Premier League leaders Manchester United visit the Madejski Stadium on Saturday evening, seeking to preserve their narrow lead over cross-town rivals and defending champions Manchester City. The Red Devils seem to have recovered from a hiccup that saw them lose two consecutive games in mid-November and have registered 3-1 and 1-0 wins in their last two league fixtures, over QPR and West Ham United.
The Royals, meanwhile, continue to struggle. The surprising 2-1 home win over high-flying Everton aside, Brian McDermott's side have not won a game, in any competition, since September's win over fellow strugglers QPR at Loftus Road. The home side for this fixture are 19th in the league, with only nine points to their name. They do, however, have a game in hand over both direct relegation rivals Southampton and Harry Redknapp's Rangers.
Where to Watch
Kick-off is set for 5:30pm GMT. Live coverage will be available, from 4.30pm GMT, on ESPN and ESPN HD.
The Royals have struggled all season, with precious few highlights. McDermott's men welcome Sir Alex Ferguson and the leaders with three defeats in the last six games and with only one win in the Premier League all season. Whatever confidence boost might have come from beating Everton at home has dissipated after consecutive defeats to Wigan and Aston Villa.
The only solace McDermott might take from those games is that they were both on the road, where his team have the worst record in the league. At home, like so many other lower-end Premier League clubs, the Royals are a different proposition, even if the improvement is only slight.
Reading have lost only once in six games at home, drawing four of the remaining five. Additionally, they have only conceded 10 goals in those six games, fewer than any other side in the relegation zone. However, that is unlikely to be enough to hold off United, who have won five of their seven away games, scoring 14 goals in the process.
Meanwhile, United registered a narrow win over the Hammers in their last league game, thanks to an early Robin van Persie strike. While the win may not have been the goal bonanza home fans would have liked, Ferguson will be delighted that it was the first clean sheet the team has managed since blanking Newcastle United at St James' Park in October.
The club has had problems with conceding early goals and putting themselves under pressure later in the match and the 70-year-old Scot will be praying the West Ham clean sheet marks a run of similarly strong defensive results, particularly with the Manchester derby on 9 December.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L L W D D
- Last Result: Aston Villa 1 - 0 Reading
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W W L L W
- Last Result: Manchester United 1 - 0 West Ham United
McDermott has a few concerns ahead of the game with Jem Karacan (knee) and Chris Hunter (hamstring) both unavailable for at least another couple of weeks. Danny Guthrie (leg) and Jimmy Kebe (groin) will face late fitness tests but neither is expected to be ready to start or play any significant role in this game.
Probable Line-Up: Federici; Cummings, Morrison, Mariappa, Shorey; Robson-Kanu, Leigertwood, Tabb, McAnuff; Roberts, Le Fondre
The visitors also have injury concerns, with both Nani (hamstring) and Antonio Valencia (hip) ruled out of this game, meaning Ferguson has no natural options out wide. Veteran midfielder Paul Scholes should be ready to play after his suspension midweek, but expect the manager to opt for a faster and more hard-working midfield against the Royals.
Another United veteran, Ryan Giggs, celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday, but may not play today as he is still recovering from a hamstring problem. If he is declared fit, he will probably start on the bench, too.
Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic (knee) and Shinji Kagawa (knee) are both still unavailable. But the good news in central defensive positions is England international Rio Ferdinand is available after being rested for the midweek game
Probable Line-Up: Lindegaard; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Cleverley, Anderson, Carrick, Rooney; Hernandez, van Persie