As Manchester United travel to Cardiff tomorrow they’ll not only hope to secure a fourth consecutive league win, but they’ll also want to kick off what promises to be an extremely difficult week in the best possible way.
A trip to the Welsh capital is followed by a potentially crucial tie away at Leverkusen on Wednesday, before United complete their hat-trick of away games with a visit to big-spending and goal-shy Tottenham Hotspurs next week – in case David Moyes assumed beating Arsenal would buy him some time, the next seven days will be a timely reminder that at United, tests are never too far away.
United are still betting favourites for the Cardiff game according to SportsBettingDime.com but that’s more a case of reputation than fact – with Carrick injured and United’s indifferent start to the season, it will be a much harder game than it looks. Which is worrying since it’s the easiest of the three away games we have!
United return to Cardiff for the first time since 1975 with a seemingly ever growing injury list, with Michael Carrick and Phil Jones joining Danny Welbeck on the sideline.
Carrick’s absence, in particular, is likely to deal a massive blow to Moyes’ gameplan, given the last thing United’s already wafer-thin midfield needed was an injury to the mercurial Geordie, whose vacant spot is likely to be filled by Tom Cleverley, while Ryan Giggs could be in line for a rare start.
The thought of Giggsy being in the starting XI is as sentimental – it’d be his first appearance against his hometown club for 23 years – as it is likely to be met with disapproval by many Reds. However, with Marouane Fellaini proving as useful as England’s batting line-up two nights ago and Anderson clearly not an option worth considering, Giggs suddenly represents a good option.
With United’s frontline virtually picking itself, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa should feature again in midfield, as United will likely have to sustain Cardiff’s physical challenge in the form of Gary Medel and, albeit to a lesser extent, Craig Bellamy. The Chilean midfielder’s uncompromising approach has already rattled a few opponents this season, while Bellamy needs no introduction.
The former Manchester City and Liverpool man would love nothing more than spoiling United’s party, but the Reds’ defence seems to have turned a corner and since Nemanja Vidic returned to the side, David Moyes’ men have conceded just once in four games in all competitions, a huge improvement from the shaky defending we witnessed too often at the start of the season and statistic that should worry Cardiff, who have failed to score in five Premier League this season.
Having been hospitalised after a clash with David De Gea two weeks ago, Vidic should make the team tomorrow, as should Rafael, whose attacking contribution down the right flank has been sorely missed, given that Chris Smalling clearly doesn’t offer the same option going forward in support of Valencia.
Apart from the political shenanigans that have at times threatened to engulf their season, Cardiff have done rather well for a newly-promoted team and a trip to South Wales is by no means an easy assignment, but if United are serious about defending their title, it’s the sort of match they must win.