On the 70th birthday of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United will host Blackburn Rovers for a lunchtime Premier League affair. It is tumultuous times for Blackburn manager Steve Kean and a trip to Old Trafford certainly is not ideal if he wishes to quiet down the vociferous supporters calling for him to be sacked. These two sides met twice last season -- both in league matches -- and during this same fixture, Dimitar Berbatov bagged five goals while United routed the visitors 7-1. In the return fixture at Ewood Park, a penalty converted by Wayne Rooney in the 73rd minute helped his side earn a 1-1 draw in the 2nd to last match of the league season -- a result that enabled United to clinch a record-setting 19th title in England's top-flight.
Form Guide: United have gone 9 successive matches unbeaten in league -- 8 of which have been victories. During their past four matches, the Reds have impressively recorded a combined 16-1 scoreline -- the past two matches have been 5-0 drubbings to Fulham and Wigan Athletic. United's recent run of impressive form has enabled them to go level on points with Manchester City at the top of the table. However, the 'noisy neighbours' have the advantage in goal differential.
Team News: The dire injury situation at United -- particularly in defense -- has been well documented as of late. To give perspective of the situation, a hypothetical 'unavailable XI' could be created that arguably could compete with any side in the Premier League. In defense, the likes of Fabio, Jonny Evans, and Chris Smalling are all unavailable while Rio Ferdinand may be fit only for the bench in a best case scenario. Captain Nemanja Vidic is out for the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament but Fergie indicated on Friday that his surgery went well. Phil Jones -- who was substituted off against Fulham due to a knock and missed the following match versus Wigan -- is hopeful to feature against his old club. In midfield and attack, the likes of Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Ashley Young, and Michael Owen are all unavailable. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: Blackburn come into the match sitting bottom of the table and with only 11 points from 18 matches. Kean's side had lost 3 successive matches by a 2-1 scoreline to potential relegation rivals Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, and Bolton Wanderers before earning an impressive 1-1 draw at Anfield on Boxing Day versus Liverpool.
Team News: Much like United, injuries have ravaged the Blackburn squad and particularly in defense. Gael Givet, Michel Salgado, Ryan Nelsen, Vince Grella, and Scott Dann are all unavailable -- the latter due to a ruptured testicle. Ouch :( . Martin Olsson and Paul Robinson are considered doubts for the match while both Junior Hoilett and David Dunn are expected to undergo late fitness tests prior to the match.
United: Anders Lindegaard has started United's past two matches over perceived No. 1 David de Gea -- it's anybody's guess as to which one starts. In central defense, expect to see Jones -- if fit -- partner midfielder Michael Carrick. Patrice Evra is expected at left-back but he is possible to start in central-defense if Jones is not considered fit -- this scenario would likely result in Zeki Fryers deputising at left-back. At right-back, either Rafael or winger Antonio Valencia seems likely. In central-midfield, Darron Gibson and Ryan Giggs were the duo against Wigan and they could be asked to feature again. On the flanks, Nani is likely on the right if Valencia is deployed at right-back while Park Ji-sung would be likely on the left flank. Up front, Wayne Rooney is almost certain to start but any of the in-form Berbatov, Danny Welbeck, or Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) could partner United's talisman.
Blackburn: Mark Bunn -- who was outstanding versus Liverpool -- is likely to deputise in goal for the injured No. 1 Paul Robinson. In central defense, Christopher Samba is an automatic choice and Grant Hanley is expected to partner with him. Jason Lowe is anticipated at right-back as is Morten Gamst Pedersen at left-back. In the center of the park, Steven Nzonzi and David Dunn are expected to the duo but Pedersen could feature here if Dunn fails his fitness test -- this scenario likely would result in Adam Henley deputising at left-back. Both Hoilett and Mauro Formica are expected to start as attacking midfielders while Yakubu is the center-forward. If Simon Vukcevic starts on either flank, then Formica likely plays a central role and if Ruben Rochina is selected over Vukcevic, then Hoilett likely ends up on the left wing while Formica would be probable as a narrow right-sided player.
* United needs to dominate possession: In the recent match versus Fulham, United made it priority to pass patiently and ignite the attack from the back. This allowed them to control the match from the beginning. With United likely to have a makeshift defense -- and with out of position players who are skillful on the ball -- dominating possession will be key. Once again, this could allow United to control the match by keeping the ball but the side benefit of this would be less opportunity for Blackburn's attack -- they can't create goalscoring chances if they don't have the ball. Blackburn is the 2nd worst side in the Premier League in both ball possession and passing rate. In the previous match versus Wigan, Carrick (41/42 passing | 98% passing rate), Evra (33/37 passing | 89% passing rate), and Valencia (63/73 passing | 86%) were tidy with their distribution and similar success versus Blackburn would likely contribute to another comfortable United victory.
* Defending Blackburn's set-pieces: Samba is a mountain of a man that is a deadly threat on set pieces. Pedersen's delivery is very good as well and thus, this combination makes defending against Blackburn's set-pieces a must. However, United may be vulnerable due to the numerous center-backs unavailable. If Jones is fit to play, then he likely gets tasked with marking Samba on set-pieces. Perhaps Berbatov features over Welbeck and Chicharito because the Bulgarian's height provides United another capable set-piece defender -- this may be especially important since United lack available center-backs.
* Be aggressive from the start: Perhaps with out-of-position center-backs being deployed versus Blackburn, United may be best off if they press intently from the start and also play with a high-line in defense. This could pin Blackburn back and United would likely have enough pace at the back to defend with a high line if the likes of Jones, Carrick, and Evra are the center-backs. An early goal or two for United could take some of the pressure off of United's vulnerable back four. Another benefit of this tactic would be that Carrick would be higher up the pitch while deployed as a center-back -- this positioning could allow him to operate as a deep-lying playmaker.
KO: Saturday 12:45pm GMT, 7:45 am EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: ESPN (U.K.), ESPN2 (U.S.)
Odds: Manchester United 1/8, Draw 13/2, Blackburn 20-1
TBB prediction: Manchester United 4-1 Blackburn