Tag Bolton Wanderers

Tag Bolton Wanderers

Reds seek momentum as Trotters visit

January 14, 2012 Tags: , Matches 50 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side heads into the weekend fixtures seeking to overturn a run of two Premier League defeats in a row that have threatened Manchester United’s title ambitions. With morale high after victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup last week, Ferguson’s side faces Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford in what should be a routine victory. But, as Ferguson’s found out during the New Year’s Eve defeat to Blackburn Rovers, complacency in this division can be a highly destructive force.

Yet, with United just three points behind City in the Premier League, Ferguson knows that momentum is now crucial to United’s chances of overhauling the crosstown neighbours. However, the Reds may again have to make do without a plethora of key players for the Trotters visit. While long-term absentees Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidić and Darren Fletcher are definitely missing, Ferguson also has concerns over a trio of stars. Chris Smalling, Anderson and Phil Jones will face late tests before facing relegation threatened Wanderers.

Even if the trio makes it, Ferguson is aware that United must perform with far more intensity than against Blackburn, or indeed, during the second half of FA Cup victory over City last weekend.

“We’ve got one or two doubts for tomorrow,” admitted Ferguson on Friday.

“Smalling and Jones picked up knocks in the derby. We’ll see what they’re like tomorrow. Anderson got a knock in training, but hopefully he’ll be okay. So we’ve got a reasonable squad for tomorrow.

“We need a good performance against a team that will battle for everything. Any team near the bottom of the table will do that, as we experienced at home to Blackburn. We went into the Blackburn game with respect for them but it wasn’t a great performance. We have to address Bolton’s challenge properly. These clubs are fighting for their existence and we expect just the same from Bolton. It’s a local derby too, which adds something to it.”

Manchester United versus Bolton Wanderers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 14 January 2012, 3pmYet, anything less than three points against Bolton is unthinkable, with Ferguson believing that it may take anything up to 90 points to take the Premier League this season. With just 18 games to go, United may not be able to drop more than nine points during the run-in. Indeed, with the Reds to face Arsenal, Chelsea, City and Tottenham Hotspur away from home, Ferguson may yet live to regret the six points lost over the Christmas programme.

“The main difference I can see this season is that City have amassed a bigger points total than Chelsea or Arsenal would normally have managed by this stage,” added Ferguson.

“Their first half of the season was fantastic, and the way it’s going we could be looking at something approaching 90 points to win this league. It could certainly be a number in the high 80s, and that is surprising really, because in recent seasons more teams have been taking points off each other.

“Two or three years back there was definitely a tightening up of the league. It became a bit harder and instead of four teams battling for the top positions you had six, with Manchester City and Tottenham coming into the reckoning as well. That makes it far more interesting for the spectators and neutrals.”

With points at a premium Ferguson is likely to stick, largely, with the team that won at Eastlands last week. The Scot will again find a place on the bench for Paul Scholes. However, with Phil Jones looking in desperate need of a rest, Jonny Evans could find a place in defence, the Northern Irishman’s fitness permitting. Anderson, desperately needing minutes, could start his first Premier League match this year.

Meanwhile, defender Rio Ferdinand is likely to be fit despite a midweek stomach bug. The veteran defender says that beating City in the FA Cup last weekend was the perfect boost to an injury-hit United squad that had suffered defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle United the week previously.

“You always know there will be ups and downs during the season,” said the 33-year-old former Leeds United defender.

“We had a bad week the one before [the City game], losing two games. But there is no better game to come back than Manchester City. It was a great first-half. In the second we took our foot off the gas and let them back in the game, but the result is the most important thing and we got through to the next round.

“Hopefully Manchester City and Tottenham will experience lows that go on a lot longer and we can get a few players back from injury and push on. If any other squad in the league had the same amount of players out that we have had, they wouldn’t be sitting where we are. That speaks volumes for our squad and that’s why when I am in the changing room I’m more than happy with the people I see around me.”

