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Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Birmingham City

After coming away from a testy trip to Tottenham with top spot in the Premier League intact, Manchester United look to keep up their fine home form as they host struggling Birmingham City on Saturday.

United went down to ten men almost 15 minutes from time when Rafael da Silva was given his marching orders for a second yellow, but as has been the case many times throughout the season, their resilience saw them through safely to the end of the 0-0 draw.

With Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea all scoring wins against lesser competition on the weekend, United’s lead at the top was dented. Coming into this weekend’s clash against Alex McLeish’s side, United have 45 points from 20 matches, with City holding the same number of points with two more games played and an inferior goal difference. Arsenal are now two points behind with one more game played, with Chelsea seven back with one more played, and Tottenham eight back with one more played.

City face a tough Saturday evening clash at Aston Villa, who’ll be sporting a shiny new signing in Darren Bent, so three points in their afternoon clash against Birmingham could see United quickly reclaim the ground that was given up last weekend.

The odds are certainly in favor of United doing their part to make that happen. A 2-1 win over Stoke City a little over a fortnight ago was United’s 10th in 11 home league matches this season, and they’ve now taken 31 of a possible 33 points at home this season, five more than Chelsea’s 26.

While their home mark this season is almost impeccable, United’s home mark in recent times against Birmingham goes one step further, as they boast six wins in six tries in the Premier League era. If the visitors are able to score this weekend, it’ll be their first Premier League goal at Old Trafford, as United have outscored Birmingham 12-0 in those previous six wins.

After a solid ninth-place finish last season and a busy summer, it looked like Birmingham had the potential to make a move into the top seven or eight this season like Sunderland and Bolton have. However, they find themselves battling for survival instead of another high finish, as they come to Old Trafford in 16th place, only one point ahead of 18th-placed Wigan and just three clear of last-placed West Ham.

Birmingham actually have the same amount of defeats as Chelsea (six), but they also have the same amount of wins as West Ham (four), with their 11 draws being the culprit for their current placement in the table. In 10 away league matches, they’ve lost only four times – the same amount of away defeats Tottenham have and one less than Chelsea – but there’s only one win and five draws to show for the other results.

That being said, in their draw-filled campaign, there are several impressive results, including one that could provide Birmingham with a little confidence boost ahead of this weekend. There’s a home win against Chelsea, an away draw against City, and home draws against Tottenham, Liverpool, and United.

That 1-1 draw at St. Andrew’s on Dec. 28 is no doubt still fresh in the mind of both teams, and you can bank on it giving United a little extra incentive to wrap up the three points and wrap them up early. In that encounter, United took the lead through Dimitar Berbatov shortly before the hour mark and should have had even more, but their inability to finish the game off proved costly as Lee Bowyer equalized in the 89th minute. Controversial as the goal was, United shouldn’t have been in a position to be pegged back at the end, and it’s safe to say that Sir Alex Ferguson will send his starting XI out with the full intention of not repeating that.

It greatly helps United’s cause that they’ll have Nani in the fold this time around, as his absence at St. Andrew’s was clearly felt and seen.

Birmingham aren’t rife with attacking threats, or to be more precise, the threats that they have haven’t consistently produced this season, thus their continued search for a new striker. So, Rafael’s absence likely won’t be felt nearly as much as it might be if he’s ruled out for next Tuesday’s visit to Blackpool. United have been at their sharpest defensively at home, and that should continue this weekend.

It’s imperative for United to start fast and keep that positive momentum going, because allowing Birmingham to stay in the game longer than they should could have some serious consequences as it did a few weeks ago. More than that, being able to seal the deal relatively early could allow some key players to earn a little rest with the quick turnaround in mind.

It hasn’t been often this season that United have made things look easy, but we are due to see such a performance, and an early goal can set the way for it, a la Blackburn. Of course, given what we’ve seen this season, we should tread lightly with our expectations performance-wise, but with that quick turnaround to the Blackpool match, it’d be ideal to see a two or three-goal lead, at the very least, by the time the 70-minute mark rolls around.

