Date: 27th December 2010 at 6:59pm
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Can Carrick help United to victory at St Andrews?

Can Carrick help United to victory at St Andrews?

United face a tricky trip to St. Andrew’s on Tuesday to play a Birmingham side that surprisingly lie in 17th place, just two points off the relegation zone. Surprising because in  their last six games they have taken points from City, Spurs and also  beaten a stuttering Chelsea, whilst only conceding three goals in this  time. Considering Birmingham have conceded just four more than United  all season, it hardly bodes well for a high-scoring encounter,  particularly given United’s lack of success on the road this season.

Sir  Alex faces another one of his former players this week in the shape of  Alex McLeish, who seems to be one of the few Premier League managers who  avoid constant speculation regarding their future. He has built a team  that first and foremost is hard to break down, and so it is no surprise  that Birmingham’s most influential players this season are mainly in  defence.

A  lack of victories against teams who are considered Birmingham’s  mid-table rivals has been their main downfall so far this season,  with  draws against Wigan, Villa and the Scousers-how funny is it referring  to the Scousers as ‘mid-table’ -to name a few. But it is the big games  where Birmingham have stepped up, losing only once to a top 7 team this  season,  so it would be no surprise if Tuesday’s  game was one that will be decided by a moment of genius, a mistake or  maybe even plain luck.

The  fact Birmingham have only two points more than West Ham- albeit having  played two games less is quite a staggering statistic as the Irons have  seemed like a club in disarray for much of the season while Mcleish’s  men are still thought of as a fairly well oiled machine.

United  meanwhile remain unbeaten this season, but have taken only nine points  from a possible twenty one on the road. United haven’t lost to  Birmingham in their last 23 meetings, and seem to be nearing their best  as the New Year approaches. Obviously as soon as the clock strikes 12 on  New Year’s Eve United transform into a juggernaut of free flowing, free  scoring football that lasts until May and it seems this could be the  toughest game they will face prior to this marvellous occurrence.

Ones to watch

Birmingham  are one of the few Premier League teams that are genuinely a team unit  with very few standout ‘stars.’ Alex McLeish has moulded a squad that’s  strength often lies in its ability to support one another and work as a  real team. Unlike some teams near the bottom, where it’s a case of  relying on Rodellaga or Carlton Cole or Dempsey to have a good day to  provide the points, Birmingham seem to have a lack of ‘stars’ but an  abundance of quality, hardworking players.

So  which players should United be wary of or need to keep quiet/ overcome  to turn what looks like a certain draw into a definite win?

Liam  Ridgewell has performed well at both ends of the pitch for Birmingham,  scoring three goals and helping to keep six clean sheets. He has  constructed a solid partnership with fellow centre back Scott Dann and  so whoever plays up front or indeed at the back for United will have to  work hard to get the better of this man.

Former  United stopper/blunderer Ben Foster has produced a number of excellent  displays that United fans always knew he was capable of, and has shown  that he still loves United by keeping out City and Chelsea in the same  week. The major errors he became famous for at Old Trafford seem to  occur far less frequently and on current form you could argue that he is  pushing Joe Hart very hard for the England no. 1 jersey.

Another  player who has stood out is former Aston Villa midfielder Craig  Gardner, who is also the club’s top scorer with four goals. This makes  him the man to watch from United’s point of view as Birmingham’s  inconsistent strike force shouldn’t represent much of a problem to the  defence, even if Fergie decides to rest Rio or Vidic. Birmingham’s most  distinguished player, Alexander Hleb could return after a month out with  a hamstring injury, otherwise they are at full strength and fully  rested after their match with Everton was postponed.

Naming  a possible starting 11 for Tuesday’s game is anyone’s guess, as Fergie  will surely rest one or two from the Boxing Day win over Sunderland.  Darren Fletcher and Nani will most likely come into the team having  missed this game, while the only definite absentee will be Park Ji Sung  who has left us for several weeks to captain his country in the Aldi  Cup. Over-30’s Rio and Giggs may struggle to play two games in the space  of three days, and Fergie may use this match as another chance to give  The Little Pea more football after mostly watching from the bench as  Berba hit 7 in 3 games and Rooney continued his ‘comeback.’

Anderson has  recently shown that his pie-eating days are behind him, and given he  was taken off after an hour on Boxing Day could indicate that Fergie is  prepared to unleash him again on Birmingham.  However  given the fact that United will play 4 games in the space of 8 days,  changes are certain and so Fergie may choose to fully utilise his large  squad and give games to the likes of Obertan, Smalling or even Jonny  Evans.


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