Saturday, December 30, 2006

Weekend Preview: 30th December 2006

Manchester United vs Reading

"Reading are no pushovers? Pardonez moi, but I beg to differ." - Sheena

When Reading stormed to the top of the Championship last season and won promotion with an amazing total of 106 points and only 2 losses out of 46 games, people nodded in approval but few Premiership bigwigs looked over their shoulders in fear. After all, newly promoted teams, no matter how well they did in the Championship, are notoriously poor once promoted; Sunderland comes to mind. Certainly most people thought a repeat of Wigan's fairytale season last year would be near impossible, and that it was a fluke anyway.

Halfway through the season, and Reading are sitting pretty smack in the middle of the table, safe and far away from the bottom part. It will be a while yet before they reach the "safety zone" of 40 points, but I think no one will be betting against them for that.

Despite all that, a closer look at their past performances will show that they aren't all they're cracked out to be.

Reading are now famous for managing to eke out draws with both Chelsea and Man Utd. However, besides that, they've lost to the other 2 clubs of the Big Four - a 2-0 loss to Liverpool and a 4-0 drubbing at the legs of Arsenal. At the Madjeski Stadium, Man Utd's superior possession and chances belied the final scoreline of 1-1, and only a crazy own goal from Ashley Cole/Michael Essien gave them a draw against Chelsea, after they'd lost 1-0 to them earlier in the season and ironically, through a Reading own goal. Not that I'm not thankful for that draw against Chelsea, mind!

So everywhere around me, people are going on and on about Reading being no pushovers but I beg to differ. No disrespect meant but I do feel that the draws were more or less flukes from a team that has otherwise performed admirably against the "smaller" teams. If Manchester United take their damn chances tonight, and I believe they easily can at Old Trafford, we should be able to sew up the points and maintain our 4-point lead, provided Chelsea wins against local derby rivals Fulham.

However we know how unpredictable derbies can be, so here's hoping...

Fortunately, Manchester United now have a fully-fit squad. All our long-term injury absentees like Park Ji-Sung and short-term ones like Michael Carrick are recovered, and the only minor worry we may have for tonight's match is that Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic will be suspended after having picked up 5 cautions each. However with a fully-fit squad, replacements are lining up thick and fast. I only hope that Wes Brown partners Rio Ferdinand instead of Mikael Silvestre, because Rio seems much more kalang kaboh if Silvestre is his partner, and anyway I'm still mad after he gave away that last-minute penalty against Wigan last week.

And I've always liked Wes Brown and think he's a really solid defender, it's just such a pity that he's always consigned to being a fringe player.

Man Utd should be able to win this match, though I think by not more than a single goal. The team knows that only a stroke of good fortune extended their lead from 2 to 4 points, and they will want to pile the pressure on Chelsea as the strain of playing catch-up is starting to show in them.

Man to watch (Man Utd): Cristiano Ronaldo. He's in such red-hot form now that anything he touches turns to goals. Expect another virtuoso performance from him tonight.

Man to watch (Reading): Kevin Doyle. The striker has 8 Premiership goals to his name, same as Louis Saha and Wayne Rooney, and no doubt his goals have helped Reading to their nice mid-table perch.

Fun fact: Steve Coppell was a Manchester United winger in the 1970s. Didn't know that? I didn't either until I read this.

Jaywalk's Encyclopaedia of Bookies' Odds says: Man Utd are giving 1.75 ball and decimal odds of 2.025. Steer clear of this. Man Utd will need to win by 2 clear goals for you to reap any benefits. Maybe because I'm by nature cautious with gambling, I think it's a little too big a risk. A one-goal winning margin seems more likely for me for this match.

Disclaimer: The above views are purely my own two-cents' worth. In other words, I cannot and will not guarantee that my predictions are accurate. If you want to bet on the game, do so at your own risk. Also, please bet responsibly and within your means regardless of how "sure thing" that game may appear to be. As the old saying goes, "The Ball Is Round". Good luck.


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