But in the end, whether it’s done the easy way or the hard way, it’ll be another three points for United.

Prediction: 2-0 United

393 Comments

393 Comments

  1. Don

    January 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    @Owen:

    I don’t know everything but from your comments and statements on this blog I sure know I know more about football than YOU 😛

  2. Don

    January 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    @Owen:

    Yes I actually rememberd Pat scored that one header earlier in the season..I guess that makes him better than Rio by your reasoning 🙄

  3. RedDevilEddy

    January 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    @Owen:
    @Don:

    Shut up numpties!!! I am the illuminated one, even Jose can’t handle me 😎

  4. Owen

    January 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    @Don: You are THE CAPTAIN.So you must know more than me..I can’t challenge you this week…Keep preaching the tactics… 😆

  5. Don

    January 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    @RedDevilEddy:

    Ah yes I forgot… 😛 … oh illuminated one 😛 …. anyway I think I’m done with the Anderson debate for now…I look forward to seeing what he is going to do….and then i can gloat then… 😛 …

  6. Owen

    January 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    @Don: It is not my reasoning but your ignorance which tells Evra has not scored.When Andy or Evra scores,that date is marked in United’s history.But how can you miss it?

    Now i got how carefully you watch United playing!!! 😯

  7. Don

    January 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    @Owen:

    if you want to call me captain go right ahead..CAPTAIN of your ar….. nothing more…

  8. Owen

    January 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    @Don: It was never a debate as you started becoming personal and then i responded in that way.Any way,i don’t hate Andy,i just want him to look good stats wise as other top midfielders in PL show.And i assure you,i will be the first to celebrate with you when Andy will score.Hope the moment comes in 1 day only.I am going to sleep.Bye….

  9. Don

    January 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    @Owen:

    thank goodness some common sense finally….it only got personal when you started trying to ridicule my comments with baseless arguments…good to see there is some sense that can prevail….let’s celebrate United…I’m not interested in getting personal on this blog or any other…

  10. johnsom33

    January 24, 2011 at 12:41 am

    @Owen: “but i know players like Tevez,Valencia who became hit in their 1st year in PL.”

    you said previous;y that Tevez was a flop at United, so now you’re changing your stance to better support your current argument?

  11. jos

    January 24, 2011 at 4:29 am

    @johnsom33: Actually his first season was quite good. He scored some real match winning goals (against pool, chelsea etc) and in all scored 19 goals for us (more than rooney that year). we won the champions league and PL with him that season!
    In the second he was replaced by berbatov (mindless from fergie who should have gone for scholes or ronaldo replacement instead of a striker). coz of that his game suffered. still he scored more than what rooney has this season!

  12. Phoenix Red

    January 24, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Didn’t Tevez play with West Ham in his first premiership season?
    And didn’t Valencia play with Wigan in his first season?
    methinks they did!

  13. Phoenix Red

    January 24, 2011 at 5:38 am

    loved Red Ranters Tweet “Players like Berbatov are why I love football.”
    And i wholeheartedly agree! 😈

  14. Owen

    January 24, 2011 at 6:15 am

    @johnsom33: For your information,Tevez started his PL career with West Ham and became a hero there by keeping them in the League.

  15. Spizzy

    January 24, 2011 at 8:45 am

    @Jay wire: You are very articulate and actually come up with facts when selling your point of view unlike some conspiracy theorists in hear who will have you believe in alien abduction if given the chance.Kudos.

  16. Abu

    January 24, 2011 at 11:07 am

    @tonymontanna4united: Here Here with that point!! While we are asking pertinent questions WHY is Kasper Schmeichel not one of us? This is a retroactive question becaue i still see opportunity….

  17. phoenix red

    January 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    articulate maybe, but flawed nonetheless. Since when do you examine our beloved club through a business degrees eyes? Some people just dont get it?