The opposition arrives under severe pressure to put points on the board, with the Trotters firmly inside the bottom three. And with key defender Gary Cahill set to move to Chelsea this week, manager Owen Coyle’s job is unlikely to get any easier. Yet, having secured a 2-1 victory over Everton at Goodison last time out, Coyle’s men arrive having moved off the foot of the Premier League at least. Coyle is also boosted by ‘keeper Jussi Jaskelaainen’s return after the Finn missed the last two games with a thigh injury.

Yet, with Bolton having won at Old Trafford just once in the past decade, history is firmly in United’s corner. United has won 12 of the last 14 meetings with Bolton, and hasn’t lost to the Trotters since September 2007.

Indeed, defeat to Bolton would be the third league loss in a row – that hasn’t happened for more than 10 years, and even then, the Reds had already won the league by 10 points.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Bolton Wanderers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 14 January 2012, 3pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Nani; Rooney. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Cole, Giggs, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Park, Lingard, Diouf, Keane, Hernandez, Welbeck, Berbatov.

Bolton (4-5-1): Jaskelaainen; Riley, Knight, Wheater, Robinson; Eagles, Muamba, M Davies, Reo-Coker, Petrov; Ngog. Subs from: Bogdan, Lynch, Pratley, Tuncay, K Davies, Klasnic, Lainton, Steinsson, Ricketts, Blake, Boyata, Vela, O’Halloran

Performance Stats

  • Manchester United stumbled to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Newcastle in the club’s last Premier League match;
  • Michael Carrick covered the most ground for united in that game with 5.88 miles. The midfielder has covered 62.45 miles so far this season, averaging 5.2 miles per game. He has also completed 244 passes in his opponent’s area, averaging one every four minutes;
  • The goals conceded against Newcastle were the first Anders Lindegaard has conceded in the Premier League. The United ‘keeper had made 28 saves in six appearances for United before then;
  • Wayne Rooney has retained the position of the top ranked player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for most of the season;
  • Rooney has hit 13 goals so far this season from 73 efforts at goal with 67 per cent on target. Only Robin van Persie has had more shots at goal, but the Dutchman’s on target percentage is lower at 61 per cent;
  • Rooney also has four assists to his name, has completed a pass in his opponent’s half every three minutes, and covers, on average, 5.9 miles per game;
  • Meanwhile visitors Bolton beat Everton 2-1 in the side’s last Premier League fixture, with Gary Cahill scoring the winner in what may have been his last game for the club;
  • Cahill has won 36 of 50 tackles so far this season, a success rate of 78 percent, and he has made an 134 interceptions, 29 clearances and 15 blocks;
  • Striker David Ngog was also on the scoresheet with his second Premier League goal for the Trotters, coming from 21 efforts at goal.

United: WWWLLW
Bolton: LWLDWD

Referee: Peter Walton (Long Buckby)
Assistants: S Ledger, D C Richards
Fourth Official: S Attwell

Reds seek Premier milestone in Bolton trip

September 10, 2011 Tags: , Matches 80 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed his squad back to Carrington after the international break reporting no fresh injuries. Amid the dross that international football so often serves up, this is no small mercy. Ferguson is seeking the 200th Premier League away win during his reign, which recognises both the joy in useless statistics and that football did not exist before Sky invented it in 1992. Still, with United having beaten Bolton Wanderers in 11 of the last 13 meetings, Ferguson will take his charges the short trip to Bolton full of confidence.

Yet with many of the Scot’s players involved in more than one match over the past week, Ferguson may take the opportunity to make changes to his first team for the first time this season. He will do so with a largely fully fit squad to choose from, with Darren Fletcher having completed 180 minutes for Scotland in the past week, Antonio Valencia back in full training and Javier Hernández a fortnight sharper.

However Nemanja Vidic’s calf and Rafael da Silva’s shoulder continue to keep the defensive pair on the sidelines, while Danny Welbeck is out with a sore hamstring and Darren Gibson, aside from being United’s outcast, has a sore ankle.

