The English Premier League matchup between Manchester United and Reading features two teams in wildly different positions.
United has a comfortable cushion atop the table, has won its last five league fixtures and has had the same manager for nearly three decades.
Reading is in danger of being relegated, is on a four-match losing streak and just fired Brian McDermott.
Still, the last time these two met in the Premiership, they produced the oddest first half of any contest this season. Both defenses slept through the first 45 minutes, and all seven goals during the 4-3 United victory were scored before the teams stopped for the midway break.
This matchup could certainly end up bringing a few surprises, but the EPL teaches its fans to expect the unexpected.
Here is everything you need to know about the contest.
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
When: Saturday, March 16, 1:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Channel
What They’re Saying
Reading ownership is taking plenty of criticism for sacking McDermott, and according to The Daily Mail’s Martin Domin, history suggests that the condemnation is justified:
Having guided the Royals to the Championship title last season, the 51-year-old was given little money to spend over the summer and leaves the club with a realistic chance of avoiding an immediate return to the second tier.
But perhaps the Reading owners should have done their research before pulling the trigger—nine clubs in the relegation zone at this stage in the season have swapped bosses and NONE of them have survived the drop.
Manchester United Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney
The last time Rooney faced Reading, he had two goals and an assist in the first half.
This matchup is a dream for the United attackers. The Red Devils have scored the most goals of any team in the Premiership, while the Royals have conceded more often than any other side.
With a lack of talent along the back line, and low morale due to recent losses, it is unlikely the Reading defense will deliver a quality performance.
Expect the United No. 10 to run rampant in this match.
Reading Player to Watch: Adam Le Fondre
The Reading striker scored in the previous EPL matchup and is the club’s leading scorer with 10 goals in league fixtures.
If the Royals are going to produce a positive result, the defense will not lead the way. The team must do exactly what it did in the December meeting: throw everyone forward and hope for the best.
Le Fondre has proved to be extremely dangerous in the box. If he finds space, he will not need more than one touch to find the back of the net.
If Reading is to have any chance in this match, it will need a fine match from its most productive goal-scorer.
Key Matchup: Reading vs. Collapse
At this point, the Royals likely feel like supernatural forces have been conspiring against them this week. With all the negative developments, the club appears to be headed towards a catastrophic end to its campaign.
To start the new year, Reading delivered five wins and a draw in seven matches in all competitions. But then, it dropped five straight matches, its manager was sacked and it is staring at an away fixture against the league leaders.
This match has all the makings of a blowout.
If this happens, the Royals’ confidence will be completely gone.
But a solid showing, even if it does not produce any points, will show that the team still plans on fighting until the end. This side is at a crossroads, and it cannot not allow this match to get out of hand.
Prediction: Manchester United 3, Reading 2
United will never be in danger of losing this contest, but Reading will not allow itself to be embarrassed.
The Red Devils will put their supporters at ease by breaking down the leaky Reading defense early and building a comfortable lead in the first half.
Still, the Royals know how important this fixture will be in their quest to build momentum for the final stretch in their Premier League campaign. So the side will prove to be much better in the second half.
It will not be enough to avoid defeat, but Reading will not be completely demoralized after this meeting.