Manchester United’s brutal run in the FA Cup continues on Saturday at the Molineux Stadium. To reach this quarterfinal tie with Wolves, the Reds defeated Arsenal and Chelsea — both away — and the bouncing balls did them no favors with another tough one this weekend. Nuno’s seventh-place Wolves are no pushovers. If United make it to Wembley, they’ve well earned the trip.
Both sides enter this match eager to bounce back from disappointing results the last time out. Wolves almost pulled off a famous victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend, only for Eden Hazard to spoil the party with a last-gasp equalizer.
At least they got a point. United lost their first Premier League match under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, wasting a golden chance to strengthen their top four spot. Now, they’re on the outside looking up at Arsenal.
In that 2-0 loss at the Emirates, United didn’t necessarily play badly, but noticeably lacked energy after the euphoric midweek win in Paris. The Reds had their chances — Romelu Lukaku, most of all — but wasted all of them. It was a day to forget for the entire United front line.
Still, there were positives. Fred played well for the second straight match, Anthony Martial and Nemanja Matić both returned from injury, and Mason Greenwood made his Premier League debut. Even better, Solskjaer hinted afterwards that United’s injury crisis might be at an end.
“With the injuries we’ve had lately, that’s given us a great chance to give players game time,” the caretaker manager said. “And they are coming back, maybe for Wolves. After the international break, we’ll have a full squad fit and the ones who’ve come in when the regulars have been injured have done really well. We’ll be ready for that.”
Ashley Young will miss Saturday with a one-match suspension (yellow card accumulation). With the right back spot open, Diogo Dalot’s gotta be the choice. He’s impressed at nearly every opportunity and deserves a prolonged run in the side. Plus, let’s not forget the unmitigated disaster of Eric Bailly at right back against PSG. Never again, please.
Another possible change: Sergio Romero in goal. In all three previous rounds of this competition, Solskjaer tabbed Romero over David De Gea. Can’t see him deviating from that plan now. It’s a nice way to give DDG a break, while also keeping his accomplished backup happy.
Supporters enjoyed getting a glimpse of the next generation in recent weeks, as Ole parceled out minutes and debuts to some of the academy’s top prospects. Don’t count on more of the same this weekend. Nicky Butt took Tahith Chong, James Garner, and Angel Gomes to Denmark for Wednesday’s UEFA Youth League loss to FC Midtjylland. Greenwood missed out through illness. This doesn’t definitively rule any of them out for the Wolves match, but the odds are stacked against their involvement.
Wolves, too, navigated a tough path to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals, defeating Liverpool earlier in the competition. That’s probably the club’s signature win of the season, although they came agonizingly close to equaling the feat last weekend. Chelsea might be struggling, but a win at Stamford Bridge doesn’t happen every day for a mid-table team.
“We have to bounce back, putting the [Chelsea] game behind our back and prepare for Saturday’s game, another big fight,” Nuno said. “It’s what we wanted, a good performance at a tough stadium against a very good team.”
“We must be fair to the game and realize we did very well. There were a lot of positives. We were very organized, always in shape, no space between us, being close to each other. We had to work very hard and our boys did that. Now, we prepare for the next game. It’s about preparing to compete. We don’t think of anything else.”
Make no mistake — their performance at Chelsea was no fluke. Wolves are now unbeaten in ten of eleven in all competitions. Their only loss? Huddersfield Town. Talk about a head-scratcher.
This Wolves squad strongly relies on its Portuguese connection, from Nuno in the dugout to every area of the playing staff. Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, and Diogo Jota regularly start in midfield, Rui Patricio in goal, and Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro up top.
But Neves, the undoubted star of the side, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this season. After wrecking the Championship a year ago, many expected him to continue his ascent in the top-flight. Not so much. Neves needs to start showing something if he’s hoping for a £100 million move to a big club this summer.
At Chelsea last weekend, Wolves mostly kept their opposition’s dangerous attackers at bay. While some might call the tactics a bit passive, Nuno arranged his side compactly to limit space in midfield and prevent the likes of Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain from getting in behind. Expect more of the same on Saturday.
This is a big match for Manchester United. With an international break looming afterwards, the Reds surely don’t want to spend the next two weeks stewing over consecutive losses. But, most importantly, the FA Cup remains the club’s best chance at silverware this season. One more win and it’s Wembley time.