Manchester United and Blackburn meet for the first time this season on Saturday. The teams are on completely opposite ends of the Premier League spectrum, with the Red Devils tied for first place and the Rovers all alone at the bottom with just 11 points in 18 games.
The Red Devils have been on quite a roll lately. They have won their last four league games by a combined score of 16-1 and haven't lost since late October. The success has come despite a myriad of injuries, which has illustrated the team's terrific depth.
Things haven't gone as smoothly for Blackburn. The Rovers defense has been poor all season, and their offense isn't good enough to keep up. They would need quite a run in the season's second half if they want to avoid relegation.
Where: Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, England
When: Saturday, Dec. 31 at 7:45 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN2 and ESPN3.com
Betting Odds: Manchester United -667, Blackburn +1550, Draw +597
Player to Watch for Manchester United: M Nani
Wayne Rooney is the main offensive weapon for Manchester United, but often overlooked are the contributions of Nani. The 25-year-old Portugal international has six goals and seven assists in 18 games thanks to a pace that is rarely matched by opposing midfielders.
His consistent play in the midfield has been one of the major reasons the Red Devils have been able to keep pace with their Manchester City rivals. He should have no problem putting together another solid performance against the Rovers.
Player to Watch for Blackburn: F Yakubu
Yakubu has been the silver lining to an otherwise forgettable start to the season for Blackburn. The veteran striker is having the best season of his career, with 11 tallies in 13 games across all competitions, and seems to have found a real comfort zone in front of goal.
The biggest problem for him has always been staying healthy. He battled injuries for most of his stay with Everton, which left most of his potential untapped. Now that he's seeing the field on a consistent basis, the scoring touch is back.
Key Matchup: Sir Alex Ferguson vs. Steve Kean
When there's a game with as wide of a talent gap as this one, the biggest task rests not with the players but instead with the managers. The underdog manager, which, in this case, is Kean, needs to convince his team that they can hang with Manchester United.
On the flip side, Ferguson must ensure his side doesn't get complacent against a cellar-dweller after two big wins. As long as the Red Devils bring their normal intensity level to the pitch, they should win. That's easier said than done, though.
What They're Saying
Sam Bisby of Goal.com passed on some thoughts from long-time Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, who is starting to get perturbed with the team's poor injury luck:
I am a little bit worried because we need everyone if we are going to win the league. It is starting to get annoying.
It is not the first year we got so many injuries. Two years ago I played with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at the back. The most important thing is that we won but I hope everyone gets fit because Blackburn is another big game and we need all the defenders.
Aforementioned Blackburn manager Steve Kean has come under some heat following the team's poor results, but he's been getting support from his fellow bosses. Kean said:
My phone's been going hot all week with people phoning with messages saying 'Hang in there.'
No disrespect to local MPs or local journalists or ex-players, but when you've got vastly experienced managers that are phoning up and saying under the circumstances you're doing a marvellous job, then I'll listen to them.
Manchester United 3, Blackburn 0
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