Man U vs. Reading
Venue: Old Trafford
Kick off: 1:30PM
A revitalised Manchester United will switch their focus to the FA Cup this afternoon when they host Reading at Old Trafford in a third-round tie.
The hosts have won four games from four under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so far, whereas Reading are languishing near the bottom of the Championship table.
Manchester United appear to have begun their New Year resolution of a fresh start early, and 2019 is so far feeling a lot happier for the club than much of 2018 did.
Eyebrows were raised when the Red Devils selected a former player with limited managerial experience as their interim boss following the sacking of one of the most successful coaches of all time in Jose Mourinho.
However, Solskjaer has so far ticked every box for United, restoring their attacking swagger with 14 goals, rejuvenating the club’s big-name players and – most importantly – racking up the wins with four from four games.
United won just four of their last 12 league games under Mourinho, but Solskjaer’s record so far does not only compare favourably to his predecessor – he also stacks up against the biggest names in the club’s history.
Critics will point out that the Norwegian has had a kind start to his reign, facing Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and Newcastle United prior to this match against Championship strugglers Reading.
Solskjaer can only beat what is put in front of him, though, and regardless of the opposition there is no doubt that United are playing with a greater freedom now, which is helping them to unlock the potential which for so long seem stifled.
Solskjaer has already admitted that he will not want to leave the club when his current short-term deal expires in the summer, and if he carries on like he has started then he may not have to either, with United still searching for a permanent successor to Mourinho.
The interim boss will not need telling the importance of this competition either, having lifted the trophy twice during his playing days at Old Trafford – including once in the treble-winning season 20 years ago.
United themselves have won the trophy 12 times – a tally only Arsenal can beat – and they made it all the way to the final last season before being beaten by Chelsea at Wembley.
While Manchester United sacked a silver-haired Portuguese boss called Jose shortly before Christmas, Reading went in the opposite direction and hired one.
Jose Gomes took over just two days before Christmas following the departure of Paul Clement, who lasted just nine months in the hot seat following a dreadful start to the Championship season.
Like Solskjaer, Gomes’s appointment surprised many considering the bulk of his recent managerial experience came in the Middle East, but unlike Solskjaer he has been unable to have an immediate impact on his players.
Reading are still searching for their first win under the new manager, picking up just one point from three games so far and falling to a 4-1 defeat at home to mid-table Swansea City on New Year’s Day.
Man U possible XI: Romero, Dalot, Jones, Lindelof, Darmian, Fred, Fellaini, Chong, Gomes, Sanchez, Lukaku.
Reading possible XI: Jaakola, Yiadom, Ilori, O’Shea, Richards, Rinomhota, Swift, Harriott, Aluko, Barrow Bodvarsson.