MANCHESTER, October 16 – Manchester United return to action against Bolton on Saturday determined to banish memories of their last outing at Old Trafford.United needed a last-gasp equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw with Sunderland just before the international break and manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been embroiled in a row with authorities ever since as a result of his comments about referee Alan Wiley’s fitness in the wake of that game.
The draw allowed Chelsea to pull two points clear of the champions at the top of the table and, although the emergence of Manchester City and Tottenham as challengers for the top four has many observers claiming that the top teams will drop more points than in recent years, the Londoners are setting an impressive pace with seven wins from their eight matches.
United have recovered well from their shock 1-0 defeat at Burnley in August, but truly convincing performances from the champions have been few and far between despite the Sunderland game being the only other time they have dropped points.
The Old Trafford club have won the last three Premier League titles and are attempting to be the first team ever to win four consecutively.
And while Ferguson’s record makes a mockery of even the toughest scrutiny, there are still plenty of question marks over his emerging team and the veteran manager will be looking for answers in the run up to the next international break in November.
Following the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer, Ferguson has settled for minor tweaking of his squad, with Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan the only additions.
Wayne Rooney has been in inspired form and Ferguson will be relieved that his most potent attacking weapon is winning his battle to shake off the calf strain which forced him to miss England’s midweek win over Belarus at Wembley.
Doubts remain, however about whether Dimitar Berbatov and Owen, who has recovered from a groin injury, provide adequate cover should Rooney be absent through injury or not on top form and similarly there are question marks over Ferguson’s midfield.
Nani was hoping to help fill the void left by Ronaldo but Ferguson has taken to playing veteran Ryan Giggs on the flank after a couple of seasons playing in a more central position.
Although Owen Hargreaves is now close to a return to fitness after serious knee surgery, there are also question marks about the balance in central midfield and the depth of cover at the back as Rio Ferdinand continues to struggle to recover full fitness and his best form.
At least Ferguson is not far away from having a fully-fit squad, with experienced goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set to appear for the first time this season against Bolton after overcoming a hand problem.
The return of the Dutchman should provide assurance at the back for United, while Rafael and Gabriel Obertan could also be in contention for the game at Old Trafford after playing for the reserves at the start of the week.
After a tricky start to the season, Bolton are on a five-match unbeaten run and the likes of Tamir Cohen, previously limited by a dreadful injury record, and South Korean star Lee Chung-Yong have brought a new dimension to Gary Megson’s team.
Lee’s international team-mate Park Ji-Sung has been impressed with the way Lee has adapted ot life at the Reebok Stadium after joining from FC Seoul.
Park said: "He has been playing well and trying hard at Bolton and has grown in confidence. His improvement is valuable for the national team."
Megson is hoping that his team can continue their fine recent form despite the intimidating prospect of facing the champions.
He said: "Sunderland went there the other week and played positively and they were really unfortunate not to get a win.
"A draw was a great result for them and I think we, alongside a lot of other clubs, can take heart from that.
"It will be tough at Old Trafford but we will go and give it our best."