On Boxing Day, Europe-bound SAFC travel to Old Trafford seeking some Christmas cheer. For this weeks Fan Focus, Roker Report spoke with Man United fan Steven Williams. Despite having the affliction of living in Cardiff (just kidding mate), Steven regularly makes the 10 hour round trip to Old Trafford, where he can cheer on his beloved United, and his star man, and fellow country man Ryan Giggs. Here's Stevens thoughts on the big game...
Despite being unbeaten this season, some pundits are still highly critical of United. Why do you think this is?
Steven: I think, when you are a club like Manchester United, every result and performance is looked at under a microscope. It's true that we havent played our best football yet this season, but it's also widely known that we don't start to play our best football until the second stage of the season, and its often said that if we're around the top come Christmas, its hard to get us away from there. I also think its in part due to pundits quickly jumping to the fact that we lost very big players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez and Rooney being off form. However in the 2006-2007 season when we won the league, we had something like 18 different goalscorers, and I wouldn't want us to rely too heavily on Rooney, like we did last season.
Ji-Sung Park will play his last game for a while against us on Boxing Day, how much of a miss will he be while he's away at the Asia Cup? He's been in fine form of late.
Steven: Interesting question, I've been discussing this recently with fans, and the general consensus is that he will be a very big blow for us. He's a big game player that doesn't stop running and working for the team. I myself have been very critical of him in the past, but just like Fletcher did, he has shown us that we were wrong to not share Alex's faith in him. With a shortage of wingers at the moment, he is key to our team and I take a slightly selfish sigh of relief that he has retired from international football following this tournament.
Having not played last weekend because of the weather, do you think that will be a help or a hinderance going into our game? When your winning you want to play every week, but on the other hand a rest is always good.
Steven: I think in our case, it will be a good rest for the players, we play a lot of football throughout the season, being in 4 competitions pre-christmas, and sometimes 5 post christmas, so having a week rest will allow us a bit of recovery time for any fatigue and knocks. The players will still be training and playing in practice matches so their fitness will be good, and to play at this level, a week off should hopefully, not affect match performance
In recent times we've certainly got through our fair share of ex-United players. Have any United fans developed a soft-spot for us?
Steven: I have definitely developed a soft spot for Sunderland, but amusingly, mine has grown due to them being my choice of team on Football Manager! (my friends and I pick a team outside the so called *big 4* and try to take them to world stardom) I look for your results every week and obviously having Dwight Yorke, Richardson and Roy Keane, followed by Bardsley, Steve Bruce and Danny Welbeck in the side, makes me have more than just a glance at the team. I think Sunderland is run like a real football club, very loud and passionate fans, backed by an ex-player chairman and a sound financial system in place, the latter being something our club would cut off our right arms to have at the moment.
Speaking of United players, please please please can we keep Danny Welbeck?
Steven: Ha, Danny Welbeck is an excellent young player, and I think will go on to be a full England international. I have watched Danny grow with the club from his debut in the U18's, which some of your fans may be surprised to learn was against Sunderland U18's. Unfortunately for Sunderland, I think Sir Alex knows that Danny has a bright future and will be looking to recall him come the end of the season. However, major thanks should be awarded to the Sunderland staff that have really brought him on to the next level this season. He has grown to be a consistant player and very strong, which is something he struggled with at a young age and had to take medication to help him grow correctly. I hope he really furthers your success this season before he returns to the club, and thanks to both him and your team for the Chelsea result!
Do you think theres any truth in the rumors surrounding Jordan Henderson and a potential move to United? Most of our fans can't see it happening any time soon, but if the right offer came in (say £20m) I think we'd have to consider it.
Steven: Manchester United are consistantly linked with players, in the close season I think it was as many 150 different players, we have a vast scouting network that looks at lots of different players, and it only takes 1 scout to be spotted to make a transfer story. However, Jordan Henderson is a fantastic player with a bright future, and I believe we have already enquired about his availability. The only problem I see is that the resurgance of Anderson might have stopped a potential move for him, but I for one would love to see him at our club, and believe he is a top player for you. I would however prefer him to grow with your club for another season or 2, maybe back as a loanee, or a future fee in place.
Which Sunderland players have caught the eye this season, and you think will pose a threat on Boxing Day?
Steven: The first tie at the Stadium Of Light, was probably the toughest game we have had all season. You were fantastic that day, and unlucky not to take 3 points. You have a good core of players from the fantastic Gordon in goal, Ferdinand, Richardson, Henderson, Cattermole, Malbranque, Bent, Gyan and Welbeck. It's truely difficult to single one player to pose a threat against us, Bent loves scoring against us and is always a threat, despite being slightly out of form at the moment. Gyan looks to be a top buy for the club and Henderson can really have the freedom to pull the strings in the middle with Cattermole or whoever plays in his absense, helping to break up the play. You're a very good counter attacking side, which almost clashes with our team as we also like to counter attack. It should be a very open and attacking game and its definitely got the potential to be a banana slip in our title bid.
What do you think the starting line-up will be on Boxing Day, and what, if anything, would you do differently if you were in charge?
Steven: With the news that Scholes will be out until the New Year, I think the key battle will be in midfield, so I would like to see us play with Anderson and Fletcher in the middle of the park, to provide us with alot of energy. I'd go with the evergreen Van Der Sar in goals, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra as a solid backline that were fantastic against Arsenal. Nani, Fletcher, Anderson and Park in midfield, and finally Rooney and Hernandez up top, as I think the key to breaking down your defence will lie with the pace of Hernandez, as opposed to the hold up play of Berbatov. I do however think that SAF will choose Berbatov up top with Rooney, so that is what I would change.
And finally, your predictions for the match?
Steven: As I've stated before, I think it will be a very tight match and I think it will be a very good game. However with our backline being restored to its best, I think we will just manage to nick it with a late goal to make it 2-1, with you scoring first, but the Old Trafford crowd will help the players to fight until the end.
We'll be checking back in with Steven after the game, to get his reflections on the game. In the mean time, you can follow him on Twitter @pickett2k