Manchester United vs. Bolton Wanderers: 5 Questions Ahead of Saturday's Clash
In just a few hours, Manchester United resumes their quest for championship No. 20 after a two-week break for international duty.
Standing in their way is Bolton Wanderers, a team that has had some success against them in the past, and are always a threat to use their physical, rugged, and scrappy game to claw their way to a result.
Will we see a repeat of the 8-2 Arsenal drubbing? Or will Bolton pull off a shock at home and drag United back down to Earth?
Will the International Break Prove Detrimental to United?
Football is a game of rhythm, both on the pitch and off. When a team is in full flow, as United was against Arsenal, it is usually a result of the players being able to play regularly together in order to maintain their understanding of one another.
The international break robs a team of, essentially, a whole week of training and one regular match day. In the long run, it's a small thing. But for a team like United, whose squad was almost picked clean by national teams this past week, such a long time away from teammates can be detrimental in that it breaks up the rhythm the team has so carefully built.
This is why, in my experience, games directly following an international break can be slow and sluggish. That break in understanding can be one factor. There's also the added pressure of actually trying to help your national team qualify for Europe or just hoping to provide a good result.
And then there's the 8-2 drubbing of Arsenal. On the one hand, the players were given an extra week to savour the win. On the other hand, United is a young team, and it is entirely possible that the extra week allowed some extra pressure to creep in, given all the press the scoreline has garnered. It's not improbable that doubts may have started to creep into the minds of the younger players; doubts like "can we do it again?" or "was it just a fluke?" If they let the extra pressure get to them, Bolton could pounce.
Will Chicharito Seize His Opportunity?
After Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez picked up a concussion in United's preseason, young Danny Welbeck stepped in and seized the starter berth that lay vacant.
As Chicharito watched from the sidelines, Welbeck slowly grew into a force that showed promise for both club and country. Fans and pundits everywhere hailed him as a revelation, and fully expected him to become the next big thing.
Chicharito could be forgiven for looking down the bench, seeing Dimitar Berbatov, and thinking that his days as Wayne Rooney's No. 2 may be in jeopardy.
But Danny Welbeck picked up an injury of his own against Arsenal. In that game, Chicharito came on in his place. He did not score, but he played a solid game for someone recovering from a concussion.
It's almost a sure bet that he will start up front with Rooney against Bolton. It's up to him to prove to Sir Alex Ferguson and the United faithful that, while Welbeck is good, Chicharito still deserves to be picked ahead of the Englishman and last year's scoring spree was no fluke.
Will Sir Alex Ferguson Change Up His Midfield Quartet?
Ashley Young and Nani are in such fine veins of form out wide that they are almost certainly going to be picked, but what of Tom Cleverley and Anderson in the middle?
There's no doubt that the pair have turned heads with their excellent understanding, passing, and creative vision. But their last two opponents were a Tottenham side locked in a Luca Modric transfer drama and an Arsenal side ravaged by injuries and suspensions. There still remains some question of whether they can cope for an entire season against the steelier, more physical teams that populate the BPL.
Bolton Wanderers is one such "very British" side that can bully their opponents. Will Sir Alex keep Cleverley and Anderson in the starting lineup and see if they can cope? Or will he inject some steel of his own in the newly recovered Darren Fletcher or Michael Carrick?
Should Anders Lindegaard Start?
David De Gea is a good keeper. He has great reflexes, great distribution, and is a good shot-stopper.
He is also stick-thin, weak in the air, and is a liability on set pieces at the moment.
Bolton, on the other hand, is a tough physical team who can cause havoc on set pieces. They also boast, in Gary Cahill, a tough center-back capable of bossing the penalty box and scoring some great goals.
Anders Lindegaard is also a good shot-stopper, and he's also a good deal more imposing than De Gea. He's also shown that he can command the penalty box and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Against a team like Bolton, this kind of physicality just might be what's needed.
Is Rio Ferdinand Ready?
At one time a captain for club and country, Rio Ferdinand is not the player he once was. Still, despite being a bit more prone to injury and a bit slower on the turn, he still possess a fine footballing mind and can still marshal a defense.
But will Sir Alex thrust him into the limelight right away? If so, will he drop Johnny Evans or Phil Jones? Or will he trust his young central defense and keep Ferdinand out of the starting lineup, choosing instead to bring him on as a substitute or leave him out of the game altogether?
So there you have it.
We are only scant hours away, but I believe these are the key questions that have to be asked until the official team sheets are released.