Manchester United’s second game of 2020 sees us hit the road once again as we begin our FA Cup campaign with a difficult looking tie at Molineux.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men don’t need telling about Wolves nasty bite, having been knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Nuno Espirito Santo’s side last season. The Reds are yet to beat the impressive west Midlands side since their promotion to the Premier League.
Solskjaer is set to shuffle his pack as United go again after the frantic, frenetic festive fixtures.
Here’s how we think United will line up on Saturday evening as we visit the pack of Wolves for the fourth time in under a year.
GK – Sergio Romero
United’s cup keeper and trusty, ever-reliable number two. Solskjaer confirmed that Romero will get the nod with De Gea to be given a little breather after the frantic run of games over Christmas and New Year. Romero is also likely to start in the first leg of the League Cup semi final against City in midweek and might start to put pressure on De Gea. Romero is one of two definite starters for this third round clash.
Solskjaer without Pogba, McTominay and Tuanzebe against Wolves tomorrow and also said a few others are ill. “I’ll have to see who wakes up tomorrow and feels OK.” Sergio Romero starting in goal.
— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) January 3, 2020
RB – Ashley Young
Aaron Wan-Bissaka could do with a rest and this provides the ideal opportunity to allow him one. Young started at Burnley two days after the Boxing Day game against Newcastle in which AWB played the full 90. Given the trend of resting key men for the cups, we expect to see Young restored to the team at a ground where he endured two horror shows last season. Young is being phased out by Solskjaer but provides experienced back up and will likely captain the side.
CB – Harry Maguire
Maguire has been a paradox so far since his eye popping £80m move from Leicester. He’s not done anything amazing but hasn’t really done too much wrong, either. Maguire will have his work cut out to deal with Wolves strike duo and the scourge of United last season, Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota. With other defensive options Axel Tuanzebe, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah all injured, Maguire will surely start. It will be a testing night so we need the commanding and composed presence at the back.
CB – Phil Jones
Jones has not been seen since his brief 20 minute cameo off the bench against AZ Alkmaar in the middle of December. He hasn’t started a game since that fateful afternoon at Bramall Lane when he had a torried time and was hooked at half-time on 24th November. It’s clear he’s no longer in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long term thoughts but, that said, I think he’ll get a rare start here. Victor Lindelof needs a rest and Jones might be better equipped to deal with Wolves aerial prowess. Let’s just hope it’s not another outing for Mr Calamity.
LB – Brandon Williams
The best left-back at the club, he should have started at Arsenal on Wednesday. Williams did little wrong at Burnley and was instantly dropped for the next game with Shaw left bemused and battered by Nicolas Pepe. It looked a major selection error from Solskjaer and things won’t get any easier at Molineux. Solskjaer has tended to alternate between the two young English full-backs this season and should bring Williams back in for this one. He’s the future and has to start week in week out. There’s no way Shaw can keep his place here having struggled badly against Arsenal.
DM – Nemanja Matic
This is the one area of the team that worries me. When we play sides with a high energy midfield that presses, you cannot play Nemanja Matic. The problem is, there’s no one else with options decimated through long term injuries to Paul Pogba – whose ankle has flared up again – and Scott ‘McSauce’. Matic was swamped and smothered by Granit Xhaka and in particular Lucas Torreira, and Wolves talented and dynamic engine room schemers Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves will have a field day. Solskjaer bizarrely claimed he was happy with Matic after defeat at Arsenal, even though you’re never going to create chances with him there.
DM – Fred
I felt sorry for Fred in midweek. He did his best, trying to do the work of three men but his industry and endeavour ultimately counted for little. He’s gone from an absolute liability to single handedly holding the engine room together – creator, destroyer, presser, flair player and string puller all rolled into one. He needs a rest but will get another start here as there’s literally no one else to come in. We’re so short in midfield it’s ludicrous. The midfield battle is always so key but United get outgunned as there’s no pace or power. It’s another big job for Fred against Neves and Moutinho who impress me every time I watch Wolves. What I’d give to have those two in midfield for us.
RW – Andreas Pereira
My man of the match against Burnley and a man with two assists in as many games. United immediately looked better and brighter when Pereira came on against Arsenal. I don’t really rate him as I think he’s quite limited in what he offers but, having said that, he brings more than Jesse Lingard. At least has a good pass and a decent dead ball delivery in him. We didn’t create enough against Arsenal but if Solskjaer brings the Brazilian back in, as he should, I’d feel we might carry a bit more of a threat going forward. There can simply be no justification or logical rationale for selecting the Invisible Man instead.
CAM – Juan Mata
Another player who I thought did well on Wednesday despite only coming on for the last ten minutes. Most of his appearances have come off the bench this season with Mata having not started since the win against Colchester in mid December. His best days may be behind him but he can still be the key to unpick the tightest of locks and is still a very useful player to have at your disposal. Mata has made ten starts and is in line for another here as part of a much changed Reds team. I don’t mean any ill will on Jesse Lingard but it’s social suicide if he gets another chance.
LW – Marcus Rashford
United’s top scorer is in the form of season although he, like all those in Reds, had a major off-night at Arsenal. We expect Rashford to keep his place at Wolves though, given his impressive stats this season and a dearth of alternatives. United’s pick of the bunch for December is an early contender for the club’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award. He has shown a good understanding with Greenwood, there seems little opportunity to give him a breather and he remains United’s main man in attack.
CF – Mason Greenwood
Another definite starter, Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that Greenwood will start at Molineux. Given the fact that he’s our best natural finisher and Rashford is better off the left, he will fill the lone striker’s role. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, his introduction lifted United at the Emirates. In a topsy turvy season for the club, Greenwood has been the one consistent bright spot and showcased his dazzling talent with a goal of the season contender on Boxing Day. A player with a wonderful future, he will get another chance to show what he can do.
Prediction: Which United will we see this time? The team that subsided miserably at Watford and Arsenal or the clinical, free-flowing one that blew away Newcastle and Burnley in the last two games of 2019. Or something in between? United don’t have a good record against Wolves of late but history suggests we do well against attack-minded teams. Wolves lost last time out at Watford but this will be tough. A cup tie atmosphere under the lights at Molineux equates to a tough tie for United. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear United will get overpowered and outbattled in midfield. Wolves 2-1 United.