Wolves v Manchester United | Sunday 4th January 2020, 17:30 | BT Sport
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes his Manchester United side to Molineux on Saturday evening in the FA Cup, as the Red Devils look to bounce back from a disappointing result away at Arsenal on New Year’s Day.
Back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Burnley had shown signs of improvement after a defeat to Watford, but United were comprehensively outplayed as Arsenal eased to victory, and it will be a tough task in the Midlands.
Wolves will be looking to respond to successive losses, with a surprise defeat to 10-man Watford leaving the Old Gold seventh, but still firmly in the running for a European place.
As a result, the level of rotation Nuno Espirito Santo will opt for will be particularly interesting, although with a midweek break finally arriving after this game, he may opt to field a strong side, and sense the opportunity to beat a struggling United side.
United’s midfield woes
Manchester United have a League Cup semi-final in midweek to factor into their planning, and this could lead to Solskjaer to prioritising that clash, and an already stretched squad could see youngsters given opportunities.
Injuries are mounting for the Red Devils, and a worrying lack of depth in midfield is a cause for concern, as they sorely missed both Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay in the defeat to Arsenal, as Mesut Ozil was able to put in a top-class performance and cause the defence plenty of problems.
Nemanja Matic was easily overrun by Arsenal’s energy – if the Serbian is start again on Saturday, he could be in for a torrid time against the classy midfield duo of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, who will look to dominate the ball and control the game.
As is often the case for United in these games, they will look to counter the Wolves attack and try and hit the pockets of space in behind, utilising the likes of Anthony Martial, Dan James and Marcus Rashford on the break, if the trio are to start.
There will be spaces in behind with Wolves’ wing backs expected to push high, but the three centre backs are well equipped to defend against United forwards pace in behind. This allows Wolves to step up and take the game to the Red Devils, further reinforcing that they should be able to overrun the midfield and dominate, and with Juan Mata in line for a start, they may struggle for control in the middle.
The counter-attacking football doesn’t get the best out of Mata, and this will cause problems for Solskjaer’s side, whilst it is a similar problem for Andreas Pereira in the same role, although he does offer more from a defensive point of view.
Wolves to target wide areas
The full-backs are expected to be rotated once again for United, with Brandon Williams and Ashley Young coming in, and up against the attacking threat of Adama Traore and Diogo Jota, they could both in be in for a long evening.
Jota will be fresh after being rested against Watford, and Nuno will look to target the United flanks with the wingers and wing backs overlapping, and given the weakness they were able to exploit in the draw back in August with Traore out wide and Rashford’s lack of defensive cover, it means that Wolves should utilise this approach once again.
With the centre backs also potentially being rotated for United, Raul Jimenez will relish the opportunity up against a backline that could include Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe, and his aerial threat, coupled with the ability to get in behind the United full backs to provide crosses, should see Wolves have plenty of joy down these avenues.
The betting angles
As a result, there are a number of interesting angles for this game, and the first port of call is the card market. It has been well documented the torrid time Traore has been giving the opposition full backs, and he was able to run rings around Luke Shaw in the earlier meeting between the two sides, as Rashford’s lack of defensive work left him exposed.
Youngster Brandon Williams is up against Traore on Saturday, and the youngster has already seen four yellow cards in four Premier League starts, and priced at 7/2 (SkyBet), he takes appeal on the card markets.
As aforementioned, I expect Wolves to dominate and utilise the wide areas to cause United problems, and with them looking to get in behind the Red’s backline, the corner markets take appeal.
Wolves are averaging 5.67 corners in league games, and for the reasons discussed, they should be on the front foot in this game, increasing the likelihood of a high corner count. As a result, available at 1/1 (SkyBet), Wolves to have Over 5.5 Corners is a worthy angle of attack.