford midweek for Blackburn’s Reserve side. As already mentioned, Mame Biram Diouf is unable to play either.
In the Premier League, Blackburn’s record against United at Ewood Park isn’t great with this fixture overall tending to be a rather drab affair. On 5 of the 16 meetings, Blackburn have failed to score, yet it’s 6 times that United have failed to hit the net. Each game played there averages just 2.5 goals scored. Blackburn have managed just four wins over United on their own patch with the last one coming in February 2006. The two sides met at the end of Novemnber at Old Trafford with United winning 7-1 – goals from Berbatov (5), Nani and Park. The last meeting at Ewood Park was just over a year ago and ended 0-0 with Valencia guilty of missing a fabulous chance to score. The result was a huge blow for United’s title chances that year. Scoring is something that has troubled Blackburn in 2011, no team has scored fewer than them, and if they fall behind that’s likely to be it as they’ve never come from behind to win this season.
Enough on Blackburn… onto Man United and my predicted line up:
It’s been a recurring theme to start with a list of absentees, however for a change, that list is but a mere name this week! Only Owen Hargreaves is definitely ruled out of this one. Evra, O’Shea and Fabio were doubts but all have trained ahead of the weekend. Both Rafael and Fletcher got minutes for the Reserves midweek with Fletcher likely to get some time from the bench tomorrow.
I’ve gone for a 4-4-2 – United may only need a point to tie up the title but Ferguson has said they’ll be going to get the win. Edwin is likely to be given a rest ahead of the Champions League final so Kuszczak may deputise in goal. Ahead of him is likely seems to be a similar back four to the one that beat Chelsea, with Evra being the only change, coming in for O’Shea.
The midfield to get the job done and seal the title should be the same one that beat Chelsea, however I’ve selected Nani rather than Park on the left. Despite Salgado having an excellent season, I think he’d struggle against Nani’s pace and trickery. With various players needing minutes to keep them sharp, Scholes and Anderson could also come into contention. Fletcher isn’t ready to start but if the score is right, he may come off the bench. Up front, Rooney and Chicharito should continue their excellent partnership. Berbatov’s patience must be praised, few would keep as cool and quiet as he has.
United remain top with a lead of 6 points now – just 1 more point will seal a record-breaking 19th title. The victory over Chelsea last weekend was one of the great Old Trafford performances of the past few years. The team were outstanding in demolishing Chelsea’s title threat and it was capped with Fergie bowing down in front of the Stretford End.
Recent form shows United 3rd in the form league with 13 points taken from a possible 18 in the last six games. At home, United have been almost unstoppable but away from home their form has been rather subdued this season. Their current away form is the 4th best in the league with 7 points taken from the last 18 available. In fact, United’s away record isn’t so bad compared to other teams, it’s the fourth best in the league and could be better if they weren’t the side that had drawn the most number of games away from home. United have had no problem finding the net on their travels (28 goals), with only Chelsea and Arsenal scoring more, however their 24 goals conceded is bettered by 4 other teams including Fulham.
In Dimitar Berbatov United have the league’s top goalscorer (21 goals) as well as the 6th and 8th top scorers (Chicharito with 12 and Rooney with 10), whilst Nani is the league’s top assister (18 assists; Rooney is joint 3rd with 11, and Giggs joint 6th with 8). It’s been 34 years since a team has won the league with just five away league wins. Regardless of how the game finishes, it’ll be the lowest number of points in that United have ever taken away from home since the start of the Premier League. There are some individual landmarks to be had too – Rio Ferdinand’s 600th club career appearance and Michael Carrick’s 150th league appearance for United. Ryan Giggs can equal another two records tomorrow – most appearances for one club in the top flight (613) and David James’ Premier League appearance record (573).
United are unbeaten against Blackburn in 10 games and I can see that being extended to 11 tomorrow. United are so close to the title now that there’ll be no more slips. I’m expecting them to do it in style and therefore I predict a 3-0 win for United.
You can share with us your thoughts ahead of the match and your favourite moments from games away to Blackburn on our forum.
Remember the last time United won the league away from home?
AUTHOR: – Doron