Hernández’ return to full fitness is a welcome, with Welbeck likely to miss the next month with a hamstring problem. The Mexican striker scored for his national team in the past week – the 22nd goal in 31 games for the player who is already a national hero. Strike partner Wayne Rooney was fulsome in his praise of the 23-year-old ahead of the player’s return to the first team.

“It’s great to have a lad who has just come into the team, who speaks good English and is always smiling,” Rooney said.

“It’s great for him and for me to have someone like that. I think we can both learn from each other. He’s a lovely lad who is great for us around the dressing room. Me and him do a lot of finishing after sessions to try and keep progressing and getting better. I’m looking forward to him doing the same, if not scoring more goals for us, this season.”

But it is another new boy, Ashley Young, that has thrived in the Mexican’s absence, forming an exciting partnership with Rooney at both club and international level. Both scored for England in the past week in wins over Bulgaria and then Wales, although Young will continue on the left for United.

“He’s done very well,” said Ferguson of his £16 million summer purchase.

“With his versatility and his understanding of the game. Obviously we tried to get him a few years ago from Watford but we were just a bit late. But he’s matured at Aston Villa, his form last season was fantastic considering they had a difficult season and since he’s come to us, he’s taken to the challenge really well.

“Some players come to a club like ours and find it difficult to settle in but, in the case of Ashley, he’s done very well. He’s getting support from Patrice Evra down the left side and that kind of experience Evra brings to the team and that side of the pitch is very important to a new player coming to the club.”

Young’s form, together with Valencia’s probable return, leaves Ferguson with a plethora of attacking options for the tea-time kick-off. Park Ji-Sung is also fit, leaving two from four in wide positions, with Hernández likely to partner Rooney in attack.

One player looking forward to returning from the international break is much-criticised goalkeeper David de Gea. The 20-year-old Spaniard is unfashed by the media spotlight, which has shon so brightly during some nervous moments for the young stopper in the opening week of the season.

“What happened is normal and there is nothing wrong,” de Gea told Spanish sports paper AS.

“Now it is in my power to change those negative reviews and change them into praise. Improving in every practice and every game, but mostly keeping intact the confidence in my abilities and what I can bring to the team. It is hard to arrive in a different country and with a different language, but little by little I’ll be getting it. I do not worry.”

The young Spaniard is likely to face a stiff test against Bolton, with Owen Coyle’s outfit playing some decent football in the past year. Yet, with Kevin Davies at the club, Bolton remains a major threat from set pieces and balls into the box. Indeed, 31-year-old Davies says he is looking forward to roughing up de Gea and inexperienced defender Phil Jones.

“I relish these kind of challenges,” says Davies.

“Jones is coming on as a player but he’s still young, so I’ll be looking to give him a going-over. There will be a few crosses flying in. I played against him last year. He’s a big strong boy, so it’s the kind of game I’ll look forward to.”

Bolton should offer debuts to new signings David Ngog, Gael Kakuta and Dedryck Boyata, while Stuart Holden played for the reserves in midweek but is unlikely to play. Holden was injured by Jonny Evan’s late tackle at Old Trafford last season.

Even with the new acquisitions Bolton faces a daunting task at the Reebok having lost 11 of the past 13 in this fixture. United, meanwhile, has lost only once during trips to Bolton during the Premier League era – in November 2007. With United beginning the campaign in scintillating form few will expect a repeat on Saturday.

Likely Line-ups
Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Eagles, Muamba, Reo-Coker, Petrov; Davies, Klasnic. Subs from: Bogdan, Wheater, Riley, M Davies, Pratley, Tuncay, Blake

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fábio, Evans, Carrick, Giggs, Pogba, Park, Valencia, Gibson, Fletcher, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Welbeck, Macheda.