  18. Stephen

    January 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    @Johnsom33: It was hardly Anderson the reason we scored five goals mate but he does provide us with some impetus but he does need to score more goals if he the answer to our attacking midfield needs but lets hope but an attacking midfield player who cannot score or a box to box one who can’t tackle isn’t ideal but will keep my fingers crossed.

  19. Stephen

    January 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    @Abu: Simply becuase he isn’t good enough…He maybe be Schmeichel by name but he isn’t in his fathers class.

  20. Phoenix Red

    January 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Alright Stephen! Were you in OT on Sat? What was the atmosphere like?

  21. Shami

    January 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    @johnsom33: Actually, I’ve been seeing dortmund games quite often, and contrary to some opinions here, they play quite an expansive open attacking game. And if they continue on their current form, they’ll win the league in march. More than Kagawa, Mario Götze is going to be a big star.

  22. shami

    January 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    @Redrich: hahahahahaha. That is one of the most awesome takedowns i’ve ever read.

  23. Phoenix Red

    January 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    What have Liverpool Fc and a Pepper pot got in common?

    They both spend most of their time in the middle of the table! 😆 😆 😆

  24. Stephen

    January 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    @Phoenix Red: Hi mate hope you are well, I gave back my season ticket at the end of last season I felt a little hypercritical moaning about the Glazers then putting money in their pockets!

  25. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    “Fitness is a priority but it is more important to make the ball do the work. You don’t need to run all over the pitch. It is much better to pass the ball well from one point to another.”

    That’s Anderson in a recent interview. He continues.

    “In England,sometimes people think you aren’t very good if you don’t run around a lot. But I think that is one of the reasons England don’t do well at World Cup finals. They run around too much.”

    Now I know there’ll be people who will go on about how he isn’t qualified to make such statements but that’s irrelevant. He is making much sense. The main issue with England and perhaps the Premiership in general is a rebellion against game intelligence. Everything is hurried and Red Bull like. So naturally players who base their game on technique and cerebral decision making are not popular. Midfielders who don’t sweat much are considered lazy. The preference is to hard tackling amputators like Heitinga,physical man handlers like Gareth Barry and adrenalin junkies like Darren Fletcher. This is not saying the aforementioned players are not good but they are the ideal and popular players in English football.

    But football has evolved into less and less of a major contact sport. There was a time when the only way you could distinguish between football and rugby was to examine the shape of the ball. Now with referees getting stricter and stricter and with the level of gamesmanship and theatrics increasing, football has had to adapt to more intelligence and less physicality. “Let the ball do the talking” as they say. The “tackler”(Gattuso,Keane,Fletcher,Duscher) is gradually being replaced by the “interceptor”(Carrick,Busquets,Khedhira,Schweinsteiger,Alonso). The “runner”(see tackler list) is taking more of a back seat,with preference given to the “passer”(see interceptor list incl Xavi,Scholes,Arteta,Fasbregas). In many cases you have the passer and interceptor playing individual roles in midfield as with Busquets and Xavi and this seems to be the new “destroyer-playmaker” of old popularised by partnerships like Zidane-Davids at Juventus or Dunga-Rivaldo for Brazil. But now midfielders have to be more versatile. In fact deep lying playmakers with enough versatility to play an “interceptor-passer” role at the same time like Alonso or Carrick seem to be the new way of football which is now more possession based. That’s why the successful midfielders of today have to be accurate passers whether you are just there to retain possession only or you are a playmaker. (Busquets had the highest pass completion rate in last season’s Champions League,with Carrick as revealed by Traverse,averaging 89% since 2006).

    Versatile and more intelligent strikers are preffered to the old “big centre forward”(Heskey,Ronaldo,Luca Toni,Les Ferdinand and even Ruud) who could wrestle with the equally big centre backs and force matters in the box. These days we are seeing fast,usually small,clever forwards who play deeper and dribble,pass and ghost their way into goal scoring positions. The “false 9” is the popular role mastered by C Ronaldo,Messi,Arshavin and classic Rooney. It’s now clever attacks that win. Physical strikers are still vital but these days they need to be skillful as well.

