Manchester United taken on Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford tonight with the pain of defeat by Midlands neighbours fresh in the mind. Aston Villa’s 1-0 win in Manchester on Saturday evening has not only kept United behind Chelsea in the title race but inflicted the club’s first home defeat of the Premier League season.
On the face of it Wolves, lying just above the relegation zone in 17th place and already beaten in the Carling Cup at Old Trafford this season, offer the right kind of challenge for a United team keen to bounce back. The Midlanders arrive in Manchester hoping to match their more illustrious neighbours but expecting little more than a defeat. While Mick McCarthy’s men hope to build on a superb win at Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, the club hasn’t emerged victorious at Old Trafford since February 1980.
In attack Sir Alex Ferguson can choose from a full complement of strikers, with fit again Dimitar Berbatov vying with Michael Owen for a place in attack alongside Wayne Rooney. Surely the manager will deploy two strikers against relegation contenders Wolves.
United will also welcome back Edwin van der Sar, who is match-fit after missing six games with a knee injury. Although the Dutch legend faces a tough challenge displacing in-form Tomasz Kuschack in the United net.
If match-fit Rafael da Silva, who trained this week with the first team, will allow Ferguson to deploy Darren Fletcher in midfield. Also fit are Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown, who will surely face an easier night than that handed down by Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young on Saturday.
Ferguson may also feel that it is time to hand French winger Gabriel Obertan a full Premier League début on the left-wing with Nani blowing his opportunity to impress against Wolfsburg and Park Ji-Sung woeful in the defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday.
However, former United striker Sylvain Ebanks-Blake, says that Wolves will be gunning for a result at Old Trafford, a ground he left aged just 20.
“We got promoted with a lot of good players and we’ve signed even more over the summer,” said the striker who made two appearances for United before being sold to Plymouth Argyle for around £200,000.
“We won the Championship last season so we’re not short of quality players. Obviously the Premier League is a different level but there’s no reason why we can’t compete at the top.
“As a unit we’re a good strong team and we’re still pretty confident after winning the league last season.
“I don’t have anything to prove. I had a really good time at United but I moved on and I’ve tried to shape my career elsewhere. I had a terrific education at Old Trafford and they were great years.
“I learnt a lot from moving up to Manchester at a young age and I got the chance to work with top coaches and top players. It taught me a hell of a lot and set me in good stead for what I’m achieving now.
“I have really special memories, including little things like the digs I stayed in when I arrived. There aren’t many better places to learn how to play football, that’s for sure.
“The club has a great tradition of nurturing young players and helping them either break into the first-team or have successful careers elsewhere.
“I feel privileged that I was able to sample that and go on and forge a career elsewhere.”
It’s a challenge United’s defence must meet if the team is to regain some momentum in the Premier League race. Chelsea’s poor form – no wins in four matches – means that the weekend defeat is merely a blip in an altogether inconsistent season. Anything less that a resounding win tonight and that blip will look more like a major roadblock.