Last time Sir Alex Ferguson and the Simpson’s Fat Tony look-alike Avram Grant locked managerial horns the occasion was a little greater than it is this Saturday. Back in 2008 Grant was manager of Chelsea who faced United in the Champions League final, which United of course won on penalties. The tables have turned on the Israeli boss though and he now takes the reigns as his Portsmouth side and face United at Fratton Park in his first game in charge – a baptism of fire to say the least!
So what can we expect from Portsmouth? From their season so far I’d suggest not a lot but you never know how a new manager will fare when he takes charge. Despite his physical similarities to cartoon gang lord Fat Tony, Grant is a decent manager – his spell at Chelsea proved that and he was perhaps unlucky to lose his job. In terms of injuries the most notable absentee is goalkeeper David James, the England international is struggling with a calf-strain and may miss out on United’s visit. Jamie Ashdown deputised in James’ absence against Stoke last week and didn’t impress in all honesty, though they also have former Fulham man Antti Niemi in their ranks and he may be preferred by Grant – who in all likelihood will make some changes.
Other players Grant will have to make do without include African pair Papa Bouba Diop and John Utaka. Bouba Diop is a big loss for Pompey and his power in midfield will certainly be missed when United line up on Saturday, while Utaka is probably one of their better players going forward. Defensive pair Steve Finnan and Linvoy Primus have both also been ruled out.
In terms of their danger men former United youngster Danny Webber is amongst their ranks, though whether he’ll play or not remains to be seen. I quite like the look of Algerian midfielder Hassan Yebda, who looks like he has some skills in his locker. Former Spurs man Kevin-Prince Boateng has also been one of their better players, which isn’t saying much to be quite honest, though whether he’ll be able to do anything against United remains to be seen.
After a disappointing Champions League loss at home to Besiktas on Wednesday I’m sure Ferguson will have his players fired up for this one. In fairness it was a very ‘experimental’ United side to say the least and considering Wolfsburg lost earlier that day it didn’t really change much in terms of finishing top of the group. Expect a full-strength United side capable of putting quite a few past Grant’s Pompey.
There are a few United players who will have to sit this one out. Fabio has a groin strain and should miss out on the trip to the south coast, though he may be back in time for the Carling Cup tie with Spurs on Tuesday night. John O’Shea is still suffering with a thigh problem with no date yet pencilled in for a possible return. Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves are both ruled out with calf and knee injuries respectively but Johnny Evans (calf) and Dimitar Berbatov (knee) may return on Saturday.
Despite the arrival of Grant as the new manager at Portsmouth I severely doubt they’ll get any joy out of United. Historically Fratton Park is a tricky ground to travel to but Pompey’s form has been so bad I just can’t see him turning it around in one game, especially with United as the visitors. Considering practically the entire first-team was rested for the midweek Champions League fixture Fergie’s men should go into this fresh and confident of victory.
United welcome Everton to Old Trafford in the late kick off on Saturday in what, on paper, should be a fairly easy three points for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
I mean no disrespect to Everton by this and on their day they’re capable of beating anyone in the league but the fact of the matter is their injury list is huge and so many key players are missing.
Star midfielder and the main creative spark in the Everton side Mikel Arteta is ruled out until January, perhaps longer, while Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe, Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka are all also missing for their trip to Old Trafford.
To add to Everton boss David Moyes’ woes the likes of former United keeper Tim Howard, strikers Jo and Louis Saha (another former United employee) and midfielder Jack Rodwell are all listed as doubtful. With such a long list of absentees Moyes is going to struggle to put a team together at all – let alone one capable of seeing off United on home soil.
Sir Alex has a couple of injuries to worry about himself. Johnny Evans and Rio Ferdinand are both nursing knocks but may be fit in time to face Everton, while Michael Carrick and John O’Shea also look likely to sit this one out. However, although the defence may be somewhat of a makeshift one for Ferguson his squad is in a much better shape than Everton’s and United should go into this fixture confident of taking all three points.
Whenever Wayne Rooney faces Everton there is always a little extra spark in his play and indeed the atmosphere and he could well be the key man on Saturday. I’ve been really impressed with Rooney this season and the way he has stepped up to take more responsibility since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. Everton are a well organised team and will be on Saturday despite their injured stars, but a moment of brilliance from Rooney can undo any side and he would surely love to score against his old employers.
This fixture also marks the first game of Sir Alex’s two game touchline ban following his comments about referee Alan Wiley after the Sunderland tie. Will this affect the players? It really shouldn’t in all fairness and Nemanja Vidic has said it won’t so I’m confident it won’t affect United’s performances over the next couple of fixtures.
Usually Everton are a tough nut to crack and I would be hesitant of suggesting a comfortable victory for United. However, their lengthy injury list including key (perhaps even their best?) players means that I can’t see anything other than a United victory in this one. Despite United’s Champions League obligations on Wednesday (Besiktas) Ferguson will play a full strength squad due to the fact the Reds have already made it through to the knockout stages and they should easily get past a crocked Everton.