Manchester United continue their Premier League campaign on Saturday when they travel to the Madejski Stadium to take on Reading FC. The Royals reached England's top-flight in 2006 and because of that, they've only faced the Red Devils on that level four times -- two times they've been defeated and twice they've earned a draw. In all competitions though, these two clubs have met sixteen times throughout their histories and Reading's lone victory occurred in 1927.
Form Guide: United enter the weekend top of the league table with 33 points from 14 matches. They currently hold a one point advantage over Manchester City. The Red Devils have won two successive league matches with the most recent one being a 1-0 defeat of West Ham United at the midweek. Prior to those contests, there had been two successive defeats -- although the 0-1 loss at Galatasaray was inconsequential due to United already clinching top spot in their UEFA Champions League group before the start of that match.
Team News: Nani, Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, and Nemanja Vidic are all out for the match. The latter, though, is nearing a return and could be available on Wednesday versus CFR Cluj. Ryan Giggs has a slight hamstring strain and Nick Powell has been battling a virus -- both midfielders should be available though. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: Reading currently sit 19th in the league table with just 9 points from 13 matches. The Royals had gone four league matches unbeaten prior to their recent two league defeats. Reading were defeated 0-1 by Aston Villa at the midweek and they were defeated by Wigan Athletic 2-3 at the past weekend.
United: Anders Lindegaard has been in goal as of late while David de Gea has been recovering from getting his wisdom teeth extracted. Either is possible to be chosen. Rio Ferdinand was rested at the midweek and he's expected to come back into the side for this match. He'll likely be partnered at center-back by either Jonny Evans or Chris Smalling. Rafael is the first-choice right-back while Patrice Evra is first-choice at left-back.
With wingers in short supply at the moment, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson could opt for a midfield diamond -- just as he did versus West Ham at the midweek: either Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher could anchor the midfield at it's base, the latter would be in contention for one of the two shuttling roles as would Tom Cleverley and Anderson, while Wayne Rooney would be anticipated as the tip in a playmaker's role. If the manager opts for a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system instead, then any of those players -- minus Rooney -- along with Paul Scholes would be in contention in central-midfield while Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Rooney, and Giggs would be considered for wide roles. Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), Rooney, and Welbeck are the striker options.
Reading: Adam Federici is the current No.1 for Reading. In central-defense, Sean Morrison and Kaspars Gorkss have been the first-choice pairing for most of the past month. However, Adam Mariappa came into the side at the midweek for the latter. Nicky Shorey is the first-choice left-back and Shaun Cummings is likely to deputise at right-back for the injured Gunter.
In central-midfield, the duo of Jay Tabb and Mikele Leigertwood is anticipated while Jobi McAnuff and Hal Robson-Kanu are likely as the wide attackers. Garath McCleary is in contention for a spot out wide as well. Up front, Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre are expected but Noel Hunt and Pavel Pogrebnyak are in contention.
* The basics of Reading: Brian McDermott deploys his side in a simple and basic 4-4-2 system: two center-forwards that stay high and work the channels, two tricky wingers looking to send waves of crosses into the box (as does Shorey getting forward for overlaps from his left-back position -- he attempts 9.9 crosses per game with an impressive 34.3% success rate), while the central-midfielders and central-defenders rarely pass sideways or backwards as they try to attack directly as possible. It's hardly surprising that the Royals are last in the league in both possession (41.1%) and passing accuracy (68%).
Expect Reading to defend deep and patiently with ten-men behind the ball at nearly all times. They'll sit back as evidenced by them being last in the league in tackles per game (14.9) and second bottom in fouls per game (9.5). They are 7th in the league in interceptions (15.4), though, and when possession is won, a counterattack down the flanks is usually on. United will likely be vulnerable at times when their own full-backs get forward while they try to help break down a deep-defending home side.
When Reading do get into the attacking third, their strikers generally move out wide and try to drag a center-back out of position while also creating overloads on the flanks. The goal is either to pump in a cross for the other center-forward and midfield runners or they simply look to get near the byline and win corners (Morrison is their big aerial threat from set-pieces). If they can't work the ball forward, then the center-backs and goalkeeper will punt long for Roberts up front. From here, typically on the left-side, the likes of Robson-Kanu and Shorey look to get forward and win the second ball. This is a basic approach, but it can be effective with the hard-work McDermott's men are willing to put in.
* What will United's shape be?: Against West Ham at the midweek, Ferguson decided to deploy his side in a midfield diamond and this was likely due to the lack of available wingers he had at the time. This might be the case this time too. This wasn't an optimal strategy because the Hammers, just as the Royals like to do, enjoy working the ball into the box from wide attackers pumping in crosses. The narrow shape of the diamond can make it difficult to defend the wide areas properly and prevent the opposition's service from the flanks.
Shorey is a key player for Reading as he'll continually look to surge forward in order to create chances (3.0 chances created per game). Having a natural foil, a right-winger for United that is, could help contain this threat -- whether it be by simply pinning back the Reading left-back or by tracking back so overloads aren't created on the flanks. If Ferguson has the proper options at his disposal, then he likely would be better off deploying his side in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 shape rather than in a midfield diamond. The diamond can help congest the midfield and get control in a match, however, this isn't really needed versus a Reading side that does not concentrate on possession.
KO: 5:30pm GMT, 12:30pm EST | Madejski Stadium
Live TV: ESPN (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
Referee: Mark Halsey
Odds: Reading 13/2, Draw 7/2, Manchester United 2/5