Manchester United start their Emirates FA Cup journey on Monday evening when they travel to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic. Erik ten Hag will need to get something working well if United are going to make the fourth round of the FA Cup this season.
Wigan are a team that United should be beating easily but this season these are the matches that United will massively struggle with and they will need to fight hard against Wigan. United are two players down with Sergio Reguilon returning to Spurs and Donny van de Beek out on loan.
Wigan head into this match close to the relegation zone in League One, sitting in 18th place just nine points from the bottom place in the league. United sit in eighth place in the Premier League, 14 points from the top of the league – which seems an impossible feat for United now this season.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Evans, Dalot;
Amad, Fernandes, Garnacho;
Andre Onana has had a terrible season at United so far and it seems that he will be available for the next two matches with his African Cup of Nations call up being delayed. He has the ingredients for a good goalkeeper but his performances have not been great with many mistakes.
That said, he has not had a settled defence or midfield ahead of him so when the injured players are all back, he will then be expected to stand up and perform to the best of his abilities. Against Wigan, United will be expected to start performing as they should beat them easily.
That said, United make these ‘easy on paper’ matches look to hard and mundane which add to the questions being asked at this time. Altay Bayindir looks like he will have to wait for a few more matches to make his debut as the United goalkeeper, which seems strange to be fair.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Evans, Dalot
United’s defence is not in great shape at this time. The injuries the club has with Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia is a massive loss for the club and one of the reasons why Onana has looked inferior this season.
That all seems set to improve ion January with just two matches for United to play and a whole host of injured playing coming back. Against Wigan, Ten Hag could have Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot in the fullback ranks with Shaw injured and Sergio Reguilon sent back to Spurs.
In the centre of the defence, United could be set to have Raphael Varane and Jonny Evans – two experienced players starting the match with Willy Kambwala and Rhys Bennett on the bench, should they be required – and they could if United need them. It is good to blood in youth.
Midfield: Mainoo, Eriksen
United’s midfield is another area which has bene left with problems due to injury. Casemiro has been out for most of the season so far and Christian Eriksen has only recently returned to action. Mason Mount has also had an injury problem leaving United short in these ranks.
Kobbie Mainoo has been a revelation this season. His ability and guile are both admirable and he looks set to become a star for the club, providing he continues to develop at the rate he has been this season. He could find a starting position against Wigan, which would be good for him.
Eriksen could start alongside him, giving United and youth and experience midfield, which is something that has worked for United in the past but there has been a long period of failure with players not quite developing as the club had hoped. More youth could be on the bench too.
Attacking Midfield: Amad, Fernandes, Garnacho
The attacking midfield places are a problem fort United with creativity one of the main problems in this squad. There is a lot of talent in these position and a lot of money spent on wages. But that does not guarantee success. United need to have hunger and desire – and that is not quite there.
Amad Diallo should be starting for United if he is fully fit to do so. He could provide the pace and ability on the right flank that Antony has not provided, but Ten Hag could stick with the Brazilian, which could become his main downfall. Bruno Fernandes keeps his place in the team too.
The captain will need to rally his troops to get a good result against Wigan with the club building on that and starting strong for the second half of the season. Alejandro Garnacho should start on the left flank, a position he has played for a while. I feel he’s in better form than Marcus Rashford.
Rasmus Hojlund missed the 2-1 defeat to Forest last weekend which was a major blow for the club, especially after his form against Villa between Christmas and New Year. The Danish striker now has his Premier League goal and will be seeking more of them for the remainder of the season.
United have a lot of criticism going their way at this time for their inability to win matches and the way they have lost them. There are clearly problems somewhere, whether that be with the manager, his tactics, the ownership and the way the club has gone down the drain or something else.
But these players are millionaires and they need to give something back to the supporters of the club, the people that have given them their fortunes. If nothing comes back to the fans, there will be an even bigger backlash, especially if the Glazers are not removed of the ownership.
Substitutes: Bayindir; Kambwala, Bennett; McTominay, Gore, Hannibal, Hansen-Aaroen; Antony, Pellistri
United will have nine players to choose from on the bench against Wigan in the FA Cup. They will be able to use five of them throughout the match. Altay Bayindir will most likely be the goalkeeper on the bench against Wigan with Onana remains at the club for the next two matches.
In defence, United will have to rely on youth to make up the numbers with Willy Kambwala and Rhys Bennett on the bench – this could either be a problem or a great thing for United with the defence not settled this season. When they are god enough, they are old enough – that’s how it goes.
In the midfield, Scott McTominay, Daniel Gore, Hannibal and Isak Hansen-Aaroen could all be available, giving United a youthful bench in the FA Cup. In attack, United could still have problems with just Antony and Facundo Pellistri available – but it could change if injuries/illness changes.
Written by John Walker