Ole Gunner Solskjaer, who spent 11 seasons as a player at Manchester United, makes his return to Old Trafford today, only this time he’ll be the opposite bench. When the Red Devils kick off against Cardiff City at 2:45 p.m. ET (available on NBC Live Extra), the former Norwegian international will be managing a Bluebirds team striving for their first Premier League win since Dec. 14.
That slide leaves Cardiff in last place after 22 rounds, with the team still winless in league since Solksjaer’s Jan. 2 arrival. Though they have claimed two FA Cup wins in that time, multi-goal losses to West Ham United and Manchester City leave the Bluebirds with only four wins on the season. Should they pull and upset and claim their fifth today, Cardiff could climb as high as 16th in a jumbled relegation battle.
They’ll face a United team that has a new look on life after management opened up the checkbook on Friday, agreeing to terms with Chelsea on the acquisition of Juan Mata. Brought in for a $61 million fee, Mata’s going to be thrown right into the fire, with David Moyes electing to put him into today’s starting XI. He’s set to start behind a newly healthy Robin Van Persie, with Wayne Rooney starting the match on the bench.
One of the nice upshots of Mata’s acquisition has been a refocus of energies. Instead of dwelling on the team’s form (United having lost four of their last six games), people are looking forward, hoping the commitment shown to the club’s new record transfer will translate onto the field.
The first test will be here shortly. Against a team sitting in 20th place, United will be expected to claim full points. Fail to do so, and the positive vibe that came with Mata’s arrival will be eclipsed by new worries the Red Devils won’t make Champions League.
Manchester United: David De Gea, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie
Subs: Andres Lindegaard, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj
Cardiff City: David Marshall, Declan John, Steven Caulker, Mark Hudson, Kevin McNaughton, Gary Medel, Craig Noone, Jordan Mutch, Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham, Frazier Campbell
Subs: Joe Lewis, Michael Turner, Kim Bo-Kyung, Magnua Wolff Eikrem, Aron Gunnarsson, Mats Moller Deahli, Jo Inge Berget