  26. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    But English football has a stubborn habit of lagging behind in new football standards and techniques. Physicality is still the top priority. Evra once remarked how he had to do gym and fitness work overtime because in France they spent more time on technical issues during training. Xabi Alonso described it best.

    “For me it is important to have players in a team who complement each other. Sometimes the 11 best do not make the best 11…..and in my opinion the England team had too many players(at the World Cup) who can run all day long,invest a huge physical effort,who attack and defend – ‘box to box’- as they say in England. But the way I understand the game,you also need someone who delivers short passes,even if they seem innocuous (inoffensive,harmless,insipid) at the time. That sort of player has been missing from the England team.”

    I’d say he is describing one Michael Carrick,who just like Scholes was and is not appreciated in England who insist with the tried,tested and failed Gerrard-Lampard combination. But both Scholes and Carrick have often times been accused of insipid,sideways and backwards football. Both players apply a more cerebral assertion to the game and can easily control the tempo and direction of the game with their passing. It is not surprising that Alonso at one stage also said the following about Scholes:

    “Maybe he is not valued as much as he should be in England because of the style of football there and because he keeps a low profile.” he said. “Perhaps he would have been more valued in Spain,where midfielders like him form part of the ‘ideal’.”
    “He certainly has the talent to have adapted to Spain-or Italy or Germany or France. Fans in Spain rate him very highly.”

    It is also not surprising that another midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez had this to say on the eve of the Champions League final in Rome May 2009:

    “Carrick gives United a balance and can play defensively too. He passes very well,has a good shot and is a complete player.”

    This was after being asked who Barcelona should be wary of.

    I used to be perplexed as to how people could bash a player like Dimitar Berbatov,one of the game’s very few brilliant artists and technicians. He is exactly like Zidane only with a different role. If I was in charge of transfers I would have paid a non-refundable £20m first just for his ability to capture a ball in full flight from the sky and bring it down dead with such grace. Then I’d start bidding. But seriously now I realise that he is never going to be popular in England(they sing more songs for Rafael and Anderson at Old Trafford) because he is not the ‘ideal’.

  27. Owen

    January 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    @Jay wire: You write a long long post on Carrick and mail it to Fergie please 😆 .I am afraid with the reports coming that Carrick will not be given a new deal and Fergie sees Fletcher as long term solution..

  28. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Anyway,I wasn’t surprised by the performance on Saturday as soon as the line up was revealed. Not even slightly. If you check my comments after the Blackburn game I insisted that we need to play the Blackburn system and we can win against any team but still play good football. I voted yes to the Carrick-Anderson combination with others here and did stress that if we bring Fletcher in we will revert to those dry,impotent displays of old because of his lack of technical discipline and disruptive running and Ferguson’s insistence on playing him in an advanced role. Check what happened between the Blackburn and Birmingham games. We had a constant shuffling of the midfield and again Fletcher was brought back. Immediately our attack became blunt and there was a lack of synergy and symmetry between the forwards. But in between we had another good attacking performance. Against Sunderland,with Anderson running riot in midfield and Carrick retaining possession. Who can forget the Michael Laudrup “look left pass right” pass to Berbatov from Anderson. But what was the key thing. The absence of Darren Fletcher and essentially the proper assignment of roles. After that Mr Fletcher returned and once again we either had to grind out results or fail to score.

    The constant in midfield should always be Carrick and his partners should alternate between Scholes and Anderson. And special mention to Gibson for filling in seamlessly and I was impressed by his running off the ball and overall play in midfield. So I’d play him if Carrick is unavailable and until Ferguson figures out that Fletcher is not an attacking midfielder and until the player himself learns some technical discipline,I’d keep him far from the team. However I still think he is useful,but being misused.

