An examination of the September fixture list for Manchester United

Will Dimitar Berbatov finally get some playing time over the upcoming weeks?

Manchester United return to action this weekend after briefly being on hiatus for an international break. Saturday's upcoming league match versus Bolton Wanderers leads off a span of seven matches over the next 22 days - - four of which will be league games on the weekends, two will be UEFA Champions League group stage ties, and one will rekindle the Reds old rivalry with Leeds United in a Carling Cup clash. The league match on 1 October versus Norwich City will be the final match prior to another international break. Let's examine each of the upcoming matches over the next three weeks:

* Bolton (away) | 10 September | Premier League: United will make the short trip over to the Reebok Stadium to face Owen Coyle's side on Saturday night. Bolton started the season impressively with a 4-0 away victory against Queens Park Rangers. However, the Trotters have since stumbled in defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool FC. The last week of the summer transfer window saw Bolton bring in Gael Kakuta and Dedryck Boyata on loan and David Ngog for an undisclosed fee. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has used the same midfielders and strikers for each of his side's initial three league matches, however, it is possible that the squad is rotated a bit for this match. Danny Welbeck is almost certain to miss time due to a hamstring injury and there is a slight possibility that Wayne Rooney and/or Ashley Young are rested after their involvement for England in two Euro 2012 qualifiers this past week. In the week following Bolton, United face a trip away to Portugal for a Champions League group stage tie with SL Benfica and then host Chelsea FC over the weekend - all of this could cause Fergie to rotate the squad a bit for Bolton.

* Benfica (away) | 14 September | Champions League: Next Wednesday, United travel to Estadio da Luz in Lisbon to face Benfica -- runner-up last season in the Primeira Liga. Benfica currently sit second in the table again in the young season with seven points after three matches. Sir Matt Busby famously led the Reds to their first conquering of Europe in 1968 versus a Benfica side that featured the great Eusebio. This fixture is anticipated to be United's most difficult one in the group stages of Champions League -- three points in Lisbon would put United into the driver's seat for winning their group. Despite this match being sandwiched between two league ties, it can be reasonably expected for Fergie to use a very strong side against Benfica.

* Chelsea | 18 September | Premier League: United will play their first match at Old Trafford since the international break when they host title-contending rival Chelsea. Despite being far from convincing thus far this season, Andre Villas-Boas' squad has dutifully picked up seven points in their first three league matches. In addition, the Blues strengthened their squad in the last week of the transfer window with the additions of Juan Mata and Raul Meireles - the former may the creative player that roams between the lines that many (this writer) argued that Chelsea was in dire need of. Tactics and specific match-ups will certainly factor into which players are featured for this match, but the starting XI chosen will be a good indicator as to who is first-choice at the current moment. 

* Leeds United (away) | 20 September | Carling Cup: Just two days after the Chelsea clash, the Reds will travel to Elland Road to face an old and bitter rival. While a less than first-choice side will be anticipated for this match, expect Fergie to take the match seriously -- especially when considering the embarrassment suffered by United in a defeat by Leeds in January 2010 at Old Trafford when the victors were just a League One side. Now the home to a Championship side, Elland Park will certainly be a hostile and vociferous environment when United come to visit.

* Stoke City (away) | 24 September | Premier League: United will travel away to Brittannia Stadium for this match to face manager Tony Pulis' side. The Potters remain unbeaten in league action this season, including an impressive draw with Chelsea in the season opener and an away victory over West Bromwich Albion prior to the international break. After appearing in last season's FA Cup final, Stoke have ventured into Europe this season after qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League. If David De Gea's command in the box doesn't improve by this match, the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch could make it a difficult night in Stoke for the Spaniard. This would possibly allow Andy Grey to feel satisfaction seeing a former La Liga player struggle at Brittannia Stadium -- especially if it's a cold night!

* FC Basel | 27 September | Champions League: The Reds will host the Swiss Super League champions for their second Champions League group stage tie. If United earn three points versus Benfica, expect to see Fergie rotate the squad for this match. The two sides have met twice before, both in group stage matches during the 2002/03 Champions League competition. No matter what players are featured for this match, three points will be the expectation on this European night at Old Trafford.

* Norwich City | 1 October | Premier League: Okay, the headline of this post says "September fixture list" but since this is the final match prior to the next international break (and only 1 day into October!), I will group this match in. After a six year absence, the Canaries have once again returned to the Premier League after earning promotion last season. They were able to earn a draw in their first two matches, but were defeated by Chelsea 3-1 in their last match prior to the break. This is certainly a match where United will be expected to earn the full three points.

Which matches excite you the most for September? Which ones worry you? As always, share your thoughts in the comments below!

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