Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed his squad back to Carrington after the international break reporting no fresh injuries. Amid the dross that international football so often serves up, this is no small mercy. Ferguson is seeking the 200th Premier League away win during his reign, which recognises both the joy in useless statistics and that football did not exist before Sky invented it in 1992. Still, with United having beaten Bolton Wanderers in 11 of the last 13 meetings, Ferguson will take his charges the short trip to Bolton full of confidence.
Yet with many of the Scot’s players involved in more than one match over the past week, Ferguson may take the opportunity to make changes to his first team for the first time this season. He will do so with a largely fully fit squad to choose from, with Darren Fletcher having completed 180 minutes for Scotland in the past week, Antonio Valencia back in full training and Javier Hernández a fortnight sharper.
However Nemanja Vidic’s calf and Rafael da Silva’s shoulder continue to keep the defensive pair on the sidelines, while Danny Welbeck is out with a sore hamstring and Darren Gibson, aside from being United’s outcast, has a sore ankle.
Hernández’ return to full fitness is a welcome, with Welbeck likely to miss the next month with a hamstring problem. The Mexican striker scored for his national team in the past week – the 22nd goal in 31 games for the player who is already a national hero. Strike partner Wayne Rooney was fulsome in his praise of the 23-year-old ahead of the player’s return to the first team.
“It’s great to have a lad who has just come into the team, who speaks good English and is always smiling,” Rooney said.
“It’s great for him and for me to have someone like that. I think we can both learn from each other. He’s a lovely lad who is great for us around the dressing room. Me and him do a lot of finishing after sessions to try and keep progressing and getting better. I’m looking forward to him doing the same, if not scoring more goals for us, this season.”
But it is another new boy, Ashley Young, that has thrived in the Mexican’s absence, forming an exciting partnership with Rooney at both club and international level. Both scored for England in the past week in wins over Bulgaria and then Wales, although Young will continue on the left for United.
“He’s done very well,” said Ferguson of his £16 million summer purchase.
“With his versatility and his understanding of the game. Obviously we tried to get him a few years ago from Watford but we were just a bit late. But he’s matured at Aston Villa, his form last season was fantastic considering they had a difficult season and since he’s come to us, he’s taken to the challenge really well.
“Some players come to a club like ours and find it difficult to settle in but, in the case of Ashley, he’s done very well. He’s getting support from Patrice Evra down the left side and that kind of experience Evra brings to the team and that side of the pitch is very important to a new player coming to the club.”
Young’s form, together with Valencia’s probable return, leaves Ferguson with a plethora of attacking options for the tea-time kick-off. Park Ji-Sung is also fit, leaving two from four in wide positions, with Hernández likely to partner Rooney in attack.
One player looking forward to returning from the international break is much-criticised goalkeeper David de Gea. The 20-year-old Spaniard is unfashed by the media spotlight, which has shon so brightly during some nervous moments for the young stopper in the opening week of the season.
“What happened is normal and there is nothing wrong,” de Gea told Spanish sports paper AS.
“Now it is in my power to change those negative reviews and change them into praise. Improving in every practice and every game, but mostly keeping intact the confidence in my abilities and what I can bring to the team. It is hard to arrive in a different country and with a different language, but little by little I’ll be getting it. I do not worry.”
The young Spaniard is likely to face a stiff test against Bolton, with Owen Coyle’s outfit playing some decent football in the past year. Yet, with Kevin Davies at the club, Bolton remains a major threat from set pieces and balls into the box. Indeed, 31-year-old Davies says he is looking forward to roughing up de Gea and inexperienced defender Phil Jones.
“I relish these kind of challenges,” says Davies.
“Jones is coming on as a player but he’s still young, so I’ll be looking to give him a going-over. There will be a few crosses flying in. I played against him last year. He’s a big strong boy, so it’s the kind of game I’ll look forward to.”
Bolton should offer debuts to new signings David Ngog, Gael Kakuta and Dedryck Boyata, while Stuart Holden played for the reserves in midweek but is unlikely to play. Holden was injured by Jonny Evan’s late tackle at Old Trafford last season.
Even with the new acquisitions Bolton faces a daunting task at the Reebok having lost 11 of the past 13 in this fixture. United, meanwhile, has lost only once during trips to Bolton during the Premier League era – in November 2007. With United beginning the campaign in scintillating form few will expect a repeat on Saturday.
Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Eagles, Muamba, Reo-Coker, Petrov; Davies, Klasnic. Subs from: Bogdan, Wheater, Riley, M Davies, Pratley, Tuncay, Blake
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fábio, Evans, Carrick, Giggs, Pogba, Park, Valencia, Gibson, Fletcher, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Welbeck, Macheda.
Referee: Andre Marriner