  29. Abu

    January 24, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    @Stephen: I think you underestimate the kid. Hs stats from every single chance he’s got have been very respectable. His pedigree is undoubtly better than most we’ve had since Schmeichel, and he’s so young, he was on Hart’s level really when they sparred back at City. I have a gut feeling about this….

  30. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    @-What long long post on Carrick? From the looks of it you are one of those ppl who rely on media speculation and reports. I prefer actual quotes from ppl that matter and in this case it’s the manager. Are you forgetting it’s the same media that included Giggs in the six players reportedly on the way out after this season. That was less than a month ago. They also alleged Anderson was to be sold by January. I would be shocked if Carrick is not offered a new contract in the near future.

  31. RMJ

    January 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    @Owen: I think Fergie already knows Carrick’s value….otherwise why keep him even when the whole English media and fans call him not a “proper” midfielder and other crap…

    @Jay wire: While i am really for Anderson to play every game, i think Fergie here knows exactly what he is doing..for example he went to WHL aiming to get to get a draw against the spurs…he puts Fletcher alongside Carrick when he feels the team has got enough firepower to overwhelm us, Carrick’s provides a defensive platform and Fletcher just shreds the game to ribbons…he wants to win the league and we have currently two games in hand…all we need to do now is win against the minnows and grind some result against the top flight..its a fail-safe solution granting Fergie considerable leeway if he wants to make headway in the cups…all this while we are still in the team building phase

  32. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    @Spizzy- Thanx for appreciating. I do prefer to look at facts and to analyse things than go on speculation and emotions. However on that note I do need to apologise to some of the ppl on the forum because I think the debate dragged too long and robbed ppl of the chance to talk about another great performance. It also got personal and petty which will never happen again. Hopefully.

  33. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    @Spizzy- Thanx for appreciating. I do prefer to look at facts and to analyse things than go on speculation and emotions. However on that note I do need to apologise to some of the ppl on the forum because I think the debate dragged too long and robbed ppl of the chance to talk about another great performance. But my aim was not to get on ppl’s nerves or even please anyone. I just wanted to show that the club is generally moving in the right direction and the future actually looks brighter. But it also got personal and petty which will never happen again. Hopefully.

  34. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    @RMJ- Possibly. But I’m not sure why we had to have Fletcher against a team like West Brom. Spurs and Arsenal games support your arguement, but the rest were games we needed to attack. And the truth is we’re put under pressure more when we have Fletcher playing because we struggle with possession. Whereas we can still be strong defensively and offensively without him. In fact we’re defensively more solid without him. Mind you we had two key defenders missing and Nani generally playing bad but we still came out with a decent performance in attack and defence. We also nullified the red hot striking force of Gyan and Bent,without the need to play Fletcher. So I believe if we are more consistent with this system it could improve our performances.

  35. RMJ

    January 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    @Jay wire: well squad rotation could be factor too..taken spurs for instance(forgive my obvious choice) over loaded with talent in midfield and this has caused a parity in balance across their squad, they are absolutely lacking in quality defenders and whats with Harry Redknapp and strikers? first Bent, then Keane and now Palychenkov looks to be going out as well and why is beanpole preferred to the likes of those two? but from the looks of it they are going to miss UEFA CL…i sincerely hope they don’t do a Leeds united

  36. Phoenix Red

    January 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    @Stephen: Fair play Mate! That must have hurt nonetheless. I too am boycotting OT, not to the same level as you are,(as i live in the Republic) but i’ve refused to buy any Utd merchandise, for the last couple of years. A friend recently got tickets and i turned them down, i havn’t been to OT now for 2 years! Hurts a bit, but i know its the right thing to do. Hopefully we’ll get rid of the virus soon, and if recent rumblings in the media come true! We can all get back to supporting the club fully that we all love.

