Manchester United will face Reading in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford on Saturday evening. The match will see Erik ten Hag go up against former United player Paul Ince who is now the manager Championship strugglers Reading. Ince has been critical of every United manager post-Sir Alex Ferguson in the past, criticising everything but has not achieved anything as a manager in his career. Bet he does not like criticism?
United have not been beaten by Reading since 1927 which gives the Red Devils an almost 100 year record against the Berkshire club. Since the season restarted after the FIFA World Cup, United have been in great form falling to a recent draw with Crystal Palace and a hard-fought defeat to Arsenal on Sunday. Ten Hag’s United beat Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup semi final first leg 3-0 at the City Ground on Wednesday evening, facing them again next week.
It seems certain that United are seeking to win a trophy this season under the guidance of the Dutchman, who has perhaps been the best fit at the club post-Ferguson despite the fact that only Louis van Gaal (Emirates FA Cup) and Jose Mourinho (FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League) have been successful, although David Moyes won the Community Shield with United. Ten Hag looks set to see this United team go the distance this season, if they can.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Martinez, Malacia;
Pellistri, Fernandes, Garnacho;
Jack Butland will be waiting to make his Manchester United debut and there is no time like the present as United face Reading in the Emirates FA Cup. Granted, it is not a fixture like that against Nottingham Forest where United had two legs to get the result but I am sure he is competent enough to get the job done against the Championship side. David De Gea has been in good stead this season and sits two clean sheets behind Peter Schmeichel, so he could start this match.
That said, I am sure he would be grateful for a rest ahead of the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final against Forest next week, plus the bigger fixtures that will come in February, so it could be a winner for bit him and Butland this weekend. United will be up for the challenge of Reading, which recently has meant that United are the victors from the matches. Butland could get his test at United that he wants to get his season started at the Old Trafford club.
Tom Heaton could also feature in goal for United, having played against Charlton Athletic in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup this season in a match that United won 3-0 with him keeping a clean sheet. De Gea could probably get his 179th clean sheet for United in this fixture but I am sure he would like to match and break Schmeichel’s record in better matches which will happen in the coming weeks. For me, Butland should start in goal for United.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Martinez, Malacia
United’s defence is having a good season. There is a lot of confidence in this team at the present time – even after a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace and a 3-2 defeat to Arsenal which saw late goals scored by the opposition teams. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has regains the right-back position, even if it is because Diogo Dalot is injured at the present time. The English right-back has done well in his position and has shown Erik ten Hag what he has in the squad, which is a good thing.
I think Harry Maguire could start for United against Reading. He was suspended against Nottingham Forest in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi final, so could start in this match giving Raphael Varane another rest, albeit with the Frenchman on the bench. Lisandro Martinez could partner the England centre-back in the centre of the United defence once more after his brilliant performance against Forest on Wednesday. I don’t want to see Victor Lindelof and Maguire.
In the left-back position, with Luke Shaw suffering from an illness which kept him out of the victory over Forest, I think Tyrell Malacia could be set for another Old Trafford outing at left-back. The Dutchman did well against Forest but I would like to see him have a bit more presence in attack. It is possible that United will dominate Reading so Malacia should be able to make an impact in attack, helping out Alejandro Garnacho, who should be ahead of him.
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred
The midfield at United is much better than it has been this season after both Casemiro and Christian Eriksen arrived at the club in the summer. I did not expect the duo to start against Forest on Wednesday evening as Eriksen was looking rather tired, after appearing in 30 of 31 matches so far this season. I think the Danish international will be rested for this match, at least on the bench if anything unexpected was to happen. That would be best for United – keeping him fresh.
Casemiro could start this match having been suspended from the squad against Arsenal after getting his fifth booking of the Premier League season in the rearranged fixture against Crystal Palace, which ended 1-1 in-between the victory over Manchester City and the defeat to Arsenal. The Brazilian has been a revelation in the centre of the midfield this season and it is the first time since Michael Carrick, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson that United have been dominant in midfield.
Fred could start alongside his compatriot. He was on the bench against Forest during the week, coming on late in the match to add some freshness in the midfield and some energy. It works for United and both Fred and Casemiro tend to work well together. It is not the partnership of Casemiro and Eriksen, but it is the second-best partnership in the midfield that can be created based on the players that are fit and ready ahead of this match. United should have enough here.
Attacking Midfield: Pellistri, Fernandes, Garnacho
United’s attack could be so much better this season. A player that needs some rest is Marcus Rashford. He scored his 18th goal of the season against Forest on Wednesday evening and could be benched for the visit of Reading, coming on later in the match to keep the attack going, try to find a goal or two, or just keep himself fresh ahead of next week’s match. Alejandro Garnacho could start ahead of him as it will be good for the teenager to get more minutes on the pitch.
Bruno Fernandes should keep his placed in the midle of the attacking midfield as he will be able to direct those either side of him and provide something for the striker. Fernandes has scored three goals and one assist in his last four matches and he will want to keep that going, aiming to get a goal contribution in this match too. With Donny van de Beek on the sidelines through injury for the remainder of the season, there is no other experienced player to feature here for now.
Facundo Pellistri came off the bench against Forest late in the match and did well, although he was the only player to be booked in the match. In his first competitive appearance for United in the previous round of the Carabao Cup, he came off the bench and provided an assist. Her will be seeking more minutes and his first start for United could do wonders for him and the club. Ten Hag will want to see what he can achieve and I think he will be a handy player to keep this season.
Wout Weghorst has started the last three matches for United but finally got his first goal for the club against Forest. With Anthony Martial still out of action, the Dutchman should keep his place against Reading and I believe he could find another goal, or at least help United score more goals in the match. It is great to see a player of his stature at United again as it shows what United have been missing. Granted, he is not a free scorer of goals but he helps.
His confidence and experience gives this United side something extra in the attack and his hold up play gives more advantages than disadvantages. Weghorst has been criticised from every so-called journalist and pundit looking for a rise this season and that goal against Forest, provided it is the first of many, will help to shut them up. It has been proven in this game that you don’t need to be world class to succeed. You just need to be willing and able – Weghorst is both.
Martial has been good for United this season but his injury record is terrible and it shows that he is not going to be that player United wanted him to become – unless he can stay fit and provide the goals, which is what he was bought to do. That said, there has been a big reliance on him and that will not have helped. But it seems to be working out well as Weghorst could help with that and maybe take some pressure off the Frenchman this season and maybe beyond.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Varane, Shaw; Eriksen, McTominay; Rashford, Antony, Elanga
Once again, as has been the same throughout the season, United will have nine players on the bench with five of them available as substitutes during the match. I think that Tom Heaton will be the goalkeeper on the bench with De Gea being rested ahead of Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi final second leg at Old Trafford. It will be good to see what Butland has to offer, should he be selected to start the match. He needs to be tested at some point though.
In defence, Victor Lindelof, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw, providing he has recovered from his illness should be available should United need defensive reinforcement. Should Shaw not be available, Brandon Williams could be on the bench for the second match running. There should be enough quality on show on the pitch to get United past this underachieving Reading side, although as Paul Ince says, they are a threat from the set-piece.
In the midfield, Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay could be available. I would like to see one of both of Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal too, so I guess that depends on whether Ten Hag sees enough from then in training to selected them for the match. It would be good to see one of them though. In attack, Marcus Rashford, Antony and Anthony Elanga could all be called from the bench to add something in the second half, chase a victory or just get a run out in the match.
Written by John Walker