Reading vs. Manchester United: 5 Key Battles to Watch
Brian McDermott's side have struggled to make much of an impact since achieving promotion to the top tier of English football, but should nevertheless prove stubborn opposition for the Red Devils.
United are coming off the back of two valuable league wins over QPR (Queens Park Rangers) and West Ham, results that see Sir Alex Ferguson's team top the table.
Here are five key battles they must win to remain there.
Patrice Evra vs. Hal Robson-Kanu
One frightening moment of sloppiness apart, Patrice Evra was quietly impressive against West Ham Wednesday night.
It must be admitted though that this was mostly due to the fact that the Hammers directed much of their attacking intent through Matt Jarvis on the left flank.
The French full-back won't be so lucky at the Madejski Stadium—Reading wide man Hal Robson-Kanu is one of his team's most influential players going forward.
Robin Van Persie vs. Sean Morrison
According to WhoScored.com, Sean Morrison, statistically speaking of course, has been the best young defender in Europe this season.
The 21-year-old has won an average of 7.4 aerial duels and made 12.2 clearances a game—leading both categories for those in his age bracket.
While numbers such as these must be taken with a grain of salt, it is hard to argue with Morrison's emergence in a Reading defence that has constantly been bombarded by opposition attacks for much of the season.
United's Dutch striker Robin van Persie must find a way past him Saturday in a battle that is sure to be vital to both side's hopes.
Wayne Rooney vs. Mikele Leigertwood & Jay Tabb
The battle for midfield Saturday is most likely going to come down to whether or not Reading's central partnership of Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb can keep a lid on Wayne Rooney.
The Englishman has been the hub of United's creative purpose since his transition to a deeper role earlier this season.
Whether forming the top of the diamond or the trequartista in the 4-2-3-1, Rooney has played with a fresh joie de vivre behind van Persie, rather indicating the change will be permanent.
Reading are likely to drop both Leigertwood and Tabb behind Rooney on the back foot, clogging the middle of the pitch in an attempt to keep their rival stifled.
Sir Alex Ferguson vs. Sir Alex Ferguson
A small amount of the blame for United's relatively sluggish start to the season must be placed at the door of long serving, long suffering boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
His team selection has come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism—most significantly for his ongoing faith in the old guard of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
If either is to lineup alongside Michael Carrick in holding midfield or if Danny Welbeck is to start the game in a wide position against Reading, United fans will fear their team may be in for a long struggle.
Faith must be kept in the diamond formation—as well as in youngsters Anderson, Javier Hernandez and Tom Cleverley to give the Red Devils as good a chance of winning as possible.
Jason Roberts vs. Chris Smalling
Jason Roberts has to be the worst starting striker in the Premier League right now—stats aren't needed to tell you that.
The 34-year-old's legs are gone, he is no longer as powerful in the air as he once was, his finishing has been poor this season and his passing lackadaisical.
But with Pavel Pogrebnyak—Reading's most prolific hitman—currently spending more time on the bench than off it, McDermott has put his faith in a blunt point of the sword.
Chris Smalling will be the United man charged with the less-than daunting challenge of marking Roberts—a task he'll surely relish.
What other battles will be key to United storming the Madejski fortress? Who would you like to see Sir Alex pick for the game?