Bolton: WLWL
United: WWWW

Referee: Andre Marriner

Hargreaves back for Bolton clash

March 19, 2011 Tags: , Matches 150 comments

Injury-plagued midfielder Owen Hargreaves could return for Manchester United’s clash with Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford today. The 30-year-old has played less than 10 minutes this season, after missing three months with a hamstring strain suffered on his comeback in November. But the Canadian-born player could be drafted into United’s back-four as Sir Alex Ferguson’s has just four fit defenders for the clash with Owen Coyle’s Europe-chasing outfit.

Captain Nemanja Vidic joins Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva and John O’Shea on the sidelines for Saturday’s match. Northern Irish defender Jonny Evans could make the bench having missed nine games with an ankle injury, although the 23-year-old is unlikely to start given Bolton’s physical threat.

In total up to 10 United players will miss the game, with midfielder Anderson also out, reserve goalkeeper Anders Lingegaard having undergone a knee operation and Paul Scholes suspended. Meanwhile Darren Fletcher is suffering with a virus and Park Ji-Sung has only recently returned to training.

The injury crisis comes just prior to the international break, with Ferguson hopeful that key players will return over the next forthnight. However, the boss admited that Ferdinand could miss much of the run-in, with the 32-year-old still not training.

“Rio has plenty of years ahead of him,” said Ferguson, who will start the first of a five match FA-imposed touchline ban against the Trotters.

“He has had a few injuries over the last few years I am sure that are a concern for him. Calf injuries can be troublesome and we are not looking at this as a short-term situation for us. He has been out for a few weeks now anyway and has not started training yet. It looks to me as if we will be lucky to get him back for some point of the season. But he is still capable of coming back and playing at the top level again.

“Anderson is doing OK running-wise, he is getting closer. Owen Hargreaves has trained this week, which is good news. There are some promising things going to help us on the run-in.”

The lengthy injury list means that Wes Brown and Chris Smalling will probably continue in the centre of United’s defence, with Hargreaves or Fabio da Silva occupying the right-back slot. Ferguson also has limited options in midfield, although Nani and Antonio Valencia are both fit. Darron Gibson could make a rare start alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield.

Manchester United v Bolton Wanderers, Old Trafford, 19 March 2011Ferguson must also choose between top-goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov and in-form Javier Hernández to partner Wayne Rooney in attack. Although Ferguson says he will not continue to play the former Evertonian in midfield, Rooney is likely to continue in a deeper role that has prompted a return to better form in recent weeks.

“We only started playing Wayne deeper because of the injury situation before the game against Arsenal last Saturday,” added the 69-year-old Scot.

“We were forced into trying to organise a team that gave us a chance of going through. In that particular game it worked. But Bolton are a completely different team and I may change it.”

Coyle’s high-flying Bolton side is chasing a Europa League spot on two fronts, lying seventh in the Premier League and facing Stoke City in the FA CUp semi final at Wembley in three weeks. Bolton’s improved standing, allied with United’s injury list, means Coyle will hope to end a run of seven conscecutive defeats at Old Trafford. The Reds’ home record the season suggests otherwise of course, and Bolton has not won on the road since November.

“The way the lads have progressed this season has been enjoyable, accepting that there have been little dips or lulls along the way,” Coyle said.

“Every time we enter the field we feel that we have a chance of winning the game and we will certainly need that on Saturday, going to what I believe are the champions elect and a team that are truly outstanding on every front.

“We will be setting our lads out very positively as we look to achieve what would be a big result at Manchester United. It’s an opportunity to mix with the very best players in world football and show that they can play as well. We have done that all season and we will try to do it again in an unbelievable footballing arena on Saturday.”

However, the Bolton manager is without Mark Davis, Zat Knights, Ricardo Gardner, Sam Ricketts and Jay-Lloyd Samuel for the clash. Coyle welcomes back key defender Gretar Steinsson for the short trip across Lancashire.

However, United’s striker Rooney believes last weekend’s victory over Arsenal has given the Reds a confidence boost after consecutive Premier League defeats to Chelsea and Liverpoool.

“It was a difficult week with the Chelsea and Liverpool results and we knew that if we could beat Arsenal it would give us that edge to push for the title,” he told club rag United Review.

