FA Cup 3rd Round Replay: January 15, 2020 at 2:45 pm ET (Old Trafford)
FREE SOCCER Pick Manchester United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves without a win at Old Trafford since 1980, but haven’t lost to United in all competitions since 2012
Manchester United take on Wolverhampton Wanderers in a 3rd Round Replay fixture at Old Trafford. Both teams have been largely inconsistent this season, after much was expected of them at the starting of the season. However, they will both definitely feel they are in a better position than a a couple of months back; Nuno Espirito Santo and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer have marshalled their outfits to the Round of 32 of the Europa League and find themselves in a position to qualify for the tournament again, despite blowing hot and cold for most of the season. United also made it to the Carabao Cup semi-final, but their chances of winning the trophy look bleak after a 3-1 loss to rivals Manchester City at home in the first leg.
It is proving to be an increasingly daunting task to evaluate the Red Devils under Solksjaer. When the Norwegian replaced Jose Mourinho, many fans were unhappy due to his lack of experience at the top level – his CV only had stints with Cardiff City, who were relegated and Molde in his hometown country. However, as caretaker manager, he guided them to six Premier League wins in a row and briefly brought out the energy and high-intensity football United have been known for. However, it all dropped substantially over time and now, as a permanent manager who has also made the club spend quite some money on transfers, Solksjaer’s side continue to be as inconsistent as ever which show glimpses of quality every now and then and slowly fade away again. Their recent run of results corroborate with this more than ever. Consecutive wins over Newcastle (4-1) and Burnley (0-2) was followed by a disastrous performance and loss at Arsenal (0-2). They then drew with Wolves in the FA Cup before another horrendous performance saw them lose to City at home and dealt a severe blow to their chances of lifting silverware this season. This was followed by some scintillating football in the 4-0 victory over Norwich at home.
What makes the task of studying United even harder is the haphazard manner in which the points have come. Solksjaer’s side remain the only team to have taken points off Liverpool in the League this season in a 1-1 draw at home – a match in which they led the unbeaten league leaders for 85 minutes. They have also thrashed Chelsea 4-0, beaten Leicester 1-0 and gotten the better of Mourinho’s Tottenham 2-1, all at home, apart from defeating City 2-1 at the Etihad, with the latter two occurring in the same week. However, United have gone on to drop points at home to Everton, Aston Villa and Bournemouth as well. The Red Devils seem to throw surprises every week, which give the Internet and neutrals plenty to cheer about, but the club and its faithful will be fuming at the lack of consistency and control.
Wolves, however have proven how dangerous they can be several times over the last few seasons. Nuno has changed the side, not just tactically but psychologically and the club continue to challenge and even torment the ‘Big Six’ of the English top-tier. This season, though, they have struggled on occasion and their last five results show both their daring nature and quality but also their misgivings. A 3-2 victory over City at home, which meant Nuno’s team had completed the League double over the defending champions, was followed by narrow losses at Liverpool (1-0) and Watford (2-1). These results have in turn been precedents to home draws with United in the FA Cup and Newcastle (1-1) in the League. The inconsistency is a problem that they will want to sort out, but Wolves can take heart from the fact that they have made top teams struggle yet again this season. They have taken points off City (twice) and Arsenal, apart from fighting tooth and nail with the likes of United, Spurs and Liverpool. And it is not to be forgotten that it was Wolves that sent United packing in the FA Cup quarter-finals last season. A repeat of the result, but in an earlier round, is a very real possibility if the side can perform to the levels they have shown they are capable of.
FREE SOCCER Prediction Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Manchester United
Last Time Out
Wolves and United played out a goalless stalemate at the Molineux in the initial clash. Both sides were non-committal in attack and stable, though not significantly water-tight, in defence. The visitors failed to threaten the Wolves backline for much of the game, but almost scored through substitute and star forward, Marcus Rashford whose strike deflected off a heroic last-ditch sliding block by Conor Coady and hit the crossbar. Wolves also had a couple of decent chances through substitute Raul Jimenez, who hit the post, and Matt Doherty who was denied by a stunning one-hand stop by second-choice keeper, Sergio Romero. Doherty also went on to put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out as the ball had hit his arm on the way through. On the whole, the 0-0 was a fair result, but given the explosive capacity of both teams, it is unlikely that the same will follow at Old Trafford.
Rashford has been United’s talisman this season and will need to step up like he has done on several occasions this term if the hosts are to progress. The young Englishman has already racked up 14 top-flight goals this season and has looked dangerous every time he has taken to the pitch. Rashford will know that United will need to get the first goal and as early as possible. He will also know that the Red Devils will be dependent on him to create that goal and set the tone for the rest of the game. Be it his incisive dribbling, explosive bursts of pace or ice-cool finishing, the 22-year old has displayed the quality that brought him to the top and if all goes well, will keep him there for many years to come.
Defensive midfielder Fred will also have to be an imposing presence at the centre of the park if United are to get past Wolves. The Brazilian has continuously developed after his poor start to the season and has become a vital cog in the red machine of Manchester. Nuno’s preferred 3-4-3 formation suffocated United, who could just not find enough space to move forward before Rashford’s introduction, at the Molineux. If they are to break through, it will require not only the pace of their forwards, but also the tenacity and vision of Fred and his companion in the engine room. Wolves’s physicality will also be difficult to counter, but a solid performance from the 26-year old will go a long way in shutting them out.
Adama Traore will be Wolves’s biggest weapon in the match-up at Old Trafford. The winger has tormented the best of defenses and has really picked up form in the last couple of months. Traore is not only an attacking threat with immense dribbling skills and a lethal shot, but also possesses a fantastic work-rate and tracks back well to defend making him an absolute asset. His performance in the 2-0 victory at City is testament to this statement – apart from scoring both the goals, Traore also kept Raheem Sterling silent almost throughout the game. United’s backline, especially the left side has looked fragile several times this season with Harry Maguire in particular struggling against forwards with quick feet. A performance anywhere close to the one against City from Traore might very well see United get knocked out on their home turf.
Joao Moutinho will be the other Wolves player who can impact this match massively. The Portuguese midfielder only made a substitute appearance in the match at the Molineux, but the amount of stability in midfield and substance in attack he provided his team with after coming on was unmissable. Moutinho’s passing range, vision and close-control are all excellent and he has thrived in Nuno’s system. In short, he possesses most of the elements that United are often found to be lacking in midfield. If the 33-year old can perform to his best abilities, it will bolster the possibilities of a Wolves victory.
Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay will still be unavailable to play, with both yet to recover from injuries. Apart from them however, Solksjaer should have all of his first team players to choose from for this crunch clash.
Predicted Line-up: Romero; Williams, Maguire, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka; Fred, Matic; James, Pereira, Martial; Rashford.
Nuno Espirito Santo is likely to have his entire first-team contingent for this clash.
Predicted Line-up: Patricio; Saiss, Coady, Dendoncker; Doherty, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny; Neto, Jimenez, Traore.