Five things to watch out for as Manchester United host Wolves in the Premier League

Finally the comfort of home.

After two chastening losses away from home against West Ham United and Brighton, Erik ten Hag’s charges return to Old Trafford to host Wolves. United have made a meal out of a straightforward-looking top-four race but now it’s time to tighten their grip on a top-four place with three home games to go.

Here are five things to watch out for as Manchester United host Wolves in a pivotal fixture for the UEFA Champions League qualification race:

Is the fatigue gone?

This is, of course, a rhetorical question. A season’s worth of fatigue, having played a game nearly every 3 days, does not disappear with a week’s rest. Still, considering United’s schedule up to this point, Ten Hag and his players will have been relieved to see this fixture scheduled seven days after playing West Ham.

Having a full week to prepare for a game has been a scarcity this season and injuries have piled up. Now at home, playing after a week, after enjoying two days off in the week, the Old Trafford faithful will expect a result. The season now is down to four finals to reach the Champions League next season. There can be no excuses.

Injury luck – One step forward, two steps back

In an unexpected boost to United’s chances, Ten Hag confirmed that Raphael Varane is back and available for the game against Wolves. However, that boost was accompanied by doom and gloom as he also informed that Marcus Rashford is a big doubt due to a leg injury.

Varane’s return will strengthen a makeshift backline that has been run into the ground. Luke Shaw, despite putting in brilliant displays in the middle of the defence, will probably go back to left-back.

However, Rashford is irreplaceable. 29 goals in all competitions like form can’t be conjured out of thin air and it will now be up to Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, Antony, and the returning Alejandro Garnacho to carry the burden. Rashford’s goals have brought the club near the finish line. Now his teammates need to help him cross it.

The midfield battle – Ruben Neves’ audition?

The trio of Casemiro-Eriksen-Fernandes suffered their first defeat in 21 games against West Ham United. Their previous record from 20 games was a remarkable 16 wins and four draws.

All three players have played more than expected due to the huge drop-off in quality when rotated and going up against Ruben Neves and seasoned campaigner Joao Moutinho is another challenge.

It is expected that both are playing their last few games for the club. Ruben Neves, in particular, has been linked to Manchester United. His all-action play and leadership qualities would undoubtedly enhance United’s midfield and add to the growing Portuguese contingent at the club.

Players play at Old Trafford like it’s a final, for Ruben Neves, it could be much more than that. United’s midfield needs to be aware of his howitzers from outside the box.

All eyes on David de Gea

Four errors directly leading to a goal this season have Manchester United’s 4x Player of the Year firmly in the spotlight. Erik ten Hag’s arrival has not benefitted De Gea, as he has looked like a deer in headlights at times when asked to play a more modern sweeper-keeper role.

He let Said Benrahma’s shot slip underneath him in the last game which condemned United to another away defeat. Now with increasing scrutiny on his future and expiring contract, David de Gea will need to pull out his A-game for the last five games of the season. Whether United buy a new keeper or not, his performances now will decide if he starts next season as the No1 or not. The clock is ticking.

Looking for a reaction

Manchester United have had embarrassing losses this season. However, faith has remained in Erik ten Hag because of how this team has always responded to setbacks. Be it bouncing back from the 7-0 loss to Liverpool by blowing away Real Betis, or upsetting the odds be beating Liverpool 2-1 after getting hammered by Brentford 4-0, United are always up for a reaction.

However, this trait was nowhere to be seen against West Ham United. The game followed the loss to Brighton and United put up arguably a worse performance against the Hammers. The lack of rest was a mitigating factor, something even opposition manager David Moyes alluded to for United.

There needs to be a reaction now. Rashford available or not, this United side should have more than enough to put away a Wolves team that has nothing to play for. They are safe from relegation, and not qualifying for Europe. A loss here, or even dropped points in a draw would lead to serious questions about the team and the manager.

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More Stories Bruno Fernandes Casemiro Christian Eriksen Erik ten Hag Manchester United Marcus Rashford Raphael Varane Ruben Neves Wolves


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