Manchester United travel to the Molineux on New Year’s Eve where they will face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League in their final match of 2022. Since the return to club football after the FIFA World Cup. United have beaten Burnley 2-0 in the Carabao Cup and Nottingham Forest 3-0 in the Premier League. Erik ten Hag’s side will be seeking to end 2022 in style with another win which will apply pressure to Tottenham Hotspur, who face Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
Prior to the Forest match, Spurs were four points ahead of United with the Old Trafford club also having a game in hand. The victory over Forest saw United shrink the gap to just one point which could see United lift themselves into the top four of the Premier League with a victory over Wolves. However, that could be short-lived if Spurs beat Villa as their goal difference is superior to United’s. It would show a massive improvement for United though.
Ten Hag’s side will need to achieve top four in the Premier League as a bare minimum this season to achieve UEFA Champions League football once again. Anything other than that will be a failure. The good thing for United at this time is that the Glazer’s are seeking to sell United, which will be great news if it actually happens in early 2023. Having those greedy, money-grabbing sellouts out of the club will be the best present ever. Meanwhile, United will have to keep the spirits high.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-3-3
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Fernandes, Casemiro, Eriksen;
Antony, Martial, Rashford
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea played his penultimate match of 2022 against Nottingham Forest, keeping his tenth clean sheet of the season – the sixth in the Premier League so far. United need a player with his experience in goal because of the errors that Martin Dubravka made against Burnley in the Carabao Cup. United kept a clean sheet then too but against a better opposition, United would have conceded at least two those errors, possibly all three of them.
De Gea’s contract will expire in the summer although there is a one-year option for the Spanish goalkeeper but his wages are too high so a renewal could be possible if the player and his agent agrees on a wage cut with United. That said, Ten Hag will have an idea of the type of goalkeeper that he wants at United, which may result in allowing De Gea to leave – although it will be a costly option for United with the fees raising for decent goalkeepers.
To see Dubravka play in the Premier League this season, at least this soon after the Burnley match, there would need to be an injury to both De Gea and Tom Heaton. That said, Dubravka could better himself in training but he would need to be 100% confident going into matches. Personally, I don’t see him staying at United after the end of the 2022/23 season with him returning to Newcastle United and United not coughing up £5 million to keep him any longer.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence has made some improvement during 2022 and most of that is because of Lisandro Martinez. The World Cup winner is now back at United and raring to go again and could start against Wolves, which would be good to see. He could well partner Raphael Varane, who made his return to action following France’s defeat to Argentina in the World Cup final, doing what he does best in the centre of the defence, partnered by Luke Shaw in that match.
I would expect to see both Varane and Martinez in the centre of the defence and if the Argentinian is not ready to start, Harry Maguire could partner the Frenchman in the centre of the defence. United will need to be at their best to take on the attacking prowess of Wolves, who have hit them in the past. Their recent victory over Everton and the fact they have another new manager, will see them playing as well as they can to impress the manager and keep their places.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka could retain the right-back position for the third match in a row with Diogo Dalot still sidelined following a thigh injury which he received playing for Portugal in the World Cup in Qatar. Wan-Bissaka has put in two good performances for United, which shows he still has something. I expect Shaw to be back in his favoured left-back role, which would see Tyrell Malacia back on the bench waiting for his next chance to impress the manager this season.
Midfield Trio: Fernandes, Casemiro, Eriksen
It seems that United have turned a corner with the midfield following the arrivals of both Christian Eriksen and Casemiro in the summer. The Denmark international has been a revelation for United, doing what a certain player called Paul Pogba should have been doing for the past six years at the club – but that is a different story. Casemiro had a great match against Nottingham Forest which shows just how important he is for United this season and beyond.
Starting both Eriksen and Casemiro is important for United in this match as getting the final win of 2022 is important with United’s rise into the top four of the Premier League just a matter of time from happening. Spurs will need to watch their backs or face losing out as the resurgence of United is close to actually happening. Ten Hag has seemingly changed this team into winners who are able to sweep aside most opposition during the course of the matches played.
Bruno Fernandes should play in the midfield three as I feel it suits United a bit more. Obviously, the same formation is not adhered to through a match and it can easily chance into a 4-2-3-1 on the attack with a different formation on the defence. One thing is a must though – beating Wolves. United fell to 1-0 defeat in the last match, which was played almost a year to the day. United could enter 2023 inside the top four, slipping back down to fifth-place is Spurs beat Aston Villa.
Forwards: Antony, Martial, Rashford
Both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were successful against Nottingham Forest with both scoring a goal and Rashford also getting an assist in the match. Fred ended up scoring the third goal of the match at the death to increase United’s goal difference in the league to +3 when it was zero. Keeping both Rashford and Martial fit and in form is something that Ten Hag will need to do as they are all United have at this time in terms of experienced attacking players.
Antony returned for United in the Premier League – his first appearance since late October. He was not in good form having played sparingly in the World Cup for Brazil. He will need to start to find his feet in the Premier League after his good start to his time at United, scoring in three consecutive Premier League matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton. If he can stitch his play in with Rashford and Martial, they could form a good forward three this season.
United have few options in these three positions at this time with Alejandro Garnacho and Anthony Elanga likely to both be on the bench. Jadon Sancho, if he was fit enough to play, would probably get the nod over Antony right now so it will be something for the Brazilian to think about as the England winger starts to get back into contention to feature for United during the second half of the season. United do need a striker – preferably during January but it does not seem likely.
Substitutes: Dubravka; Maguire, Malacia, Williams; Fred, van de Beek, McTominay; Elanga, Garnacho
United will have nine substitutes on the bench against Wolves – able to use five of them in three instances throughout the match, plus the half time break. Ten Hag used all five substitutes against Nottingham Forest and would seem likely to do the same against Wolves. Tom Heaton made the bench against Forest but it could well be Martin Dubravka on the bench on New Year’s Eve with De Gea starting his second match in a row – which is must-win for United.
In defence, United could be boosted with the return of Lisandro Martinez, who should start the match if he is fit to do so, partnering Raphael Varane. This will leave Harry Maguire in the bench with Victor Lindelof expected to be out through illness once again. Tyrell Malacia and Brandon Williams could also be available on the bench with one of them likely to drop off the bench if Lindelof is fit to have some involvement in the match.
In midfield, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay could all be available with the latter missing the victory over Forest due to illness – having a similar virus to what Maguire had which kept him out of the Burnley match and Lindelof missing the Forest match. In attack, it will leave Anthony Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho to boost United’s attack in the latter stages of the Wolves match. I would expect Garnacho to take his chance and impress his manager and teammates.
Written by John Walker