A struggling Reading side might be the opponent Manchester United needs right now. - Alex Livesey
A preview of Manchester United's Premier League clash with Reading FC: form guide, team news, lineup projections, TV info, referee appointment, and odds.
Manchester United turn their attention to the Premier League on Saturday evening when they host Reading FC at Old Trafford. This will be the third meeting between these two sides this season. In early December at the Madejski Stadium, during the reverse league fixture, the Reds and Saints crazily combined for 7 goals in the opening 34 minutes prior to things calming down for a 4-3 victory by the visitors. Just shy of a month ago, Sir Alex Ferguson's side defeated Brian McDermott's side -- the then Reading manager prior to being sacked earlier this week -- 2-1 during a FA Cup tie at the Theatre of Dreams.
Form Guide: Things had been going very smoothly for United until very recently. In the past tumultuous week-and-a-half, the Reds have been controversially knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Real Madrid while they also blew a two-goal lead on Sunday to Chelsea during a FA Cup quarter-final tie. A replay with the Blues will occur on April 1 at Stamford Bridge. In league, Ferguson's side enjoys a 12-point advantage in the title race over Manchester City with 10 fixtures left.
Form Guide: To put it simply, things look bleak for Reading at the moment. They sit joint-bottom of the table with Queens Park Rangers and they have lost 5 successive matches in all competitions. As previously mentioned, their manager -- McDermott -- has been sacked and Eamonn Dolan will take over for the weekend as caretaker manager. A permanent replacement isn't expected to arrive until the upcoming international break.
Team News: Jimmy Kebe, Adam Federici, and Jason Roberts have all been ruled out due to injury while Pavel Pogrebnyak is unavailable as well due to suspension. Alex McCarthy has returned to training but he isn't expected to start.
United: David de Gea is the clear No.1 at the moment. In central-defense, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand seem probable but Jonny Evans is certainly possible. Rafael and Patrice Evra are the clear first-choice full-backs.
In midfield, Michael Carrick is expected and he likely will be partnered by either Tom Cleverley or Anderson. In-form Ryan Giggs is also possible in the center of the park and also on the wing. Other players in contention out wide include Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, and Danny Welbeck. The latter two are also possible up front along with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). There are a plethora of possibilities for Ferguson.
Reading: With a caretaker manager in place, that makes it a bit of a guess as who might start. Reading, though, don't have a deep squad so Dolan is likely to stick with many of the same players that McDermott was regularly using. With Federici injured and with McCarthy's lack of recent playing time, that means Stuart Taylor is expected in goal. Ian Harte, Stephen Kelly, Adrian Mariappa, and Alex Pearce have been the first-choice back four as of late but Sean Morrison might be in contention at center-back.
With Pogrebnyak suspended -- the only Reading striker that is trusted to play up front by himself -- that likely means Dolan will use a 4-4-2 rather than a 4-5-1. That, at least, is what McDermott likely would have done. In central-midfield, Mikele Leigertwood and Hope Akpan have been the first-choice players but all of Jem Karacan, Jobi McAnuff, and Danny Guthrie may be in contention. McAnuff is also possible for a wide role as are Nick Blackman, Hal Robson-Kanu, and Garath McCleary. Up front, Noel Hunt and Adam LeFondre are most likely.
My guess is that Reading won't deviate too much from their normal style of play -- pushing the ball down the wings then trying to whip in crosses for the forwards -- although drastic changes shouldn't be ruled out. The sacking of McDermott is an obvious sign that at least some change is desired. It would really be a futile exercise at this point in time in trying to provide a detailed tactical preview. Instead, I'll refer y'all to our preview coverage from a few weeks ago when United last faced Reading.
This Q&A with The Tilehurst End -- SB Nation's Reading community -- has some good tidbits while our preview for the FA Cup meeting might have something useful as well. Here are post-match quotes from some of the players and managers from that day.
KO: 5:30pm GMT, 1:30pm EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: ESPN (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Odds: Manchester United 1/7, Draw 13/2, Reading 18/1