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Starting XI: Wolves vs. Manchester United

Back to the Molineux again. Gulp.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - Premier League - Molineux Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Manchester United’s quest for FA Cup #13 starts on Saturday at Wolves. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.

(1) On New Year’s Day, Manchester United fell 2-0 at Arsenal. That result keeps the Reds stuck in fifth, wasting a golden chance to draw closer to Chelsea for the final Champions League spot. The only bright spot is that all of the clubs immediately below United also lost. Silver linings and all that.

(2) The worst news of the day, though, came from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when discussing Paul Pogba’s omission from the match-day squad:

He’s injured now and he’ll probably need an operation on his foot. Let’s see how long it takes for him to get back. We’ve had scans and, while it’s nothing major, it’s something that has to be sorted and dealt with. He’s been advised to do it as soon as possible. We’ve had a consultant looking at him and the club has done the scans. It’s a big blow that Paul is out now — he’ll probably be out for three or four weeks.

(3) Solskjaer also confirmed that Scott McTominay will miss a few months with injured knee ligaments. Fred and Nemanja Matić weren’t completely wretched against Arsenal, but offer little hope of improvement going forward. What you see is what you get with those two. Let’s see if Pogba’s setback and McTominay’s injury shakes loose any of the Glazers’ money while the January transfer window is open.

(4) After the Arsenal loss, Robin van Persie (one of my top Manchester United players from the last decade) offered his diagnosis of the club’s biggest problem...

(5) This will be Manchester United’s second trip to Molineux this season. Back in August, Anthony Martial fired the Reds ahead in the 27th minute, before Ruben Neves bent a second-half equalizer into the top corner. Since Wolves returned to the Premier League in 2018, United have yet to win there in four tries.

(6) Much like Manchester United a few weeks ago, Wolves were stymied by Nigel Pearson’s Watford 2-1 on New Year’s Day. Despite holding 64% possession and playing the final twenty minutes with a man advantage, Wolves struggled to convert their dominance into meaningful scoring opportunities. The lone bright spot: Pedro Neto scored his first Premier League goal, bouncing back admirably after running afoul of VAR last week at Anfield.

(7) The Reds should feel lucky that this cup tie comes early in the month. After a summer of pretty big spending — £42 million to keep both Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker, £23 million for Patrick Cutrone, £18 million combined for Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao — Wolves look poised to make a January splash. Nuno Espirito Santo on his transfer window plans:

I truly believe there is a lot of space to improve because, the way we do things, we have a very small squad. The players involved are basically the same as we had last season, so if we can improve our performance and, now that the transfer window is open, try to bring in things the team clearly needs. There is a lot of space to improve.

(8) Solskjaer, meanwhile, remains upbeat after missing out on Erling Haaland:

I’m optimistic we can keep players fit and, if the right ones become available, we do have the resources and I do have the backing from the board. But it’s also about getting the right ones. It has to be. There’s no point suddenly bringing someone else in now for the sake of three or four months if that can disrupt any good feeling or chemistry in the group. It has to be the right investment for the long term, as well.

(9) Last season, Wolves knocked Manchester United out of this competition at the quarterfinal stage. In truth, it was an easy win for the hosts, with second-half goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota proving the difference. Marcus Rashford scored a late consolation goal, but the Reds need a far stronger performance this weekend if they hope for a better result.

(10) Adama Traore’s speed kills. Typically deployed on the right side of attack, he requires constant defensive attention — and more than a few tactical fouls, too. The 23-year-old Traore, who came of age in the Barcelona youth setup, has won many admirers this season and will likely be a hot commodity come summer. Some reports out of Spain even suggest a move to Real Madrid could be on the cards. Considering Luke Shaw struggled mightily against Nicolas Pepe on Wednesday, this might be one for the young legs of Brandon Williams.

(11) Before their loss at Watford, Wolves had been one of the hottest sides in the Premier League. Since the end of October, they had only lost twice — to Tottenham Hotspur and at Liverpool last weekend. The Spurs loss, in fact, is their only home defeat since September. Molineux is never an easy place to play, even if Wolves find themselves in a rare downturn in form.