  37. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I think Anderson has really been one of the exciting players so far. I would be suprised if there are still those who prefer anyone other than Scholes in midfield. All the vintage United performances this season have been with Anderson running riot in midfield. All 3 of them. Perhaps he could do better with goals and I acknowledge that, but the truth is there are very few central midfielders who score regularly. Lampard,Gerrard are the most consistent. The likes of David Silva,Xavi,Alonso,Pirlo,Schweinsteiger are not the most regular of goalscorers. If you check Iniesta’s earlier stats,you’ll realise he rarely scored as well. It’s only lately that his scoring has improved. But the thing is most of these players have had generally favourable conditions to work under. Anderson has had a bit of a tough time with selections. To be honest there’s not one season that he got settled. He was tossed around in all sorts of positions and roles, but critically he has not been selected consistently. Last season and particularly the season before that, he hardly ever played. In fact I think this is actually the first season apart from his debut, when he has played in 2 consecutive games. That’s not a healthy environment to improve and definitely isn’t what I would call “enough chances”. More importantly, he arrived at the development stage of his career when a player needs to be moulded and fine tuned in his favoured role. Messing around with roles should only occur between 12 and 16 years in my opinion. After that the player needs to be developed in the role that suits him best. He also needs experience and there’s no experience without consistent games at the highest level. Just look at what playing consistently has done for Rafael. From porous, nervous and reckless to a 1st team player whose absence causes the manager headaches. The same goes for Nani. Look at Welbeck now. Sunderland are screwed without him but he was ridiculed at United. What’s the difference. Consistent game time and correct roles. I believe if the same is afforded to Anderson then he will turn out great. The goals will come with experience. The only problem is, now with Scholes fit we can be sure of mega rotation in midfield.

  38. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    @ RMJ- Interesting that you point it out. I’ve noticed that Spurs have too many similar players recently. They are packed to the brim with attacking midfielders and have worsened the situation by getting Pienaar. I mean look at this for midfield talent. Niko Krancjar, a magnificent talent who can hardly get games. Luka Modric,Rafael van Der Vaart and Steven Pienaar. You can even include Jenas. That’s the same issue with Madrid. Kaka,Ozil,Canales are all great talents playing the same role. The other weekend I saw them play and draw away to Malaga I think. Great game btw, but they had Ozil,Kaka in midfield and with Ronaldo in attack they were like a team without a real striker. But the playmaking in that game from their midfield was magnificent but it was hard to score and they nearly lost. Spurs as well will have to play one striker to satisfy all their midfielders. I’m not sure why they got Pienaar. Great talent, but are they trying to hog all the attacking midfielders or what. I really hope they don’t do a Leeds as you point out because I’ve really enjoyed watching them over the years. Teams like Birmingham and Stoke City should do a Leeds because of their anti football philosophies. Not Spurs.

  39. Don

    January 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    @Jay wire:

    Kind of what we are dong with strikers? :-)….Berbatov, Rooney, Chicharito, Owen, Welbeck, Macheda, Diouf, Bebe (apparently he’s gong to be a striker), King, Keane, Cofie….I include some of those youth players beacuse they are studs and will be challenging for the first team in a few years….out of that lot looks likely that Owen, Diouf and possibly Macheda will be sold…but still…striker hoarding 😯 ….i guess the cream will just rise to the top and the rest will be discarded

  40. RMJ

    January 24, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    @Don: technically in any squad you have four main strikers and for us tehy are Berbs, Rooney, Chico and Kiko..Owen was injured at the start of the season and we sent out the rest on loan…we hoard a lot of defenders though but a lot of them are pretty flexible and can fill in at least two different roles

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  42. Don

    January 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    @RMJ:

    I was considering our “pipeline” of strikers….we won’t be sending everybody outside of 4 out on load every season so some tough decisions will have to be made over the next couple of summers as to who gets moved on and who do we keep…

  43. Jay wire

    January 24, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    To be honest Don has a point there. We have too many strikers. Because with both Macheda and Welbeck returning from loans, we definitely have to release one. I’m sure it will be Macheda. It’s amazing that players like Obertan can also play as support striker and with the likes of Bebe that’s almost 10 forwards.

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