ESPN Soccernet Preview: Man United v Blackburn
Having been involved in a series of goal-gluts in recent weeks, Blackburn Rovers head to Manchester United on Saturday hoping their defence can finally hold firm. Rovers' last three Premier League matches have seen them lose 6-2 to Arsenal and 5-0 to Chelsea either side of a 3-2 win over local rivals Burnley, while they beat Championship strugglers Peterborough 5-2 in the Carling Cup on Tuesday.
Yet, while they have not kept a clean sheet in the league for two months, the swine flu outbreak at the club is perhaps the more serious concern, with Sam Allardyce the latest person at the club to have reported symptoms of illness. The threat of infection will be worrying for Sir Alex Ferguson, too, as he cannot afford to lose first-team players ahead of a week in which they host CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday before heading to Chelsea for a potentially vital Premier League clash the following Sunday.
The 2-0 defeat to Liverpool has increased the importance of Saturday's game for United, and there have been signs of frailty at the back lately that may mean both managers have reason to worry about their defence on Saturday evening.
Manchester United player in focus: Antonio Valencia. Having made a slow start to life at Old Trafford following a relatively quiet few months at the end of his time with Wigan, Valencia is finally starting to recover the form that persuaded United to pay around £16 million for his services. The Ecuador winger struck the bar at Anfield following his first goals for the club against Bolton and CSKA Moscow, and he can exploit any defensive disorganisation with his crossing ability.
Blackburn player in focus: Franco Di Santo. Although perhaps unlikely to start if Blackburn play one man in attack, the on-loan Chelsea forward showed against Burnley why he is touted as a star of the future. Has the spark that could unlock the game if Blackburn are able to frustrate the hosts.
Key battle: Wayne Rooney v Paul Robinson. Any member of the United attack could be up against any member of the Blackburn defence here, but Robinson may have to take responsibility for organising his frequently disorganised back-line, particularly given Rooney's intelligence of movement. If the United man has now fully recovered his fitness, Robinson can expect to face a barrage of shots from his former England team-mate.
Tactics: With Valencia now providing some penetration from out wide, United are able to stretch the play, and the movement of Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen as well as the continued good form of Ryan Giggs should present Blackburn with plenty of problems. The concern will be that, if Fletcher misses out, Rovers are able to dominate the game in the midfield, which may result in a recall for Anderson to help protect the defence.
Damage limitation will no doubt be the aim of the game for Sam Allardyce, and he could rely on Jason Roberts or the improving Nikola Kalinic to hold up the play if he looks to bypass the United midfield.
Quotes: Sam Allardyce on his side's failure to win away in the league this season: "I have to resolve this problem immediately because if I don't it becomes like the yips in putting in golf. You can't put the little two-footer in to win the tournament and if the yips go on and on you get a greater and greater problem, so we have to solve it by the time we turn out at Old Trafford."
Jonny Evans on Michael Owen: "Every time Michael comes on he gets into really good positions. He changed the game a bit for us on Sunday. It was the first time we really looked like getting in behind Liverpool. It was good for him against Barnsley to get another goal."
In the news: Blackburn's swine flu outbreak continues to make headlines. Sam Allardyce stayed away from the team during the Carling Cup win on Tuesday and left his assistant, Neil McDonald, to speak to the press post-match, but the message is that the situation is now under control.
Manchester United team news: Nemanja Vidic returns to the side after serving a suspension for his two yellow cards against Liverpool, but Gary Neville misses out after his straight red against Barnsley in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. Darren Fletcher is hoping to return from a foot problem, but Ji-sung Park is ruled out.
Blackburn team news: Pascal Chimbonda and Vince Grella are both injury doubts, but it is hoped David Dunn and Christopher Samba will have recovered from illness to take part.
Probable United line-up (4-4-2): Van der Sar, O'Shea, Evans, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney.
Probable Blackburn line-up (4-5-1): Robinson, Jacobsen, Samba, Nelsen, Olsson, Diouf, Nzonzi, Emerton, Andrews, Pedersen, Roberts.
Soccernet prediction: Blackburn are likely to be focused purely on frustrating United but they have shown a tendency to collapse in recent weeks. It is difficult to see anything other than a United victory, particularly as they look to bounce back from the Liverpool defeat ahead of next week's trip to Chelsea.