This was supposed to be Man Utd’s only week without a midweek game in January but the draw at Molineux ten days ago put fire to those plans. In many ways the Reds will be pleased to get Nuno Espirito Santo’s pack of Wolves back to M16, even if this third round replay is more of a hindrance than a help for both sides.
Not many sides emerge unscathed from a trip to the Wolves, so in a sense United have already done the ‘hard’ bit. That said, we expect a tough tie on Wednesday night.
There will be a balance to strike between rotating and putting out a team strong enough to beat a formidable opponent, though, which means a good chunk of Saturday’s team may keep their place.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks set to shuffle his pack again as he tries to give minutes to as many players as possible but also keeping Sunday’s totemic tussle with Liverpool in mind. Santo will probably rest most of his key players as well.
Here is how we think United will line up at Old Trafford:
GK – Sergio Romero
With Romero firmly established as our cup keeper, it was a surprise to see David de Gea between the posts in the Carabao Cup semi-final with City. De Gea will be rested with Anfield looming large in the rear view mirror, Romero very rarely lets us down and is the best number two keeper there is. He started at Molineux and will deputise again. To call him “back up” almost seems an insult.
RB – Diogo Dalot
Dalot got a late run out in the original game as he worked his way back to full fitness. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has played a lot of football recently and Ashley Young has reportedly thrown a hissy fit. This is an ideal game for the Portuguese full-back to come into having not started since October. Dalot has made only four appearances in an injury ravaged season and the jury is still out on him for me.
CB – Victor Lindelof
Lindelof has had an indifferent season and his own personal performances have encapsulated United’s collective form. Great one week and bad the next, Lindelof will keep his place largely because of a lack of alternatives. He was poor against City but did well against Norwich alongside Harry Maguire, even though he was barely asked any questions. In an ideal world I’d give Lindelof a rest but it’s not really possible so he gets the nod.
CB – Phil Jones
Harry Maguire may be given the evening off after defying speculation that he would miss a significant spell with a hip injury. He played the full 90 minutes against Norwich and we need him for Liverpool, so I’d like him to get a breather. The flip side of that means Jones plays again. Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah both stepped up their recoveries by playing for our Under 23s against Newcastle, but neither are yet back to the level where they can come in to the first team defence. Bailly managed an hour and will play this season, but it won’t be here. Jones endured a torrid first 45 minutes against City in Maguire’s absence, but to his credit he did improve in the second half.
LB – Luke Shaw
The emergence of Brandon Williams has seen him displace Luke Shaw as United’s first choice left-back. Again, though, he’s played a lot recently and will be needed for the most daunting day of his fledgling career so far as he runs out an Anfield. Provided Shaw is fit he can step in to give the youngster a little rest against Wolves. Young reportedly doesn’t want to be considered for selection, which leaves Shaw as the only possible option for the spot.
CDM – Nemanja Matic
Matic is very limited in what he offers but did bring a calm authority against Man City and Norwich. United’s midfield is heavily depleted in the absence of Messrs McTominay and Pogba, so I’d expect to see Matic – who also started in the first game – keep his place. Fred needs a rest and will play at Anfield so Matic can do a job in this one. Although he’s slow and doesn’t go forward, the Serbian veteran can help his younger colleagues and his muscle will ensure that Wolves agile midfield won’t give their United counterparts the runaround.
CDM – Andreas Pereira
Started against Norwich and will likely do so again here. It will be him or Fred for the other position in front of the back four with Solskjaer likely to stick with his favoured 4-2-3-1 system. As already mentioned, Fred has played virtually every minute of late and the busy Brazilian deserves a breather. For that reason, I’d put Pereira – who can also play as a 10 – here and task him with starting United’s attacks from deep.
RW – Angel Gomes
This might come as a surprise to many but I can see Gomes starting. United’s forgotten man has been brought back in from the cold by Solskjaer and came on in the last two games. He looked decent too to be fair and I think there’s a player in him. Whether he’s done enough to get a new contract I’m not sure but with Dan James rested, Gomes will start on the right of United’s attacking quartet on Wednesday as Ole takes another look at the young England starlet.
CAM – Juan Mata
Please not Jesse Lingard. I genuinely feel sorry for him now. Mata was given a rare start against Norwich and picked up two assists as he was named man of the match. Against the likes of Liverpool he’s ineffective but Mata can really influence a game like this one. He proved he’s still got the magic in those boots of his and in a Reds that don’t create much, the burden will be on the ageing but affable Spaniard. His vision, ability to find space and lock-picking ability will be key. This midfield has a large Bruno Fernandes sized hole in it waiting to be filled.
LW – Tahith Chong
Another youngster, Chong started in the first game at Molineux and with Marcus Rashford rested, will do so again here. An unused sub against City and Norwich, it’s fair to say the Curacao 20-year-old has divided opinion. Jesse Lingard should be nowhere near this side, and James will sit out along with Rashford leaving Chong as the only viable option on the left. It’s difficult to say what sort of player this lad is and Solskjaer doesn’t seem convinced by him. But he should be given another chance to shine against Wolves in a youthful selection.
CF – Mason Greenwood
Anthony Martial is into double figures for the season and notched his eleventh of the campaign on Saturday. Scoring and working hard, Martial has done well as an out and out number nine but Mason Greenwood has enjoyed a metronomic debut campaign. He’s grabbed himself nine goals already and added to his tally with a trademark finish against the Canaries off the bench at the weekend. Martial and Rashford will sit this one out paving the way for 18 year old Robin Mason van Greenwood to lead the line. This boy is a generational talent and a player you look forward to seeing every time he plays. I expect him to start against the side from the west Midlands.
Both sides will field much changed and likely youthful line ups. That always has an effect on the flow and dynamic of a game, and both United and Wolves have much bigger fish to fry. Locked together in a battle for a European spot in the Premier League and Europa League glory on the continent, these two well-matched sides should produce an intriguing showdown. United have generally been good at Old Trafford and will be on a high after their weekend win whereas Wolves have plateaued a little. I think United will just about edge this one.
Manchester United 2-1 Wolves