Wayne Rooney scored on the last occasion Manchester United played at the narcissistically named Madejski Stadium; Sir Alex Ferguson’s side running out 2-0 winners in 2008. The stat provides neither guide, nor omen, ahead of Saturday’s trip to Reading, although United’s record over the Berkshire side shows just one defeat since these teams first met in February 1912.
And with Reading lying just above the Premier League’s gutter, few expect a turnaround in historical fortunes this weekend. Rooney may fancy adding to a season’s tally that boasts just three goals in 14 appearances.
Injuries aside, Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to select a strong side at the Madejski, with a dead rubber against CFR Cluj in midweek providing air cover should the Scot choose to rest his leading lights before next weekend’s derby. While the 9 December clash with Manchester City is coming over the horizon fast, any thoughts of a comfortable victory this weekend are countered with memories of United labouring to victory over relegation fodder Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers in recent weeks.
Last weekend’s attritional victory over QPR was followed in quick order this week by another under-par performance against West Ham United at Old Trafford. It has become a pattern in a season that is yet to truly come to life.
Yet, there is much evidence that the onset of winter provides the historical point at which Ferguson’s side truly comes to life – losing just six of more than 50 December fixtures in the past decade. Still, if United is to continue that record, Ferguson’s side must do it without wide men Antonio Valenica and Nani on Saturday.
“Nani and Valencia are still out,” confirmed Sir Alex.
“Nani will be out for four or five weeks. It’s a hamstring injury and you have to take your time with it. Antonio should be fit for next week. He’s got a hip injury, which is painful, but getting better. Nick Powell has had a virus but should be okay for tomorrow and Giggs had a slight hamstring strain but should also be okay.”
Paul Scholes returns from a midweek suspension, while the rash of midfield absentees in wide areas makes for a departure from United’s season-long defensive injury list. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans each fit, only captain Nemanja Vidić remains on the sidelines.
“Nemanja Vidić ;has started training, which is good news,” added Ferguson
“For the last year and a half, I think he’s only played around 10 or 12 games. The best way forward for us is to listen to Vida himself. He has the experience to know what’s best for him and know when the time is right to come back into the team.
“He started training in the week and he did okay. He hasn’t been involved in the real competitive part but at least he’s back training with the first team. It would be nice to play him on Wednesday. I wouldn’t be adverse to playing him on Wednesday. I think he’s done all his work but he needs matches. Good defenders win you the league.”
Meanwhile, under-pressure Reading manager Brian McDermott is without Jimmy Kebe, Alex McCarthy and Jem Karacan through injury, although Danny Guthrie could be available after suffering a thigh problem.
Injuries do little to help McDermott’s prospects. Reading has picked up just nine Premier League points to date, with more than a third of the season completed. Just won win at home, complimented by four draws, and just nine goals tells the story of the campaign. Pavel Pogrebnyak’s brace in the Premier League, complimented by just three from Adam Le Fondre underpins the essential weakness in Reading’s make-up.
Still, with McDermott’s men fighting for survival, and United seemingly keen to ship cheap goals, no matter how profligate the rival, Reds’ will count no points until Saturday draws to a close.
“I’ve never had any doubts. I know how close we are,” McDermott bluffed this week. “We do the right things every day and if we keep doing that, the right results will come our way, I’m absolutely convinced of that. But I’m not stupid, we need results.”
History says the result is unlikely to go his way, yet with three defeats in the Premier League already this season Ferguson’s men hold no guarantees ahead of the trip south.
Reading v Manchester United – Premier League, Madejski Stadium – Saturday 1 December 2012, 5.30pm
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Young, Rooney, Giggs; van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Anderson, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Fletcher, Cleverley, Hernandez, Welbeck, Henríquez.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter, Gorkass, Morrison, Shorey; McAnuff, Leigertwood, Tabb, Robson-Kanu; Le Fondre, Roberts. Subs from: Taylor, Pearce, Harte, Guthrie, Mariappa, Gunnarsson, Pogrebnyak, Cummings, Hunt, McCleary
Referee: M Halsey
Assistants: D Bryan, L Betts
Fourth official: A Marriner
Head to Head
Last 10: Reading 0, United 6, Draw 4
Overall: Reading 1, United 8, Draw 7
- Reading missed out on a point at Aston Villa on Tuesday, conceding a late header to lose 1-0 in the Midlands;
- Defender Kaspar Gorkss has racked up 84 interceptions and successfully completed 63 per cent of tackles this season, but has managed zero shots on target from nine attempts;
- Jobi McAnuff has dribbled more often that any of his team-mates with 13 and providing 33 crosses to boot;
- Adrian Mariappa has racked up 12 blocks according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
- Midfielder Mikele Leigertwood continues to underline his importance in the Reading engine room having successfully completed more tackles that any other Royals’ player with 34;
- Meanwhile, Robin van Persie struck after just thirty seconds to secure three points for United last weekend, although the Dutchman now trails Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in the golden boot standings – van persie hasn’t scored a brace in 11 games for United, with the Uruguayan achieving the feat twice in the same period;
- Anders Lindegaard got the nod ahead of David de Gea to start in goal for United in midweek, with little to choose between the pair statistically – Lindegaard has saved 79.4 per cent of the 34 shots on target he’s faced, while De Gea has saved 76.2 per cent of 42 shots on target;
- Michael Carrick set up United’s early strike last week, and was also the side’s second hardest worker for the third consecutive match, covering 6.32 miles against West Ham;
- Rafael da Silva has continued to develop this season and is United’s most successful tackler this season, winning 24 of his challenges;
- United has kept just one clean sheet in seven away games this season.