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Premier League Preview: Manchester United - Portsmouth

Wednesday, 22nd April, 20:00 BST
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester

Fergie’s Fight


Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been in a bombastic mood defending the FA Cup exit to Everton, but this will be worthless if his side fail to beat Portsmouth on Wednesday night.

The knives have been out after his decision to let Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs watch the game from the comfort of their homes contributed to the ending of the quintuple dream. While his youngsters excelled against the Toffees, the big hitters will be back for the return to Premier League action.

United certainly missed the incision of the trio at Wembley as the makeshift team put in a performance as flat as the pitch. If the front line fails to sparkle again, a title challenge that has regained momentum could start to falter once more.

The Red Devils will also be interested spectators of the clash between Arsenal and title challengers Liverpool. Any favour from their Champions League semi-final opponents could provide some welcome daylight in the chase for the trophy.

Another spur for this game is the painful memory of the 1-0 defeat to Pompey in the FA Cup last season. The Mancunians pummelled the visitors that day but were unable to put the ball in the back of the net.

If United fire blanks again, it would be a terminal blow to their hopes of a third successive Premier League crown. The pressure is now on for Fergie to ensure his sacrifice of the hallowed cup competition wasn’t in vain.

Pompey Push

Premier League safety is within touching distance, but Portsmouth cannot let up in their push for survival.

The turnaround under Paul Hart and ex-Manchester United idol Brian Kidd has lifted the club away from the Championship trap-door they were poised to fall through during Tony Adams’ time in charge.

Last weekend’s 1-0 win against Bolton Wanderers moved Pompey six points clear of 18th placed Middlesbrough. The magical 40-point mark is now just a win away, but few would back the team to get the result at Old Trafford.

Memories of last year’s 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final triumph will lift the players for the trip to the North West. The present also makes for good reading as well.

Just one defeat in eight games details the upturn since Fernando Torres’ last-minute header sounded the death knell on Adams’ reign at the club. Unfortunately, this came at the hands of fellow title chasers Chelsea.

To avoid another loss to ‘Big Four’ opposition, Pompey will be determined to stifle the attacking superstars they’ll be pitted against.

Holding midfielders Sean Davis and Hayden Mullins must continue to be tigerish in the tackle. The re-birth of giant centre backs Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin has also created the platform for progress.

Towering front man Peter Crouch also has a history of nodding home winners against the Red Devils from his time at Liverpool. If the England man can repeat the trick on Wednesday, his current and former employers will join in celebrating a tremendous result.

FORM GUIDE

Manchester United:


19th April vs. Everton (N) drew 0-0 (AET) lost 4-2 (PENS) (FA CUP)
15th April vs. Porto (A) won 1-0 (CHAMP LG)
11th April vs. Sunderland (A) won 2-1 (PREM)
7th April vs. Porto (H) drew 2-2 (CHAMP LG)
5th April vs. Aston Villa (H) won 3-2 (PREM)

Portsmouth:

18th April vs. Bolton Wanderers (H) won 1-0 (PREM)
11th April vs. West Bromwich Albion (H) drew 2-2 (PREM)
4th April vs. Hull City (A) drew 0-0 (PREM)
21st March vs. Everton (H) won 2-1 (PREM)
14th March vs. Middlesbrough (A) drew 1-1 (PREM)

TEAM NEWS

Manchester United:


Cristiano Ronaldo, Edwin Van der Sar, John O’Shea and Ryan Giggs all return to the United squad. Darren Fletcher (hamstring) and Wayne Rooney (ankle) are expected to shake off knocks. Michael Carrick faces a late fitness tests.

Wes Brown (foot) played 60 minutes for the reserves on Monday but won’t feature. Owen Hargreaves (knee) will return next season.

Last starting XI (vs. Everton):
Foster, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio Da Silva (Evra 63), Welbeck, Gibson, Anderson, Park (Scholes 67), Tevez, Macheda (Berbatov 91).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Neville, Nani, Evans.

Squad:
Van der Sar, Foster, Kuszczak, Fabio, Evra, Neville, Rafael, O'Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans, Park, Nani, Giggs, Ronaldo, Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson, Scholes, Tevez, Berbatov, Macheda, Welbeck, Rooney.

Possible starting XI:
Van der Sar, Evra, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Giggs, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Scholes, Berbatov, Rooney.

Portsmouth:

Paul Hart is without the services of midfielder Niko Kranjcar (ankle) after he hobbled off against Bolton Wanderers. The Croatian joins long-term absentees Jerome Thomas (hamstring) and Papa Boupa Diop (knee). Centre-back Younes Kaboul (thigh) is also a doubt.

Last starting XI (vs. Bolton Wanderers):
James, Kaboul (Pennant 90), Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Johnson, Davis, Mullins, Nugent (Kanu 71), Kranjcar (Belhadj 77), Crouch.
Subs Not Used: Begovic, Pamarot, Utaka, Hughes.

Squad:
James, Begovic, Ashdown, Pamarot, Kaboul, Cranie, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Wilson, Lauren, Belhadj, Johnson, Basinas, Davis, Pelé, Mullins, Mvuemba, Pennant, Hughes, Utaka, Nugent, Gekas, Kanu, Crouch.

Possible starting XI: James, Kaboul, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Johnson, Davis, Mullins, Nugent, Utaka, Crouch.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manchester United:
A shocking penalty miss on Sunday crowned a miserable few months for Dimitar Berbatov. Much of the United support has questioned the worth of the £30.75 million man, but importantly he retains the faith of Sir Alex Ferguson. The best way for the Bulgarian to repay this is with goals, starting against Pompey.

Portsmouth: Glen Johnson
sits atop the list of the most improved Premier League players. The marauding full-back has been a revelation this term, fulfilling the promise he showed as a 17-year-old at West Ham United. A solid performance at Old Trafford will continue the upturn in his fortunes.

PREDICTION

Manchester United wilted at Wembley, but back at home they will have too much for Paul Hart’s Portsmouth side.

Pompey will put up a challenge, but their travelling support can expect a painful journey back to the South coast.

Manchester United 3-0 Portsmouth

Matt Monaghan