“You can’t wait for the games to come at this stage of the season and we’ve got another important one on Saturday. We have to make sure we get the job done.

“A lot has been said over the last few years about them being a long-ball team, but I think they mix it up well and like to pass the ball around. They’re a physical side who work hard as a unit and they’ve got themselves into a great position in the league. We know we’re in for a difficult game and we need to make sure we get in amongst them.”

With an inexperienced back-four and lightweight midfield it’s a challenge United could fail. It is perhaps only the Reds’ transformation at home that will take Ferguson’s side to three vital points.

Bolton – 451 – Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Wheater, Robinson; Muamba, Holden, Petrov; Elmander, Davies, Sturridge. Subs from: Taylor, Klasnic, Lee, Lainton, Moreno, Blake, Cohen, Alonso, O’Halloran, Eaves.

United – 442 – van der Sar; Hargreaves, Brown, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Gibson, Giggs; Rooney, Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Fabio da Silva, Valencia, Owen, Berbatov, Bébé, Park, Obertan, Tunnicliffe, Morrison, King.

Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant referees: Mike Cairns & Jake Collin
Fourth official: Eddie Ilderton

United – DWLLWW
Bolton – LWWDWW

United slip to third away draw

September 26, 2010 Tags: , Matches 23 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson returned to the Manchester United bench but could not prevent his side drawing a third straight Premier League game on the road. United’s defensive frailties came to the fore once again, with bright attacking play cancelled out by some loose play at the back. It hardly surprised, with the Reds unable to plug the leaks away from home.

Nani’s wonderful strike and Michael Owen’s late headed equaliser earned United a point but on a weekend when both Arsenal and Chelsea lost, Ferguson may see the draw as a further two points dropped. After all United has won this fixture four out of the last five seasons.

If United’s attacking play merited more than a draw, then Ferguson must surely be deeply concerned about the fractious nature of his side’s rearguard. United simply cannot win the Premier League title in May by defending in such a haphazard fashion.

Indeed, Ferguson could hardly contain his disappointment, briskly shaking Owen Coyle’s hand at the end. The hair-dryer no doubt out in full force.

“I thought the first half we should have done better. We had some tremendous chances and we played a lot of good football,” said Ferguson.

“We did well to come from behind. Our chances were reduced in the second half although we had plenty of the ball. We showed some character coming from behind twice. A lot of teams will find it difficult coming here – they are a handful.

“The Premier League is like that, teams drop points when you don’t expect them to. Away from home we’ve only got three points and it shows a measure of the quality in the league.”

Ferguson, returning to the United bench after the midweek trip to Spain, left Rio Ferdinand out of his starting line-up, with Valencia coming up on Wednesday. The 32-year-old defender is just 180 minutes into his campaign with no pre-season behind him.

If Ferdinand’s absence caused concern for a defence that has shipped more goals in September than any other top flight side, then Jonny Evans’ poor recent form compounds the problem. It was always likely to be a tough day for Evans whose talent is not in doubt but ability to deal with physical very much is.

United started brightly though, monopolising possession and Wayne Rooney offering at least a glimpse of a return to a form of old. Not that Coyle’s side allowed United an easy ride of it, contesting possession every bit as competitively as under Sam Allardyce.

United had been warned. Lee Chung-Yong struck just wide before the Bolton’s opening goal as United’s tendency to invite the home side forward allowed Bolton back into the game. Zat Knight, stealing in ahead of a static Evans’, headed home the resulting corner, with Patrice Evra straying from his post. After Smalling’s outstanding performance in midweek, Ferguson will surely take note if Ferdinand’s absences are repeated this season.

Of the many weaknesses in the United squad creativity from wide areas is not Ferguson’s concern, with Nani at the heart of many of the Reds’ best moments. While the Portuguese twice wasted possession in the opening half there was no sloppiness about United’s equaliser, with Nani running from inside his own half to lash past Jussi Jaaskelainen in the Bolton net. A simply stunning strike and just reward to United’s overall dominance.

