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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Wolves

Can the Reds close out 2020 with one more win?

Manchester United Training Session Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Tuesday’s match:

(1) On Boxing Day, Manchester United were twice pegged back in a 2-2 draw with Leicester City. Goals from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes put the Reds on the verge of extending their away winning streak to eleven, but a late Axel Tuanzebe own goal ensured both sides would split the spoils. A decent result for United, as almost all of their competitors at the top also dropped points.

(2) Tuanzebe was only on the pitch because Victor Lindelöf left in the 66th minute with a recurrence of his back injury. With Aaron Wan-Bissaka out, Lindelöf filled in at right back and Eric Bailly partnered Harry Maguire in central defense. If Lindelöf joins AWB on the sidelines for any length of time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be forced to juggle his backline during a very busy period of the season.

(3) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Manchester United’s defensive injuries:

I don’t know how badly Victor [Lindelöf] is hurt now. Axel [Tuanzebe] played really well at Everton, I have to say. It was his first game for a long while after a hamstring injury, so I couldn’t risk him in a 12:30 kickoff in a full game. Eric [Bailly] played really well. He’s been fitter for longer than Axel and, with [Jamie] Vardy’s pace as well, you’re always happy to have Eric in the team. Hopefully, Victor won’t be too bad and Aaron [Wan-Bissaka] can recover very soon but, at the moment, Axel is now ready for Tuesday if needed.

(4) A worrying look at the suddenly porous Manchester United defense:

(5) Good read by Jonathan Wilson on the massive importance of Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United:

Reliance on Bruno Fernandes causes problems for Manchester United

(6) There’s a sense that Nuno Espirito Santo has yet to take the parking brake off of this Wolves team. Of course, part of that is down to Raul Jimenez’s catastrophic injury — but Wolves might also be suffering from having lost too much talent this summer. Diogo Jota (Liverpool) and Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur) both left and were never adequately replaced. Whatever the reason, Wolves play at a patient pace that borders on plodding. They don’t press particularly high up the pitch, instead preferring to stay in position and limit any open space.

(7) Wolves opened themselves up a bit against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday by switching to a back four and playing an extra attacker. Of course, Spurs scored in the first minute which likely had Nuno ruing that bit of adventure. His decision to abandon Wolves’ customary back three was likely due to the injury to Willy Boly. If Boly is ready to rejoin Conor Coady and Romain Saiss in the backline on Tuesday, don’t be surprised if Wolves go right back to their usual 3-4-1-2.

(8) Raul Jimenez, who scored 27 goals last season, remains out with a skull fracture. Wolves sorely miss his goals — after all, he’s been involved in 43% of their scores since 2018 — but Jimenez’s importance stretches far beyond the scoresheet. His hold-up play really benefited other attackers like Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence, who could make runs into the box knowing that he would reward them. Everything has gotten more static without Jimenez.

(9) Fabio Silva, signed for £35 million from Porto, needs to step up in Jimenez’s absence. Unfortunately, the 18-year-old has scored just once this season and looks more like a long-term project. That should make Wolves an eager buyer in the January transfer market, though it’s tough to pick up a true difference maker in midseason. (Bruno Fernandes being a notable exception.) Perhaps Jorge Mendes can dig up a serviceable striker to hold down the fort until Jimenez recovers.

(10) Another item on Nuno’s to-do list is to get Adama Traore back on track. Here’s one of the most physically gifted players in the Premier League, but still without a goal or assist in 2020/21. He’s been slowed by a foot injury — and his refusal to sign a contract extension hasn’t helped, either — though he returned to the starting lineup against Spurs after two weeks on the bench and had the measure of Sergio Reguilon for most of the match.

(11) Nuno on Wolves’ reliance on young players:

We have a squad of young players that we trust. It’s up to us to choose the right moments. Probably, if the situations didn’t happen, with the injuries, probably we don’t see too many of these players playing together right now. This is what we want — to make them grow, make them improve, and if the chance is there for the young boys, let’s go ahead and give the boys minutes and try to help and support them to become better for us in the future. Try to build a good team.