Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his Manchester United side for the visit of Reading in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday.
United were happy to emerge with a 1-1 draw from Real Madrid in the Champions League last week and with the club also 12 points clear in the Premier League, the word “treble” is beginning to be quietly uttered around Old Trafford.
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Ferguson is refusing to be drawn on such talk as yet, but, despite revealing he will make changes to his squad against Reading, is determined to progress to a quarterfinal with either Chelsea or Middlesbrough in search of United’s first FA Cup since 2004.
“We've come through Wednesday's game without any injuries,” he said, according to Manchester United’s official website. “That's the best thing, apart from the result of course. I'll make some changes for Monday night, even though it’s an incentive to get to the quarter-final. I don’t think that’s lost on any of the players.”
Ferguson has confirmed that Paul Scholes could be out for another two weeks with a knee injury, meaning there may well be a place in midfield for Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Nemanja Vidic is likely to return in defense, while Javier Hernandez could get start up front.
The United boss expects whatever side he picks to face a tough encounter.
"There's a good spirit in place and they're all contributing,” he explained. “Whatever side I pick we’re expected to qualify. That's what happens at United. Whatever team you play you’re always expected to win. I went to see Reading last week and they’re a team who are showing plenty of fighting qualities at the moment, as you’d expect given they’re down the bottom of the league.”
It remains to be seen just how much of a priority Reading manager Brian McDermott will be putting on the FA Cup with his side battling against relegation. Despite previously having gone six games unbeaten in all competitions, last week’s defeat to Stoke sees Reading back in the relegation zone.
Crucial to their previous good run was the goals of Adam Le Fondre. The striker has scored seven times in his last seven appearances, most of them off the bench. But having started in their FA Cup wins over Crawley Town and Sheffield United, Le Fondre is likely to get the nod at Old Trafford.
Jason Roberts and Alex McCarthy are ruled out while Jimmy Kebe and Mikele Leigertwood are carrying knocks and may not be risked.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Buttner
M: Cleverley, Anderson
Valencia, Giggs, Nani
F: Kelly, Mariappa, Morrison, Shorey
M: McCleary, Karacan, Akpan, Robson-Kanu
F: Le Fondre, Hunt
Prediction: The last time these sides met, seven goals were scored in the first 45 minutes as Manchester United won 4-3. While a repeat of that mayhem may be unlikely, there could well be ample goals on Monday.
While United will make changes, Reading could do likewise and, with many the players coming in for the home side looking to play their way into Ferguson’s plans for the bigger matches, a comfortable United win looks likely.
Manchester United 3-1 Reading
Where to watch: The FA Cup fifth round tie will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go from 5 p.m.
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