ENGLISH FA CUP

Old Trafford, England

Referee: A Marriner | Attendance: 75213

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Manchester United

  • Nani 69'
  • Javier Hernández 72'

2 - 1

FT

Reading

  • Jobi McAnuff 81'

United depth key to Royals reunion

Jon Carter

Adam Le Fondre has been in fine form

The fixtures come thick and fast at this time of year, but Manchester United are well used to such issues and find themselves up against an FA Cup opponent, in Reading, who tested them severely in their league fixture - live on ESPN UK at 2000 GMT on Monday.

The clash between the two teams earlier in the season saw seven goals scored in the opening 35 minutes, as the Royals went ahead, then fell behind to eventually lose 4-3 on home soil in early December.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already confirmed that he will make changes to the side that held Real Madrid 1-1 in midweek. Skipper Nemanja Vidic is likely to come back into the fray, while attacking trio Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young and Nani may also get chances to impress once again and give a well-earned rest to the likes of Robin van Persie.

The stats show that the Red Devils can afford to take it easy as they have won 15 of their last 19 home ties in the FA Cup (D2 L2) and they’ve conceded just one goal in their last five FA Cup matches at Old Trafford. However, the cup is nothing if not unpredictable and Reading’s propensity for scoring late goals recently will certainly ensure that Fergie treats them with respect.

Strikers Adam Le Fondre and Noel Hunt are back in contention after coming off the bench in last week's defeat at Stoke and manager Brian McDermott is pleased that the will of his men is strong. “Obviously we don't want to concede, but if we do, we know this team will keep going to the end,” he said. “While you can't rely on a late comeback, you know if you are in that situation, the players have that heart and desire to come back."

Reading have an excellent recent run in the FA Cup: this is the third time in the last four years that they have reached the fifth round (only the eighth time in their history). However, they have struggled against teams from the same division and have only progressed once in the last 12 occasions when faced with similarly ranked opposition. Against a giant like United, one feels they may need a miracle.

Manchester United player to watch: Ryan Giggs. Given a standing ovation by the Real Madrid fans for his cameo in midweek, the Welshman is tied to the FA Cup folklore. His bare-chested celebration after scoring one of the greatest goals in the competition back in 1999 cemented his place in history, but almost 15 years later he is still going strong. He may have lost his blistering pace, but Giggs is still a central figure for United and Reading will need to keep him quiet in the attacking third.

Reading player to watch: Adam Le Fondre. Le Fondre has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances for Reading in all competitions and is one of the form strikers in the top flight. Two years ago, he was plying his trade at Rotherham, but has exploded onto the scene in the role of ‘super-sub’. Having scored against Manchester United earlier this season, he may get a starting role this time around.

Key Battle: Javier Hernandez v Adrian Mariappa: He may only be third choice behind Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, but the Mexican striker has much to offer after finding his feet quickly in England. Fast and clever, especially when it comes to finishing chances in the box, Hernandez has a point to prove as he last started in the 4-1 win over Fulham and has eight goals in 14 appearances in the league, but will face a tough foe in Mariappa. The Royals’ recent turn in form has much to do with the defender, who has formed an excellent partnership with Alex Pearce at the back and, after scoring his first goal for the club recently, Mariappa will be high on confidence for the trip to Old Trafford.

Trivia: The last two times Man Utd have beaten Fulham at Old Trafford in the FA Cup (as they did in the last round), they have gone on to win it (2004, 1999).

Stats: Manchester United are unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions against Reading (W8 D4). The last time they lost to Reading was in the FA Cup in January 1927.

Odds: Manchester United (1.22), Reading (11.00) and the draw (6.50) are on offer at bet365, while a repeat of the 4-3 win for United comes in at 67.00.

Prediction: A repeat of the blockbuster league tie is probably not on the cards, nor is a Reading upset. It would be no surprise to see United grind out another win.

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