On November 24th, Manchester United will travel to Cardiff to take on newly promoted Cardiff City. United are above Cardiff at the moment, as expected, but are not as many points above them as many would have expected them to be at this stage of the season. There’s only an eight point gap between last years Premier League champions and last years Championship champions, illustrating how poorly United started and also how tight the Premier League is this year.
Neither team is injury-free at the moment, and at this point in the season no one expects to be, but United are dealing with a few more injury problems than Cardiff. Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck are certainly going to miss the trip to Cardiff, with the former rumored to be out until mid-December. Phil Jones is also likely to miss the trip to Wales after picking up an injury while on England duty. It is questionable whether Rafael and Robin Van Persie will recover from their respective injuries in time for the game. On the positive side, according to reports, captain Nemanja Vidic will be back from his concussion to captain the team in Cardiff.
Cardiff look like they will be getting a fitness boost with Peter Odemwinge, Aaron Gunnarsson, and Andrea Cornelius all being fit to play this weekend. Cornelius will play for the first time in over two months after suffering an ankle injury in the teams Capital One Cup tie with Accrington. It looks like the team will be without him while he recovers from a knee injury.
This will be the first time Manchester United and Cardiff have ever played in the Premier League era. The two teams have not faced each other in the top division since 1962. Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie combined have more Premier League goals than the entire Cardiff team. Since the last time these two faced each other in the top division, Manchester United have won the title 15 times while this is the first time Cardiff have been in the top division since.
If Cardiff are to get anything from this game, Gary Medel will have to come up huge in this game. The “pitbull”, who grew up a Manchester United fan, will be tasked with breaking up the play in the United midfield. Medel has won possession back a total of 68 times and has made 19 interceptions. Every time Medel has won possession back this season it has been in either the defensive or middle third of the pitch. Medel has attempted a ground duel every 15 minutes and attempted a tackle every 37.4 minutes. Medel does his job to win back possession well but keeps the ball just as well. Medel loses possession every 13 minutes, the third best in the Premier League, among players with at least 50 possession wins. Once Medel gets the ball he is adept at spraying it forward for other people to turn the defence into attack. Medel has taken more touches than any other Cardiff player, attempted more passes than any other Cardiff player, and completed more long balls than any other Cardiff player, even the goalkeeper. Medel will never go any further forward than the middle third of the pitch which, for a team that needs to be organised like Cardiff, is a good thing. United struggled to cope against Southampton’s midfield enforcer, Victor Wanyama. Medel will hope to disrupt United’s midfield and try and help Cardiff achieve a similar result as Southampton did.
Wayne Rooney has been the star man this season for Manchester United and will have to continue to be a star on this trip to Cardiff. Rooney is United’s second top scorer and leads the team in assists this season. His last performance vs Arsenal showed his all around game, and that he still has the desire to win at Manchester United, despite all the turmoil over the summer. When United played Arsenal, Rooney ran all over the pitch harrying players and disrupting Arsenal’s system putting in a fantastic all around performance. For all the work he did, Rooney did grab an assist from a corner and nearly grabbed a goal, putting a shot just wide of the post. Rooney has proved to be a creative outlet as well as a goalscorer, creating a chance every 49 minutes. Rooney is the force that drives the team forward, and completed 18 out of his 25 attempted dribbles. Van Persie may be the number one goal scoring option, but Rooney is still finishing his chances at a good clip (19% chance conversion rate). Rooney will need to be a big man in the game to make sure United don’t get shocked by Cardiff.
While Manchester United have had a poor start to the season, by Manchester United standards, it’s tough to see them losing this game. Even with injuries to the midfield, you would expect the quality of Manchester United to outshine Cardiff. I expect United to carry the momentum of beating the table toppers Arsenal, and get a win. That said I don’t see it being a walkover by any means and expect it to be a close contest.
Prediction: 2-1 Manchester United