On Saturday evening, Premier League leaders Manchester United travel to the West Midlands to face Wolverhampton at Molineux Stadium. These two sides last clashed on 6 November, 2010 at Old Trafford, when Park Ji-Sung struck a winner two minutes into stoppage-time. Owen Hargreaves also made the match somewhat memorable when he made his only appearance of the season for the Red Devils, but was forced to be subbed off just ten minutes into the match after suffering another injury setback. Wolves come into the match in poor form and sit bottom of the table. Wolves' manager Mick McCarthy's fight to avoid relegation doesn't get any easier having to host unbeaten United, who have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions. However, in the past six weeks, Wolves have proven to be a worthy foe at times as they've defeated both Liverpool and Chelsea in that span, and narrowly lost to Manchester City at the Eastlands.
Wolves typically come out in a '4-4-1-1' shape. They play with two holding midfielders in the center of the pitch. When goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey gets the ball, he often just punts the ball to lone frontman Kevin Doyle, and wide players Matthew Jarvis and Adam Hammill run onto knock-downs. When Wolves are in possession of the ball, their goal is to swing the ball out wide and have their wingers whip in crosses to the penalty area. It's a very simple and direct way of playing football. They supplement this with tough-tackling and hard-work; United should anticipate Wolves pressing high up the pitch and playing with a high line in the defense.
More after the jump...
Wolves will be forced to play the match without Stephen Hunt and Sylvian Ebanks-Blake, both being unavailable due to injury. Hennessey has become Wolves No 1, taking the reigns from U.S. International Marcus Hahnemann. Christophe Berra and Richard Stearman anchor the defense and are the typical center-back pairing. Ronald Zubar is the starting right-back. Look for either Stephen Ward or George Elokobi at left-back. Skipper Karl Henry has been the holding midfielder in recent matches, sitting deep and right in front of his center-backs. It's likely that either David Jones or Nenad Milijas will partner Henry in the middle of the pitch. Jarvis plays out wide to the left and the winger is an integral part to the Wolves' attack. With the injury to Hunt, expect Hammill to man the right flank. Doyle is the lone frontman and is typically supported by Steven Fletcher in a withdrawn role. David Edwards has also played this withdrawn role in recent matches. Recent loan signing, Jamie O'Hara, is also a possibility for this role. Wolves have only scored 24 goals in 24 league matches, with Fletcher's and Ebanks-Blake's four each leading the way.
United have minor injury concerns coming into the match at Molineux. Antonio Valencia continues to be out, but is expected to resume training in the coming weeks. Park is available after returning from national team duty, and my guess is that he gives the 37 year-old Ryan Giggs a break after the Welshman logged heavy minutes in the South Korean's absence. Any two of Paul Scholes, Anderson, Darren Fletcher, or Michael Carrick could be called upon in the central midfield: my guess is Scholes and Anderson. Expect Nani on the right flank and for Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney to join the Portueguese international in the attack as the pairing up front. Skipper Nemanja Vidic will likely partner Rio Ferdinand at center-back. Expect Patrice Evra at left-back and if Rafael is recovered from his concussion suffered at Blackpool, he'll be the right-back choice. If the Brazilian is unable to go, expect either John O'Shea or Wes Brown to deputy for him. Here are my guesses for starting lineups and formations...
A few keys in the match:
* The biggest one for me, is just coming out focused and determined. United is a completely different team away from Old Trafford, and this is the type of match that has tripped them up this or caused them more trouble than necessary. If they can get an early goal, it could open up the match and force Wolves to open up and chase goals. This would potentially expose them on defense and allow United to put them away early. An early goal might be vital.
* If Vidic can erase Doyle from the match, then the Wolves' attack will be futile. They are dependent on sending long-balls into him from the defense or crosses to him from the flanks.
* The other point of attack for Wolves is from their wide players. If Park plays, he's a terrific defender for a wide player and he should be able to support Evra on that side in containing Hammill. Jarvis might have a bit more space to work with up the Wolves' left flank due to Nani playing so high up the pitch, so United's right-back is responsible for containing him.
Current Odds: Wolves 7/1, Draw 10/3, Manchester United 2/5
Prediction: Wolves 0-2 Manchester United
*CPC-damus correctly predicted Rooney's break-out last week. He likes Nani and Berba to get goals on Saturday.