Manchester United held a rampant Real Madrid side to a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu last Wednesday night. In what was a terrific result for Sir Alex's Ferguson's men, the Red Devils will need to make changes for this FA Cup Fifth round tie against Reading. Manchester United have well and truly kept their treble dreams alive, and will look to carry on that momentum against a somewhat resurgent Reading side.
Although Manchester United will be favourites, this will be no easy tie. In two of my previous articles I've dubbed Manchester City 'favourites', City went on to [thankfully!] lose them both. Reading have lost just once in their last 7 fixtures, which includes an impressive point against Chelsea. The Royals look to have finally grown accustom to the Premier League, and are just one point away from safety.
To start, we'll take a look at the side who faced Real Madrid to determine who warrants a starting place or even a rest.
David de Gea had arguably his strongest, most impressive performance in a Manchester United shirt on Wednesday. I've always been a huge fan of the Spaniard, and he's definitly silenced any doubters or critics with a typical, game-saving performance for United. The Spaniard has finally established himself as the number one, and with performances like these you can see him in goal for the next 15 years at Old Trafford.
Phil Jones seems to be increasingly gaining the trust of his manager, and with impressive performances against Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and now Real Madrid, the 20 year old will look to establish himself in the starting eleven. Rio Ferdinand was rested last week against Everton but put in a typically classy performance against Madrid, he was partnered with Jonny Evans who is arguably the number one centre back at the club this moment.
A big factor will be the fitness of captain Nemanja Vidic. Fergie told the media that 3 days was too short for his skipper to come back into the fray. Vidic is still in need of match fitness, and this game against Reading could be an ideal game for the Serbian.
Moving on to the attacking side of Manchester United's set up, Danny Welbeck had his greatest performance this season for United. The youngster held the ball up well when his side was under pressure, whilst ensuring his tiresome work rate was still up to scratch. Welbeck even got himself on the score sheet at the Bernabeu with a wonderfully taken header, beating Sergio Ramos to a Wayne Rooney corner. Welbeck has struggled for goals this season, but you wouldn't of thought so with a finish like that.
Arguably, it was Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie who had a game to forget for United. The Dutchman had plenty of chances to put his side into the lead, as well as finish off Madrid. Whilst Wayne Rooney was subbed off for Anderson with ten minutes to go. Bad for United, but worse for Reading. The temperament and attitude of these two will have them incredibly fired up for this tie against Reading, if chosen.
This would be my selection for the game against Reading on Monday.
David De Gea – Rafael, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra – Luis Nani, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Ashley Young – Wayne Rooney Javier Hernandez.
Javier Hernandez is desperate for game time. The Mexican has 14 goals in all competitions this season and has produced some of United's most important goals to date. The 'Little Pea' seems content with his 'suber-sub' tag, but will be a crucial member of the squad right until the end,
Despite plenty of controversy surrounding his future, Luis Nani could get the nod on the right wing. The Portuguese has struggled for form and fitness this season, but will be keen to get some game time. Nani is arguably the one winger who Manchester United have that can produce a sudden piece of magic.
I personally hope Nemanja Vidic returns to the starting line up for United. He is such a crucial cog to the Manchester United defence. The Serbian brings order and leadership to the United back line who have somewhat struggled this season. Manchester United missed the Serbian last year, and look a much more organised, complete unit with their skipper among the ranks.
Tom Cleverley's start against Everton was his first in Manchester United's last five games. I think Fergie may bring in the Englishman to be partnered with Anderson in the centre of midfield, giving Michael Carrick a rest. The two of them have showed at times they can be a lethal attacking duo, with quick, interlinking passes. Anderson seems to work best with Cleverley. My only worry is the two are not known for their defensive side.
Whatever side Sir Alex Ferguson chooses, the team will need to be strong enough to overcome the threat of Reading. Fergie will remember the 4-3 away victory over Reading earlier in the season. Although David de Gea will be in goal over Anders Lindegaard, there were major defensive concerns to worry about.