A place in the FA Cup semi-finals will be on the line when Manchester United face off against Wolves in their Last Eight clash at Molineux on Saturday.
Club football will take a break for a fortnight of international fixtures after this weekend. But before that, the FA Cup quarter-finals will be on the agenda for eight sides from England, with the eye catching tie pitting Wolves against Manchester United in the final game on Saturday at Molineux.
Wolves are one of the many giant killers left in the FA Cup, having knocked Liverpool out in the third round back in January. Their most recent fixture saw Nuno Espirito Santo’s men narrowly beat Bristol City 1-0 courtesy an Ivan Cavaleiro goal to set up the quarter-final date with Manchester United.
The visitors, on the other hand, have had a tough road to the Last Eight stage, having had to get past Arsenal and Chelsea en route to booking a place in the latest round. And, the trip to face Wolves at Molineux will be another major test of the credentials of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
Wolves recent form has been a bit hit and miss, although the hosts did impress in their 1-1 draw against Chelsea last weekend. Manchester United, meanwhile, saw their unbeaten domestic run under Solskjaer being snapped last Sunday by Arsenal, who handed them a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates.
The two clubs have already locked horns once this season, with Wolves holding Manchester United to a 1-1 draw in a Premier League tie at Old Trafford back in September. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the FA Cup encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Nuno Espirito Santo has been known for his ability to keep his squad fresh for the most part this season, and on Saturday he will have what is a luxury for just about every manager at this stage of a season. The Wolves boss has his entire squad available to him ahead of the visit of Manchester United on Saturday.
Ryan Bennett’s suspension does not carry over to the FA Cup, meaning the centre-back will be at Nuno’s disposal for the quarter-final clash. And, Bennett should slot into the back-three alongside captain Conor Coady and Willy Boly, with Roman Saiss dropping down to the bench.
Behind the three-man defence, John Ruddy ought to continue in goal for Wolves, as has been the case for cup games this season, something Nuno has alluded to. Meanwhile, the onus will once more be on the wing-back pairing of Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro, with the former, in fact, being the most prolific player remaining in the FA Cup.
The duo’s delivery from the wide areas will be key, especially with Manchester United looking vulnerable against crosses and long balls. In midfield, the trio of Ruben Neves, Joao Mourinho and Leander Dendoncker ought to start, with their primary responsibility being to sit back and absorb the pressure before moving the ball along at pace.
The front duo will yet again be Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez, who will need to show poacher’s instinct, just as they did against Chelsea in the very first clear-cut chance that Wolves created. Jimenez, in particular, has been in scintillating form this season and his performance will play a big part in affecting the result.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Ruddy; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Castro; Jimenez, Jota
Unlike his counterpart in the Wolves dugout, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not have the luxury of boasting a clean bill of health. But, there is some good news as a trio of first-teamers look set to return to the fray, although seven players could still miss out for Manchester United.
Phil Jones (illness), Ander Herrera (thigh) and Jesse Lingard (hamstring) have all trained this week and are in contention to feature in some capacity. But, Solskjaer is sweating over the fitness of in-form striker Romelu Lukaku, who is struggling with a sore foot.
Mason Greenwood, who has recently broken into the first-team setup, is also at the risk of missing out due to illness. The other four players are certain absentees – Matteo Darmian (knock, Antonio Valencia (calf), Juan Mata (hamstring) and Alexis Sanchez (knee).
Lingard’s return means Solskjaer could afford to keep Lukaku on the bench as an emergency option, in case things do not go United’s way. The returning Englishman should have the fit-again Anthony Martial and compatriot Marcus Rashford as his partners in attack, and Rashford’s performance will hold the key for the visitors.
In midfield, the Manchester United interim boss has the difficult decision to pick between Nemanja Matic and the resurgent Scott McTominay, particularly after the Serb’s subdued return to action last week. With the tie holding a lot of importance for the Red Devils, the first-choice trio of Matic, Herrera and Paul Pogba look likely to form the midfield trident on Saturday, although Fred has a case for continuing in the side as well.
At the back, Ashley Young will not be available due to a suspension incurred in the win over Chelsea last month. In his stead, Diogo Dalot is a natural replacement, with Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling picking themselves at the present moment. Behind them, Sergio Romero is the preferred choice in goal for cup games and should start ahead of David de Gea.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Romero; Dalot, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Matic; Lingard, Pogba, Martial; Rashford
- Thursday’s FA Cup quarter-final will be the 100th meeting between the two sides in all competitions. Manchester United, then known as Newton Heath, won the first game 10-1 in a league encounter in October 1892.
- Manchester United and Wolves are meeting in the FA Cup quarter-finals for the fourth time. The Red Devils are yet to be beaten at this stage by their hosts, having won 5-3 and 3-2 at Molineux in 1965 and 1976, respectively, while the original tie at Old Trafford in 1976 had ended 1-1.
- Only Arsenal (13) have won the FA Cup more times than Manchester United (12).
- Manchester United’s seven FA Cup goals this season have all been scored by different players: Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba.
- Matt Doherty has been involved in five FA Cup goals this season (three goals and two assists), more than any other player among the teams left in the competition.
Player to Watch
David de Gea may be the goalkeeping extraordinaire for Manchester United. But, in cup competitions, there has been absolutely no looking past the brilliant Sergio Romero, who has to be regarded as one of the best backup custodians in the game.
The Argentine may have turned out just 43 times for the Red Devils, but has an outstanding record of 27 clean sheets in those games, nine of which have come in his last 11 outings. So, one thing is certain; Romero does not appear to suffer from rustiness due the scarcity of game time. And, it is this sharpness that will likely come of use on Saturday.
Wolves are known to not miss a step when presented with opportunities in games against the best of sides, as seen to good effect against Chelsea last week. But, if Romero is at his best, there is a high chance that the hosts will end the night in a disappointment. Another big test for Romero, and one he should pass with flying colours for the umpteenth time.
Wolves 1-2 Manchester United
Saturday’s marquee FA Cup clash pits a side that has made it a habit to reserve their best in the games wherein they face the best against an outfit that is well and truly going through a resurgence despite a recent blip. And so, this is a game that is a hard one to call for us.
Wolves are sure to pose a major threat in Manchester United’s pursuit of a record equalling 13th FA Cup crown. But, after easing past Arsenal and Chelsea in two potentially nerve-wracking away ties in the previous two rounds, they should fancy themselves to outclass Wolves as well.
This time around, however, the game should be a little too close for comfort, although we believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will end up sealing safe passage through to the semi-finals. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Manchester United, in a result that should be sealed late into the game.