|GET THE LEAGUE TITLE CHALLENGE BACK ON TRACK|
While the cup victory over City has significantly improved the mood around Old Trafford, it must still be remembered that in league action they have suffered defeat in their last two matches.
An embarrassing 3-2 reverse at home to struggling Blackburn Rovers was followed up by a comprehensive away defeat to Newcastle, results which have seen them fall three points adrift of the leaders as we move into the second half of the campaign.
Roberto Mancini’s side have only won one of their last five games in all competitions themselves though, and are now missing key players through injury, suspension and the Africa Cup of Nations. As a result, a convincing United victory over Bolton could really turn the screw on their rivals in what is turning into a topsy-turvy title race.
Three points would see Sir Alex’s men move back level on points with City ahead of their upcoming games against Wigan and Tottenham, ensuring they firmly re-establish themselves back into the title picture.
|RE-FOCUS ROONEY TO ON-PITCH MATTERS|
Two goals and an impressive performance against City appeared to draw a line under Rooney’s most recent press saga, which resulted in robust denials from player and club following reports suggesting the striker would be allowed to leave Old Trafford.
However, this week quotes have surfaced from the Italian press where the England international voiced his disgruntlement at having received a fine and being dropped for the Blackburn game for breaking a curfew by going out to dinner with two of his team-mates.
United need Rooney to be fired up to get the best out of him but the 26-year-old has to be fully focused on what is happening on the pitch.
The ex-Everton man has an impressive record against Bolton and scored a hat-trick against them in the 5-0 win at the Reebok Stadium in September. Having scored six goals from his last six games, it appears the Red Devils’ star man is enjoying a hot streak and they will be desperate for that to continue as the business end of the campaign approaches.
|EASE DAVID DE GEA BACK INTO THE TEAM|
David de Gea has endured an error-prone start to his United career and a particularly poor performance against Blackburn led to Anders Lindegaard getting the nod in both the Newcastle and City matches.
Prior to those fixtures the Dane had looked safe, steady and reliable in comparison to the more eccentric Spaniard, but after conceding five goals in the two games and looking slightly shaky in the derby, the race to be United’s No.1 for the rest of the season is still very much on.
Sir Alex will likely take the opportunity of a winnable home fixture to reintroduce De Gea to the team in the hope he can pick up a clean sheet and some much-needed confidence.
If the Spaniard can achieve an error-free and solid display against Bolton, he may find himself getting the nod to play in goal for the crucial upcoming fixtures over the next fortnight as he continues his harsh adaptation to the English game.
|TIGHTEN UP IN DEFENCE|
After their 6-1 humbling at the hands of City in October, United showed some real strength in defence to ensure they stayed in touch with their rivals in a difficult spell.
From that fateful derby onwards, they went on a run of 14 matches in all competitions without conceding more than two goals in any one match, with an impressive nine clean sheets recorded during that spell.
Of late, though, uncertainty between the sticks and in the back four has crept back into United’s game, with the defence breached a concerning eight times in their last three games.
If a successful title challenge is to be mounted, a settled and defensive unit needs to be formed and consistently strong performances are required – even without the services of captain Nemanja Vidic. The home game against Bolton is the perfect place to kick-off a new run of defensive solidity.
|BAG MORE GOALS TO CREATE BIG-GAME MOMENTUM|
After the Bolton game, Sir Alex’s side will face two monumental clashes as they meet Arsenal in the league and then Liverpool in the next round of the FA Cup – both away from home.
Despite the win over City, even the manager admitted a poor second-half showing and spirited fightback from the hosts had restricted the momentum and psychological edge his side could take from the 3-2 win at the Etihad.
United have scored 14 goals in their last five games against the Trotters so they will see the fixture as representing the perfect chance to find the net on numerous occasions, record a convincing victory and pick up some much-needed momentum ahead of what is a vital double-header.
With 30 home goals from 10 league games at Old Trafford, the Red Devils will expect to breach the defence of Owen Coyle’s visitors, with strikers Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck all desperate to be named in the starting XI.