- Manchester United v Reading, Premier League
Reading face United backlash
At the end of a turbulent week following the sacking of their manager Brian McDermott, the last thing Reading need ahead of a sapping fight to stay in the top flight is a trip to the league leaders, Manchester United.
While the initial fixture is daunting enough for the troubled Royals, United are still licking their wounds following the controversial Champions League exit to Real Madrid and the surrender of a two-goal lead to Chelsea in the FA Cup last weekend.
It has not been the best of weeks for both teams; although United, who currently sit 12 points clear of rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, have a habit of dispatching teams in devastating fashion following high-profile defeats.
Twice last season United submitted Wolverhampton Wanderers to a vicious backlash following European heartbreak; firstly, a 4-1 demolition of Wolves at Old Trafford succeeded their Champions League loss to FC Basel, before the completion of a 5-0 rout at Molineux after exiting the Europa League at the hands of Athletic Bilbao last March.
Reading, with caretaker manager Eamonn Dolan taking the reins for Saturday evening's clash, are currently searching for their next permanent manager after Royals' owner Anton Zingarevich declared dismissing McDermott the "hardest decision" of his life.
The Berkshire club are joint-bottom of the Premier League on 23 points and face a daunting double header of United at Old Trafford followed by Arsenal at the Emirates on March 30; four consecutive defeats, including last weekend's 2-1 home loss to relegation rivals Aston Villa, have further compounded Reading's misery.
Former Southampton boss Nigel Adkins and Paolo Di Canio have both been touted to take over at the Madejski Stadium; Reading will have two weeks between Saturday's clash and their trip to Arsenal in which to appoint a new leader.
With Manchester City facing Everton in the lunchtime kick-off, United and Sir Alex Ferguson will know whether they have the chance to hammer the final nail in the defending champions' coffin come Saturday evening.
Either way, Sir Alex will ensure his players are fired up for a typical United reaction; for Reading, the end of the week cannot come quick enough.
United have not been at their best this past week, but have only lost once in the league at Old Trafford this season when going down to Tottenham in September, and three times overall.
Reading travel to Manchester on the back of four consecutive defeats and sit four points behind 17th place Aston Villa having not won since the start of February. The Royals have only won once on the road this season, losing 11 of their 14 games away from home - and have never won at Old Trafford.
The Royals will be without Pavel Pogrebnyak as the big striker serves a suspension, while Jimmy Kebe (groin) and Adam Federici (ankle) are both set to miss out with injury. Striker Jason Roberts is out with a hip injury and is likely to miss the rest of the season.
Nani limped off in United's FA Cup draw with Chelsea last weekend and while Ferguson describes the injury as "not serious" the Portuguese winger is likely to be sidelined for a couple of weeks.
Phil Jones is still recovering from his ankle injury and will not feature. Ryan Giggs, rested for the FA Cup tie with Chelsea, could return.
One to watch
Javier Hernandez was in fine form against Chelsea and, with star striker Robin van Persie suffering a recent dry spell, the Mexican could well be handed a start alongside Wayne Rooney.
Hernandez scored the second goal at Old Trafford which knocked Reading out of the FA Cup last month and has the ability to cause no end of problems for the away side.
It could be a case of damage limitation for Reading; with Wayne Rooney returning to form, the Royals' back line will have a huge task in stopping a potential United onslaught through Rooney and possibly Hernandez.
Michael Carrick has been in fine form throughout the season and has the ability to carve both midfield and defence open with a single pass. If Reading are to gain anything from their trip, service into the United strikeforce must be stopped.
Prediction and Bet
United are odds-on to bounce back from a tough week, as short as 1/6 with Bet 365 to win the match.
Bet365 are offering 15/2 on a 4-0 United victory, although there is potential value in the first goalscorer market with both Rooney and Hernandez at 3/1 to break the deadlock.
Rio Ferdinand, who was recalled to the England squad earlier this week, is a tantalising bet to score anytime: Bet365 are offering 11/1 on the central defender.
Final score: 4-0