Geographically speaking, this is a game well within the definition of a “derby”, yet for United anyway, it doesn’t quite have that edge or buzz that say a game against Liverpool or Man City does. Bolton represents a challenge however, an ever-changing brand of football and a squad full of hungry players hoping to prove themselves in the league.
It’s the start of a busy week for United; now football’s really back!
It seems like it’s almost a bit of cliché now to refer to Bolton as a team that have changed their style. Owen Coyle has been there over 18 months now and therefore their style is very much now an identity rather than changing. Of course, Bolton have been associated with long balls and physicality in the past and the ability to still do that remains, it is a weapon and a tactic. Yet, Coyle’s vision is one of closing down, passing and where possible, players expressing themselves.
It was a hard summer for Bolton; finishing 14th last year was unspectacular despite some good showings. Squad players like Taylor and Cohen whilst it seems criminal to think that Elmander was able to leave on a free. They received just over £6m in transfer fees and this didn’t leave a lot to be spent. Eagles, Mears and Pratley were all brought in from Championship teams for little money and Reo-Coker joined for nothing. David N’Gog, a player with something to prove, represents the only vaguely significant outlay of money. Loan signings have worked well for Bolton in the past – Wilshere, Weiss and Sturridge have all boosted their profiles as a result. This season it’s the turn of Boyata and Kakuta to show that they can play at the top level too. Tuncay was the one other player brought in, he joins on loan and despite never quite fulfilling perceived potential, he knows the league well and was successful in patches at Stoke.
The signings give Bolton a much larger pool of players this year, their squad certainly has more depth to it. They’ve been able to hold onto key men: Chung-Yong Lee, Stuart Holden and Gary Cahill remain at the club as the stand-out players. Kevin Davies is of course still there too, elbows and all. If they have a weak area it’s probably in defence. Gary Cahill is clearly a good footballer but it’s what’s around him and who partners him that is questionable. Even in goal there are question marks but that shall be discussed later on.
It’s hard to suggest what exactly would turn an acceptable season into a good season for Bolton. Potentially a cup run or I think they could come in the top 8 or 9 if they get lucky with injuries. Ultimately they want to avoid being sucked into any relegation battle that might form. Yet, in my mind they’re far from being one of the worst teams in the league and should be focussed on mid-table.
For United, the start to the season couldn’t really be much better. Wins have been combined with entertainment as 13 goals have been scored in just three games. If the 3-0 win over Spurs was impressive then the 8-2 victory over a depleted Arsenal side would have only sent fans into over-drive. With a young core to the starting line-ups, the team has looked hungry and determined. It’s scary to think about the players sitting on the bench, missing out; many of them would walk into most sides in the league.
What is important now is that the squad is rotated cleverly. United are in Portugal to play Benfica on Wednesday night before hosting Chelsea next weekend – it’s a busy and tricky period.
Bolton are 10th but at this stage of the season, positions don’t necessarily reflect results accurately. They kept a clean sheet at QPR on the opening day of the season and won 4-0. However since then they’ve lost to Man City and Liverpool, and had to come from behind to beat Macclesfield in the League Cup. They’ve managed to score in every game so far and will hope to continue that run against United.
The only fresh injury concern since the last game is Danny Welbeck – he is due to start training in a week or so. Vidic remains 2-3 weeks away and Rafael isn’t expected to play at all in September. Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia both have returned to the match squad though – Fletcher played for Scotland during the break and did well for them whilst Valencia has been training now for some weeks. Hernandez and Ferdinand are both fully fit and one may start.
Stuart Holden is on the right path pack from his injury sustained at Old Trafford last season but he’s not ready for the first team. Chung-Yong Lee is a long-term absentee with a broken leg and he’s joined by Ricketts, Mears, Alonso and Gardner on the physio’s table. Various new signings will be hoping to make their debuts with the young trio of Boyata, N’Gog and Kakuta all likely to be in the match squad.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
Stick or twist? I’m not sure to what extent there is a need to change a winning formula; yet, one rumour out of Carrington has been that De Gea and Cleverley may surprisingly miss out. That seemed unlikely having watched Ferguson’s press conference though. He hinted at few changes and pointed out that on Wednesday at Benfica he’ll probably call on some more experienced players.
De Gea should expect to be given some rough treatment, particularly from Kevin Davies; but this is an experience he needs exposing to and he’ll learn from it. In front of him I’ve brought in Rio for Smalling. It’s quite simple for me, if Rio’s fit he should play but disturbing the back four is hard right now. Smalling though was singled out by Ferguson for a rest though – he played 180 minutes for England and it was hinted that he’d miss out at Bolton. In which case it’s a toss up between Fabio and Jones. Given Jones’ form I’ve selected him at right back with Rio partnering Jonny Evans.
