Things are bad at Manchester United at the moment but surely – surely – even we can’t lose this one. Right?
A pitch that looks like a beach, wounded giants out of form and an underdog baying for the blood of another Premier League scalp. Upset territory. League One strugglers Tranmere knocked out an admittedly understrength Watford at the third time of asking to set up this FA Cup fourth round tie with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
The other Merseysiders have earned successive promotions from the National League into the third tier, and the two sides have only ever met once before, in a League Cup back in 1976 (United won 5-0).
Solskjaer is expected to name a line-up that’s as strong as possible for the fourth round tie at Tranmere’s Prenton Park with this competition presenting United’s only realistic chance of silverware. However, there will be changes too and a mix of the usual youth and experience.
GK – Sergio Romero
The Argentine will deputise in a cup match once again with David de Gea to get a breather. No problem at all with Romero, he’s as good a number two as you can have and shouldn’t expect too busy an afternoon. Romero is Solskjaer’s trusty cup keeper and never lets anyone down. We expect him to start at Prenton Park.
RB – Diogo Dalot
Dalot has had an injury ravaged season but with Aaron Wan-Bissaka having played 90 minutes week in week out, this gives Solskjaer the ideal opportunity to rest him. AWB was the only player to emerge with any credit from the Burnley debacle on Wednesday and has been a rare bright spot in a season of discontent.
CB – Victor Lindelof
Lindelof has recovered from the illness that saw miss the tie with Burnley on Wednesday. Solskjaer confirmed that the Swede is in contention to return against Tranmere, but on the other hand he could decide not to risk him. If so, it’s likely he’ll go with either Harry Maguire (who needs a rest) or Phil Jones (who needs…..to be shipped out asap!) but we reckon Lindelof gets the nod. The pitch looks tricky but he shouldn’t be tested too much.
CB – Eric Bailly
The forgotten man is back after five months out with a knee injury. Despite the less than forgiving playing surface and “divots” described by Solskjaer, the manager will hand the Ivorian his long-awaited return. A good player no doubt, it’s a shame he’s made of glass and that his career has been wrecked by injury. Bailly has played for the Under 23s and turned out in a behind-closed-doors game in midweek, hinting at a return to competitive action here.
LB – Luke Shaw
Now undoubtedly second fiddle to Brandon Williams, Shaw nonetheless featured in both of United’s last two fixtures. Like so many of the squad, Williams is in danger of being overplayed so it makes sense to give him the afternoon off. We expect Shaw to deputise at left-back, and although the surface presents its owns issues, he should have enough to keep the opposition wingers in check.
CM – James Garner
All of Garner’s six appearances have come in Europe and the Carabao Cup, having not played since the win over Colchester in mid December. There’s nothing to be gained by playing the likes of Fred or the anodyne Andreas against a League One side, I’ve been impressed with Garner and I’d like to see him get another chance. With midfield personnel already depleted, we can’t risk any further injuries.
CM – Nemanja Matic (c)
Young sides need experienced heads and in the likely absence of Harry Maguire, Matic could captain a youthful-looking Reds side. His form has been solid recently and despite his lack of pace and limited ability, he shouldn’t be asked too many questions here. Tranmere are likely to be scenting blood, so Matic’s know how in calming things down and getting hold of the midfield might be key.
RW – Daniel James
James started his United career like an express train but has hit the buffers in recent weeks. Looking devoid of both energy and industry, this is an ideal game in which to build up his confidence again. It’s easy to forget he came from the Championship and the expectation and pressure has perhaps been too much too soon. Patience is required
CAM – Juan Mata
Jesse Lingard and Pereira are both incompatible as a no.10, which leaves in-form Mata as United’s go to lock picker in this position. Had an off night against Burnley, but he certainly wasn’t alone there. He came into that midweek tie in fine fettle having been at his string-pulling best against Norwich and Wolves. Had an impact when he came on against Liverpool, too. Despite his declining years, he remains a very good squad player, ideal for games such as this one.
LW – Angel Gomes
Has clearly worked his way back into his manager’s thoughts of late having been involved against Manchester City and Norwich as well as being on the bench in the defeat to Burnley. United have a dearth of left wingers and although its not the 19-year old’s natural position, he can certainly do a job there. Yet to sign a new deal with the club, he’s one of six Academy graduates promoted to a youthful squad this season by Solskjaer.
CF – Mason Greenwood
Mason Greenwood is expected to start up top in an effort to end United’s two-game goal drought. With the injury to Marcus Rashford having struck the biggest of blows, the pressure will be on the teenager to add to his nine goals this term. Anthony Martial is set to be given the afternoon off – probably watching from the bench – and can be pressed into service later in the match if needed. Should have started against Burnley and definitely should do here too.
Prediction: A small stadium, a capacity crowd, a weather beaten pitch and a fallen footballing giant arriving in bad nick. This has all the ingredients of a classic FA Cup upset. As already mentioned, United hit five in the only previous meeting 43 years ago but this one will definitely be closer. United’s squad is weak and paper thin but should still have enough to get past the League One club, particularly as they only played their Third Round replay on Thursday. We’re going for a narrow United win.
Tranmere 1-2 Man Utd