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Manchester United host Premier League strugglers Reading at Old Trafford on Monday night. Sir Alex Ferguson and his men will need to find their way past the Royals in this FA Cup fifth round tie, if they wish to end a nine-year wait for this particular trophy. Brian McDermott, meanwhile, will be eager for an excellent performance against the Red Devils, not only to keep their cup run going but also maintain overall momentum in the fight to avoid demotion to the Championship.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is set for 8pm GMT. Live coverage starts an hour earlier on ESPN and ESPN HD. Live radio commentary is from kick-off on BBC Radio 5 live. Catch highlights of the tie at 10.30pm GMT on ITV 4.
United will have returned from the midweek Champions League trip to Madrid pleased with the result. Danny Welbeck's goal may have been cancelled out by one from Cristiano Ronaldo but a heroic performance from goalkeeper David De Gea leaves the Premier League leaders with an edge, albeit a marginal one, in this knock-out tie against Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid.
The English club's overall form coming into this game has been excellent, with four wins from the last five in all competition. More importantly, United are unbeaten since Romanians CFR Cluj surprised them in the final game of the Champions League's group stages; that was back in early December.
At home, Ferguson has seen his side in imperious form, with 11 goals scored and only three conceded. What may worry the Scot, though, is the fact his defence hasn't really kept too many clean sheets this season. Only two of the last six have been shut-outs for the Manchester team. And with the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil arriving in the first week of March, United's defenders could do with a few morale-boosting clean sheets.
In the FA Cup so far, United have been largely untroubled. West Ham did force a replay in the third round, drawing 2-2 at Upton Park. But they were subsequently dismissed at Old Trafford and Fulham were beaten 4-1, at Craven Cottage, in the previous round.
Reading, meanwhile, have been in good form themselves. The Royals have won an impressive five of the last seven games in all competitions and this includes a 2-1 win at St James' Park, a 3-2 home win over West Brom and a 2-2 home draw against Chelsea.
The run has helped them move closer to Aston Villa in 17th place in the Premier League, with only a point separating the two sides. McDermott, however, comes into this game on the back of a defeat. Reading's charge was halted last week by a 1-2 defeat to Stoke.
The defeat was the first since Tottenham beat them at White Hart Lane on New Year's Day and McDermott will be hoping that his side can at least force a replay in this tie; the Madejski Stadium club faces a massive relegation six-pointer against Wigan on 23 February and a good result at Old Trafford will be a massive boost.
Reading's away form has been very poor this season, with 10 defeats from 13 league games. They did record an away win in the third round of the FA Cup though, beating Crawley Town 3-1. Overall, the fact they've conceded 27 goals in 15 away games (in all competitions) this season suggests Old Trafford will see goals.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): D W W W W
- Last Match: Real Madrid 1 - 1 Manchester United
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L W D W W
- Last Match: Stoke City 2 - 1 Reading
Ferguson may opt to rest key players for this tie but given United do not play high-profile opponents till Madrid visit in March, expect a reasonably strong side at Old Trafford. Darren Fletcher (bowel) is definitely ruled out, while Paul Scholes (knee) is still some time away from an appearance. Expect to see some fringe players get a run-out, with left-back Alexander Buttner and midfielders Nani and Anderson likely to get game time. Captain Nemanja Vidic will probably return to the starting line-up after being rested for the game against Madrid
Probable Line-Up: De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Buttner; Nani, Anderson, Cleverly, Young; Rooney, Hernandez
Reading have one massive advantage over United in this match - they have had nine days of rest from their last match whereas United have had less than a week (not including travel fatigue). McDermott will have most of his key players available. However, striker Jason Robert (knee) will not be among those. Adam Le Fondre, the club's leading goal scorer in the league, will certainly be available and the man who Ferguson rejected as a seven-year-old will be eager to show him what he missed. Finally, Adam Federici will continue in goal - Alex McCarthy (shoulder) will be out for a few months more.
Probable Line-Up: Federici; Kelly, Morrison, Mariappa, Harte, Leigertwood; Kebe, Tabb, McAnuff, Robson-Kanu; Le Fondre