Unsurprisingly my midfield is unchanged and should be able to counter the challenge of Reo-Coker and Muamba well enough. It’ll be interesting to see who Eagles comes up against – he was a former United player and may feel like he has a point to prove against his old club. Nani and Young on the wings for the Reds though have started the season very well and it seems silly to change either of them even though Valencia is available again. Up front Hernandez is expected to partner Rooney with Berbatov possibly being used at Benfica midweek.
Ferguson has so far stuck by his flexible 4-4-2, which in reality becomes more of a 4-2-4 when attacking. There is a chance he may revert to more of a 4-5-1 against Bolton but it seems like negative tactics have little place in the early season games.
Jaaskelainen vs. Rooney – There’s an argument to be made that in fact the key battle may be United’s defence vs. Davies/Klasnic/N’Gog – there’s a lot of power there and with N’Gog there’s pace on the turn. However I think the key battle this weekend may be in beating the opposition goalkeeper. This may well be easier than it has been in past years. Jaaskelainen appears to be losing concentration more often and hasn’t looked sharp early on in the season. However he often plays well against United and is a goalkeeper capable of frustrating an opposition team quite easily.
Rooney has a decent record against Bolton – 6 goals in 9 appearances (7 starts). Record aside though, he’s in top form right now. There’s no doubt that he’s relishing the role of being something of a playmaker and senior man amongst the midfielders and forwards. He has a swagger about him that is giving him the confidence to try things that only the best players see and are capable of pulling off. He already has five league goals in three games this season and few would back against him adding to that at Bolton. Jaaskelainen and his defence will have to be on top of their game to keep Rooney at bay.
This isn’t necessarily the obvious key battle – United have to keep Bolton out too and then keep possession and/or get it to Rooney. However everything goes through him right now for United and given his current form this could well turn out to be the battle that potentially wins the game for United.
History and last meeting:
United have only lost once away to Bolton in the 12 previous Premier League meetings. Incredibly, Bolton have won more Premier League games at Old Trafford than they have at home to United! Four of the meetings have been drawn with the remaining seven games going in United’s favour. On average, United concede less than a goal a game and score just over two goals a game at Bolton. United have only failed to score there once but have been able to keep Bolton out 6 times. On four occasions United have scored more than four goals, with three 4-0 wins and one 6-0 win in 1995/96. Bolton’s one and only home Premier League win against United came in 2007/08 – the year United claimed a league and European Cup double.
Last season this fixture ended 2-2. United took the lead through a Nani wonder goal but had to rely on Michael Owen to grab a late equaliser. The fixture seemed to exemplify United’s away form last year – at times they were excellent and should have scored more but too frequently they switched off and conceded sloppy goals.
Bolton may have a few players making their debut and the team will therefore need a bit of time to click. That said, Davies is always a threat and I think the long-ball tactic may well be used. United have started the season superbly and have a whole host of players already ‘in the groove’. I think there will be goals scored by both sides and I am going to predict a 4-2 win for United.
Andre Marriner – his first game of the season. He was the referee when the sides met at Old Trafford last season.
– This is the 120th meeting between the two sides and United have won 11 of the last 13
– Bolton have the best conversion rate at the moment in the league – they score with 38% of their shots
– Two Bolton goals will see them reach the landmark of 300 home Premier League goals
– United are chasing their 200th away Premier League victory
– De Gea has made more saves than any other goalkeeper so far this season with 17
Owen Coyle on De Gea: “David de Gea is a top goalkeeper – there is no doubt about it. With Manchester United, it is difficult to find any weaknesses.”
Owen Coyle on Chris Eagles: “Chris is a terrific player, he makes goals and scores them. I called Sir Alex and he was very complimentary about him as a player and a lad. There is no shame in not being first choice at Manchester United. Sir Alex was a great help pushing the move through and I sold the idea to Chris when we met. Anybody leaving United is taking a backward step, but he took a rung down the ladder to take two up.”
Kevin Davies on Phil Jones: “He’s a big strong boy, so this is another one I’m looking forward to. I relish these kind of challenges, he’s coming on as a player and still young, so I’ll be trying to give him a going over.”
The Stretford-End.com team have each given a predicted starting XI and final score ahead of the game – give us yours here.
For all pre-match banter, tactical discussions, team and score predictions click here.