Indeed, the visitors began the second period in much the same fashion, hogging the lion’s share of possession and chances, with Berbatov forcing Jaaskelainen into a smart save on the hour as United sought the breakthough.

Perhaps unsurprising, given the upcoming fixture list, Rooney was withdrawn on the hour with liberal amounts of ice applied to the striker’s left ankle as the Scouser sat impassively on the bench. With Ryan Giggs also withdrawn early due to a hamstring strain that will keep the Welshman out for a fortnight, Ferguson’s options for the Spanish trip may be reduced.

Nani continued to be United’s main creative force but for all United’s possession Ferguson’s side rarely tested Jaaskelainen. United paid for the profligacy too, with the other Bulgarian, Martin Petrov, finding the back of United’s net after Johan Elmander’s smart layoff. Against the run-of-play perhaps but symptomatic of United’s play away from Old Trafford.

Ferguson threw caution to the wind, pushing Nani forward, with Michael Owen and Federico Macheda joining the fray to create an old-fashioned 4-2-4 formation. If Ferguson is ever-prepared to gamble then the move opened up United’s already fragile defence. Elmander should have hit Bolton’s third with 15 to go, firing over Edwin van der Sar’s goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.

The Swede lived to regret his wastefulness when Owen superbly flicked home Nani’s free kick to equalise moments later. It was the former Liverpool striker’s first touch and one of very few meaningful goals the former England international has scored in his time with United.

With time ticking down Scholes’ wonderful pass opened up Bolton’s right flank, with Nani cutting inside Robinson and firing just wide on his left foot. A wonderful move that could have brought United better reward. Moments later and the flame-haired midfielder fired just high as Ferguson’s side sought the winner its dominance deserved.

It didn’t come.

“It’s always a tough place to come but we created enough chances and dominated most of the game,” said goalscorer Owen.

“We’re obviously frustrated. We wanted to get the three points with the results that have come this weekend and we had the chance to close to gap at the top.

“We were helped with a few nice results yesterday but when you don’t capitalise on it, it leaves you with disappointment.”

In such details are titles won and lost.

Match facts
United – 442 – van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher (Owen 71), Giggs (Park Ji-Sung 53); Rooney (Macheda 61), Berbatov.

Attendance: 23,926
Man-of-the-match: Nani

Possession: Bolton 41% – 59% Man Utd
Attempts: 15 – 12
On target: 9 – 6
Corners: 7 – 12
Fouls: 16 – 18

Reds face tough Bolton trip

September 25, 2010 Tags: , Matches 133 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will return to the Manchester United bench against Bolton Wanderers – baring a last-minute scouting trip to Wolverhampton of course – after his midweek Spanish sojourn. The Scot returns to lead United as the Reds look to maintain Premier League momentum after last weekend’s victory over Liverpool.

The Reebok Stadium has been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons, with United cruising to a comfortable 4-0 win last season and four victories in the last five visits across Lancashire. Dimitar Berbatov struck twice in March, and the Bulgarian, who has scored seven in six games this season, will look to continue the rich vein of form that brought a hat-trick against Liverpool last weekend.

Indeed, with Wayne Rooney suffering under the weight of severe media scrutiny it is to the Bulgarian that United will look as Ferguson’s side faces three challenging away fixtures in the next six days. With the press on Rooney’s tail, Ferguson gives the impression that his star player’s malaise may last months not weeks.

“I don’t believe he has a confidence problem but the boy is starting to realise finally, without any question, what kind of focus is on him as a human being,” said Ferguson this week.

“He is realising what it means to be at the centre of media attention for non-football-related questions.

“I don’t think the boy can turn a corner at the moment without a camera on him. He can’t move without the paparazzi being on him and, for a young person, that is not what you want. You want to play and enjoy your football without that attention on you, because that can be quite exhausting.”

Exhausting is probably a fair description of United’s schedule over the next week as well, with the fixture against Valencia in the south-eastern Spanish city next Wednesday followed rapidly by a visit to Sunderland. With that in mind Ferguson is likely to rotate his resources, despite United fielding a shadow side against Scunthorpe United in midweek.

