MATCH PREVIEW: Manchester United vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

WOLVERHAMPTON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Nani (L) of Manchester United controls the ball to shoot and score the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United at Molineux on February 5 2011 in Wolverhampton England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Currently reeling after a shocking failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout stages, Manchester United will be forced to get back in the saddle on Saturday when they host Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford in a Premier League tie. These two sides faced each other thrice last season, once in the Carling Cup and twice in league. The Carling Cup match was a Round 4 thriller and it was Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) who scored a 90th minute winner at Old Trafford during United's 3-2 victory. The first league game between these two last season occurred just a few weeks after the Carling Cup game. Once again at Old Trafford, and once again in a match full of drama, it was a Park Ji-sung brace that led his side to a 2-1 victory. The Korean's second goal occurred in stoppage time. During the reverse fixture at the Molineux, Wolves earned revenge by being the first side last season to defeat United in league.


Form Guide: United currently sit 2nd in the league table. A victory versus Wolves would allow United to cut the gap to two point on leaders Manchester City ahead of Roberto Mancini side's Monday night clash with Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge. United have scored only a single goal for seven successive league matches -- this includes a 1-0 victory scoreline in four of their past five fixtures. In European competition, the Reds have embarrassingly been relegated to the Europa League after their failure to earn a result versus FC Basel during the midweek. A week prior to that saw United shockingly eliminated from the Carling Cup after their home defeat to Championship side Crystal Palace.

Team News: The obvious big news of the week is that captain Nemanja Vidic has been ruled for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury sustained at the midweek. In addition, Chicharito, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, and Michael Owen all continue to be out due to long-term injury. Rafael and Fabio both received knocks during the Palace match and each is unavailable. Striker Dimitar Berbatov is possible for Saturday's match but whether or not he can train today will help Fergie determine his availability.


Form Guide: Wolves come into the match sitting 16th in the league table. While they have a decent record at home, it is their away form that causes them to be so near the relegation zone. In Wolves' seven matches away from the Molineux this season, they have only earned a single victory and a single draw -- their five most recent away matches have all resulted in defeats. Mick McCarthy's side was eliminated from the Carling Cup in Round 4 again when they were defeated by City.

Team News: The only health concern is the hamstring injury for Jody Craddock. The center-back is considered a doubt for this match.


United: The plethora of injuries at United significantly narrows the selection options for Manager Sir Alex Ferguson. In goal, expect to see No. 1 David De Gea but backup Anders Lindegaard is a possibility as well. With the injury to Vidic and with the concern of whether Rio Ferdinand is fit enough to play a third match in an eight-day span, selection at center-back is difficult to project. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones are all possible to start while of one of the latter two is likely to start at right-back. Patrice Evra is likely at left-back.

In central-midfield, both Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick should be well rested and each is a strong candidate to start. Jones has started the past two matches for United in central-midfield and he is an option as well. 38-year-old Ryan Giggs may be rested after playing the full 90 minutes versus Basel at the midweek. Out wide, Nani, Park Ji-sung, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are all possibilities. The latter did not play at the midweek and he could feature on the right flank.

Up top, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are strong possibilities to start. However, there may be concern on the fitness of the latter as he has only recently returned from a muscle strain. Federico Macheda is a possibility for a surprise start due to the numerous injuries and fitness concerns for United's strikers.

Wolves: In goal for McCarthy's side, No. 1 Wayne Hennessey is a near certainty. In central-defense, Christophe Berra is expected to start and he is most likely to be partnered by Roger Johnson, especially if Craddock is unavailable. At left-back, Stephen Ward is probable to start but George Elokobi is possible if Ward starts in midfield. This combination on the left flank was recently used versus Chelsea. On the right flank, Richard Stearman is likely to start but Ronald Zubar is a possibility as well.

In midfield, Jamie O'Hara and Karl Henry are projected to start and if a third player is used in the center of the park, David Edwards is possible too. Adlene Guedioura has also earned a few starts in recent matches. Out wide, wingers Stephen Hunt and Matthew Jarvis are probable.

Up front, Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher are the first-choice strikers when McCarthy uses two strikers. When a single striker is used, the choice is usually Doyle to anchor the attack. However, Fletcher bagged a brace last weekend versus Sunderland and perhaps McCarthy will seek to get his in-form striker on the pitch.


* Contain Wolves' left-sided attack: 43% of Wolves' attack comes from their left side -- 4% more than any other side in the Premier League. What this means is that Wolves are dependent on the likes of Stephen Hunt, Stephen Ward, and Matthew Jarvis (when he switches over to the left flank) for incisiveness in attack. Because he is rest and because he generally does well to track back and defend, it is very possible that Antonio Valencia plays on that side in attack. If Valencia, along with either Jones or Smalling, is able to nullify Wolves' attack down this side, then United will have done well to starve their opponents of creative ideas in attack.

* Life without Vidic: Nemanja Vidic being out for the season means the absence of one of the best aerial duel defenders in the world. Kevin Doyle of Wolves is an aerial target for Wolves as the striker is a vital target for crosses that are sent into the box and he also is an outlet when the ball is hoofed up to him. Jonny Evans may serve as a replacement on Saturday but he is not in the same class as the man he may be deputising for. In the Premier League this season, here is a comparison of Vidic versus Evans in some important statistical categories: Aerial duels won 75%-67%, tackles per game 1.0-0.8, clearances per game 12.8-7.1.

* United need to be more clinical near goal: The recent matches versus Basel, Aston Villa, and Newcastle has seen United create numerous chances but each one resulted in the Reds only bagging a single goal. The quality of these chances can be debated but the finishing has been far from clinical. Fergie's side is likely to create chances on Saturday at Old Trafford but can Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Nani find their goalscoring form? With Chicharito out due to ligament damage in his ankle, United need someone in attack to step up and provide consistent goals.

Odds: Manchester United 1/5, Draw 5/1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 12/1

TBB prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

KO: December 10 - 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST

TV: ESPN2 (U.S.), ESPN3 (internet)

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