Preview: Manchester United – Middlesbrough

What: Barclays Premier League, Matchday 20
Who: Manchester United (3rd, 35 pts/51 pts) vs. Middlesbrough (17th, 20 pts/57 pts)
When: Monday 29th December, 20:00 GMT
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester
Tevez to the Rescue

A narrow 1-0 win against Stoke City won’t send shockwaves around the globe, but the three points gained by the world champions on their return to Premier League action was all that mattered.

Carlos Tevez was the savour of the day after he popped up in the 83rd minute with his second top flight strike of the season. The plucky Argentine’s shot gave the Reds the win that their stuttering display only just deserved.

Yet again, the newly goal shy United team struggled to break down a vastly inferior side, whilst flashpoints surrounded Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo after the pair lashed out in frustration as the Potters threatened to hold them to a crippling draw.

The elbow from Rooney and the kick from Ronaldo were only minor infractions, but they show the irritation caused by the club’s return of only three goals in their last five Premier League matches. This is a far cry from the swashbuckling charge to domestic and European success enjoyed in the last campaign.

Whilst jet lag may have played a large role in the impotent showing against the Midlanders, this excuse won’t stand on Monday evening if Middlesbrough aren’t crushed at Old Trafford.

Gareth Southgate’s team have been lambs to the slaughter in recent weeks as they slide towards the relegation zone. Such opposition should provide the Red Devils with the opposition to re-discover the spark that ignited 2008 in a blaze of glory.

Boro’ Battle

As Middlesbrough prepare to take part in their last league fixture of the year, there can be little doubt that this has been a difficult period for the Teesside club.

Gareth Southgate’s men only managed 42 points in the whole of 2008, and currently sit in 17th in the Premier League as they battle to beat the dreaded drop to the Championship.

Southgate remains highly rated in the game, but after Paul Ince and Roy Keane were jettisoned with their sides flirting with demotion, he must be happy that Steve Gibson is one of the most faithful chairman in England.

Whilst Gibson’s finger never rushes for the trigger, ‘Boro near two month run without a win in the league must be worrying him.

Since this victory against Champions League chasing Aston Villa, the North East side have shipped three goals at Fulham, collapsed to a 2-1 defeat to Hull City after taking the lead in the 79th minute and scored just four times.

One of the biggest disappointments in this spell has been £12 million club record signing, Afonso Alves. The Brazilian was bought due to his reputation as a free scoring striker in the Eredivisie. Those days seem far behind the cumbersome, goal-shy forward as he’s laboured up front for ‘Boro.

Southgate will recall one of the few highlights of Alves’ time in the Premier League as his two goal salvo against Manchester United last April set his team on the way to a 2-2 draw. How he’d welcome a similar return on his investment this Monday night.

FORM GUIDE

Manchester United:


26th December vs. Stoke City (A) won 1-0 (PREM)

21st December vs. LDU Quito (N) won 1-0 (CLUB WORLD CUP)

18th December vs. Gamba Osaka (N) won 5-3 (CLUB WORLD CUP)

13th December vs. Tottenham Hotspur (A) drew 0-0 (PREM)

10th December vs. Aalborg BK (H) drew 2-2 (CHAMP LG)

Middlesbrough:

26th December vs. Everton (H) lost 1-0 (PREM)

20th December vs. Fulham (A) lost 3-0 (PREM)

13th December vs. Arsenal (H) drew 1-1 (PREM)

6th December vs. Hull City (A) lost 2-1 (PREM)

29th November vs. Newcastle United (H) drew 0-0 (PREM)

TEAM NEWS

Manchester United:


Sir Alex Ferguson has been robbed of Rio Ferdinand’s (back) presence for the next 10 days, whilst Ben Foster (broken finger) is no closer to a first team return.

The pair join Wes Brown (ankle) and Owen Hargreaves (knee) on the Old Trafford treatment table. Patrice Evra serves the second of his four game suspension.

Last starting XI (vs. Stoke City): Van der Sar, Neville, Evans, Vidic, O'Shea (Berbatov 64), Ronaldo, Scholes (Carrick 90), Fletcher, Giggs, Rooney, Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Park, Welbeck, Rafael Da Silva, Gibson.

Squad: Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Neville, Vidic, O'Shea, Evans, Rafael, Ronaldo, Anderson, Giggs, Park, Carrick, Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Gibson, Berbatov, Rooney, Tevez, Welbeck.

Possible starting XI: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Vidic, Evans, Rafael, Carrick, Anderson, Ronaldo, Park, Rooney, Berbatov.

Middlesbrough:

Didier Digard (groin) and Justin Hoyte (knee) are out until the New Year. Gareth Southgate will be buoyed by the return of young centre back David Wheater (knee) to his squad.

Last starting XI (vs. Everton): Turnbull, McMahon, Riggott, Pogatetz, Taylor, Aliadière (Johnson 70), O'Neil (Emnes 85), Arca, Downing, Sanli (Alves 54), Mido.
Subs Not Used: Jones, Huth, Wheater, Walker.  

Squad: Turnbull, Jones, McMahon, Taylor, Grounds, Pogatetz, Huth, Wheater, Bates, Hines, Williams, Arca, Walker, Downing, Johnson, O'Neil, Aliadière, Tuncay, Alves, Mido, Emnes.

Possible starting XI: Turnbull, Wheater, Riggott, Pogatetz, Taylor, Aliadière, O'Neil, Arca, Downing, Sanli, Mido.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manchester United:
At the centre of the ill feeling surrounding these teams stands Cristiano Ronaldo. A debatable penalty and a two-footed backlash from Middlesbrough has increased the temperature for this fixture, creating a war of words between the opposing managers. Ronaldo will also be looking to raise the heat after a month long cold spell in front of goal in the Premier League.

Middlesbrough: Club captain Emanuel Pogatetz is in for a hot reception from the Old Trafford crowd. The mark left in Rodrigo Possebon’s shin the last time the spiky Austrian international visited the club ensures that. Never mind the grandstanding, his all or nothing defensive style is vital for ‘Boro to stand any chance of beating away the onslaught from their hosts.

PREDICTION

The Teessiders have a decent record against United in recent seasons, providing a minor thorn in the side of Sir Alex Ferguson as they’ve taken important points off his championship chasing team.

I can’t see this happening again on Monday night as Gareth Southgate’s bungling players trudge into the Theatre of Dreams.

Manchester United 3 – 0 Middlesbrough

--Matt Monaghan, Goal.com