Manchester United are set to reclaim top spot with victory over Hull

Manchester United v Hull, Premier League, January 23, 2010

Manchester United 1/6; Draw 8/1; Hull 26/1

With the FA Cup fourth round swinging into life this weekend in England, the only surviving Premier League clash takes place at Old Trafford as the reigning champions welcome Phil Brown’s Hull the the Theatre of Dreams.

The sides last faced-off against each other in the final match of 2010, with Sir Alex’s charges claiming a comfortable 3-1 victory (13/1 to repeat that score) at the KC Stadium. As has been the case for the majority of the season, Wayne Rooney was United’s talisman on that occasion, scoring one and setting up the Red Devils second, while Dimitar Berbatov bagged the third.

Hull have managed to bounce back somewhat since their last meeting with United. Still without an away win in the league since their narrow 1-nil defeat of Fulham back in March 2009 (and before that they had previously last won at West Brom back in October 2008), the Tigers have proven themselves a far harder nut to crack earning a 2-all draw at Bolton and a goalless draw at Spurs, whilst also being on the receiving end of a 4-1 thumping a Wigan.

So dire is Hull’s away record, that the goalless draw (Hull are 16/1 to keep a clean sheet, 1/20 against) at White Hart Lane tasted almost as sweet as a victory. Man of the match that day, keeper Boaz Myhill, later admitted “We all pulled together manfully and I’m sure the manager is very proud of us. The manager asked for a fighting performance, like he always does. Obviously we’re delighted it’s worked out for us. The mentality was strong throughout the team, we were dying for the clean sheet and delighted we got there in the end. Anytime you get a clean sheet in this league it’s a positive thing.”

But while Hull may have patting themselves on the back for keeping a clean sheet, the harsh truth is that a run of eight games without a win leaves them looking like cannon-fodder for Fergie’s United. (Hull are a massive 109/1 to win both halves.) Even if the Mancunians have only picked up one win in their last four outings themselves.

Guessing Sir Alex’s line-up against Hull is a slightly daunting prospect, however there seems little doubt that fiery Scot will pick a more attacking team than the side he selected against Manchester City in the Carling Cup.

Dimitar Berbatov, reportedly hampered with a leg injury, could miss out for the second game running in the United attack, with Wayne Rooney able to be partnered with one of Michael Owen, Mame Biram Diouf or Ryan Giggs. (United are EVS to win both halves, 5/7 against.)

Antonio Valencia, who looks to be improving game on game, should hold his position on the right wing, while Darren Fletcher should also keep his place in a more central role in midfield. Anderson, having failed to shine at rivals City, should drop back to the bench, with Paul Scholes returning to the starting XI as he continues he quest for his 100th Manchester United goal in the Premier League.

Flipping analysis onto Hull, manager Phil Brown has already confirmed that new signing Amr Zaki will be forced to miss out on the trip to Manchetser this weekend due to a lack of match fitness.

Brown will also have to decide whether to abandon his cautious tactics adopted at Spurs, in which George Boateng played the holding role for the Tigers, with Geovanni supporting lone striker Craig Fagan in attack, while Jozy Altidore was left out on compassionate grounds due the the Haitian earthquake.

Should Manchester United win, as expected, then they’ll open up a two point gap on both Arsenal and Chelsea, although both sides with have games in hand over Ferguson’s charges.

101predicts: Manchester United 1 – Hull 0 (10/1)

Manchester United 1/6; Draw 8/1; Hull 26/1

Full match odds here.