Dimitar Berbatov scored the winner last season versus Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford. With the hamstring injury to Danny Welbeck, will the Bulgarian feature this upcoming Saturday?
*Update: Here is the summary of team news provided by manager Sir Alex Ferguson on Friday.
Manchester United return to action on Saturday when they make the short trip to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers in an English Premier League tie. United were last seen nearly two weeks ago during their 8-2 demolition of Arsenal FC before the recent international break. This match will be the first of an upcoming congested fixture list for the Reds -- a 22 day span that will see them play seven matches prior to the next international break in October. These two sides clashed twice last season, both in league matches. During this same fixture last season in September 2010, a Michael Owen equaliser in the 74th earned United a point in a 2-2 draw. In the reverse fixture in March 2011 at Old Trafford, Dimitar Berbatov scored in the 88th minute to provide his ten-man side a 1-0 victory.
United currently top the table after three matches on goal differential. Besides the mentioned destruction of Arsenal prior to the recent international break, the Reds also defeaed the Gunner's north London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, by a 3-0 scoreline in the week prior. In both matches, manager Sir Alex Ferguson deployed a youthful starting XI that averaged just 23-years-old. In the season opener, United won 2-1 away at West Bromwich Albion as well. The club is in terrific position at this early stage of the league season and they will begin their battle on the European and domestic cup fronts in the upcoming weeks.
There are a few injury concerns for the club. Captain Nemanja Vidic continues to be out with a calf strain. Right-back Rafael is also unavailable as he recovers from surgery on his shoulder. Danny Welbeck was forced to depart the Arsenal match due to a hamstring injury, however, the extent of the injury is unknown. The fitness of Antonio Valencia is uncertain as well as he's yet to feature regularly with the reserves due to an ankle injury. Darren Fletcher has recovered from his virus and he is seemingly fit after appearing twice for Scotland in full 90 minutes performances during the international break. Fergie will likely provide more detail on injury news during his Friday press conference.
The Trotters have earned three points after three matches during their current league campaign. After an impressive 4-0 away victory over Queens Park Rangers in the season opener, Bolton fell in their following matches to both Manchester City and Liverpool FC. After spending much of last season in contention for Europa League qualification, Bolton then suffered a number of injuries that exposed their squad depth -- 14th in the table was the end result. While losing the likes of Johan Elmander, Daniel Sturridge, and Lee Chung-Yong (season-ending injury), the club has bolstered themselves with the additions of David Ngog, Gael Kakuta, Tuncay Sanli, and Nigel Reo-Coker during the past summer transfer window.
Lee suffered a horrific leg break during the pre-season, thus, he is expected to miss the entire season. United States international Stuart Holden continues to recover from a severe leg injury suffered from a Jonny Evans tackle last Spring. The midfielder, who was Bolton's player of the year, featured for their reserves during the week but his availability for this tie is uncertain. Sean Davis appears doubtful due to a knee injury.
With the congested fixture list that is upcoming, including the midweek Champions League tie away to Benfica, Fergie will certainly be rotating his squad over the next three weeks. It is just uncertain whether he will change the squad for this match. David De Gea is certain to be in goal and Patrice Evra is the likely left-back. Rio Ferdinand appears available for selection at center-back, but he may use the Benfica tie to shake off the rust from his recent injury. Evans and Phil Jones have been the recent starting duo at center-back and perhaps are the most likely pairing on Saturday. Due to the aerial threat that Bolton's Kevin Davies poses at center-forward, Chris Smalling is also a possibility to slide into the center from right-back. If he does slide inside, then Fabio would play right-back. In the center of the park, the energetic duo of Tom Cleverley and Anderson can reasonably be expected to start, but Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick are possibilities as well. On the flanks, Nani is likely to start on the right and Ashley Young on the left. However, Ji-Sung Park could play in place of Young if Fergie feels the need to rest him after he featured twice in the past week for England on national team duty. Up front, Wayne Rooney likely starts but for the same reasons as Young, he could be rested for this tie with the upcoming matches versus Benfica and Chelsea FC in mind. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov are selection options up front as well.
For Bolton, the selection possibilities appear much simpler as Coyle has used the same starting XI for all three of their league ties. Jussi Jaaskelainen should be between the posts with Gary Cahill and Zat Knight as the center-back tandem. Gretar Rafn Steinsson is the likely right-back while Paul Robinson should start at left-back. Reo-Coker and Fabrice Muamba are probable as the central-midfield duo, but Mark Davies could provide a more creative option. Out wide, expect to see Martin Petrov on the left and former United academy player Chris Eagles on the right. Up front, Davies will provide a physical presence as the center-forward and Ivan Klasnic is likely to partner him. Transfer deadline signing and former Liverpool FC striker Ngog is a possibility as well.
* Dealing with Kevin Davies' aerial threat: While Bolton was in contention for a Europa League spot during the past campaign, much was made of Bolton playing more attractive football. However, at the end of the season, Zonal Marking suggested that the Trotters still play quite a direct style of football. While Coyle has actually disputed this recently, claiming that his side try to keep the ball on the deck a bit more, Bolton undoubtedly still hoof the ball long at times. The main outlet for this is Davies, a center-forward that is fearsome in aerial duels. When United's attackers put Bolton's defenders under pressure, they'll likely punt the ball long in the direction towards Davies and bypass the midfield. In addition, Davies will be the main threat on set-pieces and when the wingers whip in crosses in attack. United's young center-backs will need to be up to the challenge. Perhaps more importantly, De Gea will have to show more command in the box than he has this season when he decides to come off his line. It is likely that the young United goalkeeper will be targeted early and often.
* Martin Petrov vs Chris Smalling: Smalling is naturally a center-back, but the youngster has done very well at right-back for both club and country over the past month. This included a tremendous performance against Gareth Bale a few weeks back. When Bolton get out into the attack, they like to swing the ball wide to their wingers and use them as a creative outlet. Petrov is a tricky winger going down the left flank and on his best day, he can really trouble the opposition. He will provide another tough test for Smalling at right-back. If Smalling starts in the center instead, expect Fabio to be up to the task at right-back.
* United's fast & fluid 4-4-2 vs Bolton's recently vulnerable defense: In the early portion of this season, United's flast and fluid 4-4-2 has been lethal -- likely Champions League qualifying contenders Tottenham and Arsenal had 11 goals banged in on them combined during the Reds' last two matches. The highlight feature of this attack has been the tremendous off-the-ball movement and one-touch passing from the United attackers. Bolton has been vulnerable in their past two matches while giving up six goals combined to City and Liverpool. While those two sides have impressive attacks, United's attack, at the very least least, is currently on par with them. While Welbeck is almost certainly out for Saturday, his replacement is likely to be Chicharito -- a player who bagged 20 goals during his debut season for United in the past campaign.
Odds: Bolton 13/2, Draw 3/1, Manchester United 4/9
Prediction: Bolton 1-3 Manchester United
SBN Bolton site: Lion of Vienna Suite