The results of the Carling Cup this week were almost too good to be true. For our second string to beat a Championship side 5-2 away was decent enough but the evening was only made sweeter by the results of our rivals.

Chelsea were the first to drop out, losing at home to Newcastle. Then it was City, losing 2-1 to West Brom away. Finally the sweetest result of the evening, Liverpool getting knocked out on penalties in front of the Kop by Northampton, who are in the fourth tier of English football.

But that was then, that was the League Cup, and this weekend should be different. However, after Chelsea and Arsenal lose, Liverpool draw at home, you start wondering if the football gods are shining down on us.

As the media continued to work themselves up in to a frenzy about Chelsea, talking about how they would cruise to reclaim the title, United fans were quick to remind people that the blues had yet to play a team that will finish in the top half of the table this season. City away was their first real test and they failed miserably. Our noisy neighbours didn’t even play well and they certainly didn’t put Petr Cech under much pressure, yet Chelsea looked distinctly average. All that separated the sides was Vincent Kompany going for every tackle, whilst John Terry and Ashley Cole ran away from Carlos Tevez as he ran at the Chelsea goal. He started off in his own half but was allowed to run to the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, waited for Cech to commit himself to a direction, then slotted the ball in the opposite corner. Thank you very much Carlitos.

You have to laugh. Before the game, the City captain was asked about his new hair cut. “No more,” he replied, with that dopey grin. “No more, no more. No more head.” Christ almighty. You have to wonder what kind of ‘special person’ can live in a country for over four years and still struggle to communicate even at the most basic level. He spent of the rest of the interview answering in Spanish. Fancy not knowing the difference between head and hair. This is the fella who Mancini has chosen to represent the club, the man who has to discuss crucial decisions with the referee, the man who has to communicate with his team mates and the man who has to be the voice of his team mates. Utterly bizarre. But for as long as he keeps taking points off Chelsea, I won’t complain. Ignorant twat.

If United get a win tomorrow, we go within one point of Chelsea, having played more difficult games than them. Chelsea then have to play Arsenal before going to Villa Park, whilst we have to travel to Sunderland before taking West Brom on at home. It’s hard to avoid getting too far ahead of ourselves here, so I’ll just say it, give it a fortnight and we could be top of the league.

But one step at a time, starting at the Reebok. We’ve won four of our last five games there so should be going in to this full of confidence. They’ve had some decent results so far this season, drawing with Villa and Fulham, and whilst the Arsenal 4-1 drubbing looks bad on paper, they were only 2-1 down before being reduced to ten men.

Gary Cahill, who has received quite a lot of praise from the media over the past few months, is still facing the consequences of that sending off, and will miss tomorrow’s game.

However, it is our own defence we need to be concerned about. Being semi-serious, Scunthorpe could have scored about 15 goals during the week, thanks to our sloppy defending. We were without Van der Sar, Vidic and Evra, but defending has clearly been an issue for our lads so far this season.

It is interesting to note that our last defeat at Bolton came thanks to a defensive error, with Gerard Pique showing his inexperience and allowing Nicolas Anelka to score. Pique is now one of the best defenders in the world and Anelka is plying his trade at Chelsea, but that doesn’t mean we’d be massively surprised if another defensive error cost us tomorrow.

United seem to always do things the hard way, and after throwing away points at the death against Everton and Fulham, I really could do without being pissed off with the team tomorrow. I don’t want to be talking about it being “typical” at the final whistle, I want us to go out and do the business, set out our stall, and get tongues wagging. People were far to premature to claim Chelsea would breeze through to May and tomorrow needs to be the first day we make that clear.

After getting a game at left back during the week, I’d like to see Rafael starting at right back tomorrow. Vidic and Evra will start, although the fitness of Rio Ferdinand will determine whether he joins them. Jonny Evans would fancy himself to step up again, but Chris Smalling had a great game at Scunthorpe. He fulfilled his defensive duties very well, but also scored one goal and assisted another. Will the manager reward Smalling’s great performance with a league start?

After scoring 6 goals in 5 games, as well as claiming 1 assist, Berbatov will be looking to keep adding to his impressive record, for the season, as well as at the Reebok. He’s scored 3 goals in the last 2 games there and certainly is overflowing with confidence.

In midfield, we’ll be looking to Paul Scholes to make a difference, possibly alongside Anderson. It’s not been too difficult predicting who will play in the centre of the park for us, with Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Carrick all missing through injury, but our players are starting to return, lightening the load for our one club central midfield pair. Whilst a massive fan, unreservedly apologising for all the shit I used to give him, Darren Fletcher has been some way short of hitting the form of the past two seasons. It’s not from lack of trying but he really has struggled to grab our games by the balls so far. Not that I would suggest he has the mentality to get complacent, I don’t think it will do him any harm to have fiercer competition for his place.

So, here’s hoping United do what they’re capable of, reminded by the manager how it felt in the dressing room at Goodison Park and Craven Cottage, and start working their way up to the top of the table. A win puts us 1 point behind Chelsea and 3 points clear of Arsenal and City.

Please reds, don’t fuck it up.

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STR interview with Burden Aces
Win some pretty nifty United coloured soap

A live blog will be running for this game.




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