Ferguson, mindful of Paul Scholes’ inability to play three games in a week, may choose to rest the flame-haired midfielder tomorrow with the midweek Champions League fixture taking priority. United can close in on Chelsea after the Londoners’ failure at Manchester City today but the Scot can call on Anderson, who completed the full 90 minutes against Scunthorpe, and Michael Carrick who is fit again after an achilles heel problem.

Meanwhile Ferguson will not consider Owen Hargreaves, who returned to first team training this week after two months rehabilitation in Denver, despite expressing surprise at the Canadian-born midfielder’s progress in the past week.

In defence captain Nemanja Vidic is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand as United look to continue an unbeaten run that has been punctuated by poor defending this season. The undoubtedly talented but out-of-form Jonny Evans will drop to the bench on Rio’s return.

Berbatov meanwhile claims to have overcome the kind of self-doubt that has permeated the Bulgarian’s stay in Manchester. Unfairly labelled both aloof and arrogant, the £30.5 million striker is now benefiting both from a summer fitness programme and a renewed sense of belief that comes with regular scoring.

The former Tottenham Hotspur player now admits what many have suspected: the transfer fee has weighed heavily for the past two seasons.

“You try not to think about it but sometimes you just can’t help it,” said Berbatov.

“You start thinking it’s a lot of money and what’s going to happen if you don’t prove you’re good enough for that amount of money and if you don’t score enough goals.

“These thoughts are always going through my mind and sometimes it can be bad for your concentration because it does distract you from the goal I have to play and enjoy my football.”

Fortunate for United then that Owen Coyle’s Bolton must face a renewed Berbatov without Gary Cahill, the defender who has forced his way into Fabio Capello’s England plans this year. The Trotters will also be without Ricardo Gardner, Andrew O’Brien and Jlloyd Samuel for the local derby.

Bolton – Bogdán; Steinsson, Knight, Ricketts, Robinson; Petrov, Muamba, Holden; Chung-Yong, K Davies, Elmander. Subs from: Lainton, Klasnic, Moreno, Blake, Taylor, M Davies, Mustapha, Klasnić, Rodrigo, Cohen, Blake, Davis, Alonso.

Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistant referees: Bob Pollock & Glenn Turner
Fourth official: Mark Clattenburg

Bolton – WWDLDL
United – DWDDWW

Reds spank Bolton to regain summit

March 28, 2010 Tags: , Matches No comments

In recent history Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble in resting Rio Ferdinand, Park Ji-Sung and most pertinently Wayne Rooney at Bolton Wanderers may have backfired. But this is a Bolton side with a softer core than under Ferguson’s close friend Sam Allardyce and United ran riot to regain the Premier League lead despite the absentees.

Although the Scot insists Rooney’s knee is not a worry, despite the England international missing training this week, the forward’s absence was something of a surprise. But with two games against Bayern Munich, sandwiching the visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford in the next week, fitness protection was the name of the game.

Ryan Giggs, restored to the starting line-up, provided support to Dimitar Berbatov in attack with Nani and Antonio Valencia offering width from the flanks. It was all too much for Bolton in the end, although the score didn’t tell the story of a match in which the home side offered a real threat.

“The score makes it look as if it was easy but we never dominated the game,” Ferguson said.

“It was hard, as it always is here. It’s difficult to play when the ball’s in the air all the time. It took two magnificent saves from Edwin van der Sar to keep Bolton out in the first half.”

But first United created multiple chances in the opening minutes with Fletcher’s cross from the right and Berbatov’s flick at the near post to forcing a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen and then Jonny Evans blasting over moments later.

Not that the visitors had it all their own way with Nemanja Vidic making a last-ditch tackle to deny the home side and Edwin van der Sar providing a strong hand to stop Johan Elmander’s near post shot in the opening quarter.

Berbatov and Giggs then worked an opening only for the Welshman to fire just over. But the veteran’s left-wing cross forced the opening goal for Ferguson’s side moments later as Jay Lloyd Samuel put the ball in his own net for the 11th own-goal of United’s season.

Bolton continued to offer a threat and van der Sar, at nearly 40, produced a wonderful save to keep Ferguson’s side in the ascendancy.

The game ended as a contest 15 minutes into the second half after Valencia and Giggs worked an opening for Darren Fletcher, with the Scot’s shot blocked by Jaaskelainen, only for Berbatov to fire home on the rebound.

Now United opened up Bolton at will, with Nani offering brilliance from the left. First the Portuguese skinned Sam Rickets to offer Berbatov the Bulgarian’s second of the night with 20 minutes to go. Then the winger cut in from the left to provide Darron Gibson with an opportunity to finish with a trademark flourish in off the bar.

“We’ll all drop points before the end of the season, we just have to make sure we don’t drop as many as everyone else,” added Ferguson, who believes Arsenal remains in the race despite the Londoners’ draw at Birmingham City.

“Chelsea scoring seven did not put extra pressure on us, but when you see that turnaround in goal difference in four days it represents a challenge. Put the gauntlet down, though, and United will always accept it.”

Next to Munich with Ferdinand and Rooney likely to return despite the “minor knocks” suffered by the pair this week.

United fully fit for Bolton trip

March 26, 2010 Tags: , Opinion No comments

For the first time in months Sir Alex Ferguson has an almost fully fit squad to choose from ahead of Manchester United’s trip to Bolton Wanderers this weekend. Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are fit for the Saturday tea-time kick off against Owen Coyle’s side, with John O’Shea and Owen Hargreaves also close.

Ferguson’s side makes the short trip across Lancashire in search of three vital points with just seven games remaining in the Premier League season. Buoyed by Chelsea’s failure to beat Blackburn last weekend, United sit proudly at the head of the title race knowing that destiny is in the team’s hands.

However, with Chelsea yet to make the trip to Old Trafford and a visit to Eastlands for the Manchester derby coming up Ferguson is aware that United must not only beat Bolton on Saturday but contribute handsomely to the side’s goal difference.

“Chelsea’s win the other night has brought them level with us on goal difference and goals could be important,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“I’ve said that a few times over the years but I just have a feeling I’m going to be right this time. We’ve always been in a strong position with goal difference over the years, but it’s very tight this time.

“The only way to solve it from our perspective is to win our games starting with Bolton on Saturday.”

Indeed, the Londoners’ 5-0 destruction of Portsmouth also means that Carlo Ancelotti’s side has scored more goals than United this season – a key differentiator should the title race come down to goal difference. But with Arsenal also in action on Saturday, Ferguson is aware of the real threat Arsène Wenger’s side has become in the title race

“On paper they have the easier run-in, but at this time of the season I’m not sure that theory works or means anything,” Ferguson added.

“You can drop points anywhere as Chelsea did at Blackburn and your advantage on paper all of a sudden doesn’t look so good. I don’t think you can say with certainty you’d be confident going anywhere at this time of the season and winning.

“We just have to rely on our experience and hopefully we can keep a relatively clean bill of health between now and the end of the season. The name of the game is to win your games and hopefully we can do that. That’s our best way of looking forward.”

United will do that with Rooney in the side tomorrow after the club’s top goalscorer overcame minor bruising to his knee. The 34-goal forward is likely to partner Dimitar Berbatov in a two-man attack at the Reebok Stadium.

Meanwhile, Ryan Giggs could replace Nani on the left side of United’s midfield with the Welshman fully fit after a broken arm. Giggs, who came on as a substitute against Liverpool last week, has not started a United match in over a month.

Neither Hargreaves nor O’Shea make United’s squad for the short trip but with the Canadian-born midfielder joining first team training this week expect a return this season. Meanwhile, Irishman O’Shea trained on Thursday and will join the first team squad for United’s fixture against Chelsea on 3 April.