Manchester United will face Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Monday evening, the second of a triple header at the Theatre of Dreams which will end with Aston Villa facing United in the Emirates FA Cup a week after this match. United have had a turbulent last few months with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being sacked and Michael Carrick leaving the club. Ralf Rangnick has not had the start he wanted with matches against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion being postponed because of the coronavirus. United will need to start winning these matches to get into a better league position at this stage of the season.
United beat Burnley in their last match, scoring three goals – one of them was an own goal by Burnley. Scott McTominay scored his first goal of the season and Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 14th which was not a perfect match for United but it does not matter when three goals were scored and all three points were in the bag. United have a busy January coming up but they do have a seven day break between this Wolves match and the Emirates FA Cup third round clash with Aston Villa with Steven Gerrard returning to the Theatre of Dreams for the first time as a manager in the Premier League.
Previous meetings with Wolverhampton Wanderers and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Wolves have played a total of 15 matches in the history of the Premier League. United have won nine matches, drawing three with Wolves winning the remaining three matches. United have scored a total of 24 goals, winning three penalties and scoring two of them. Wolves have scored ten goals, winning no penalties. United have kept a total of seven clean sheets with Wolves keeping a total of two in these matches. United players have been shown a total of 23 yellow cards and one red cards with Wolves players shown a total of 23 yellow cards and one red card. United will need to be at the top of their game to win this one.
There have been a few players to have played for both United and Wolves. In the 1973/74 season, Jim McCalliog was sold to United, making 38 appearances and scoring seven goals for the club. Scott McGarvey was loaned to Wolves in the 1984/85 season with Darren Ferguson being sold to the club in he 1993/94 season. Paul Ince, who had previously played for United, signed for Wolves in the 2002/03 season, the same season that Denis Irwin left, making 529 appearances, scoring 33 goals. Darron Gibson was loaned to Wolves in the 2007/08 season and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was loaned to the club during the 2016/17 season.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Monday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is the best goalkeeper at the club this season, based on current form. He does what a United goalkeeper needs to be doing, despite the number of goals conceded this season. United seem to have found some kind of form since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the departure of Michael Carrick – I am not scapegoating either of them – it is just what tends to happen. There is always a honeymoon period under a new manager and a few weeks or months later, you can see the kind of structure the new manager will implement and either results continue or there is a period of time where things are bad again.
At the moment, United may be uninspiring but in the first five matches of Rangnick’s reign of the club, they have conceded just three goals, keeping two clean sheets. To include that in Carrick’s interim period too, over his three matches in charge, three more goals were conceded with one clean sheet. United are in effect unbeaten in their last eight matches, scoring 13 goals, conceding six goals and keeping three clean sheets. It is not something that is going to propel them to the top of the Premier League, but it is a key indication that some problems have been ironed out, which will end up being fully solved in a period of time.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
Despite conceding a few goals since Solskjaer’s sacking, United have been more defensively astute at times, which still needs more control and resurgence. Diogo Dalot has taken the chance that he has been given post-Solskjaer and lastly become the first-choice right-back at the club based on his ability to attack. His defensive abilities will need to be built on but with the formations United have been playing in recently, an attacking fullback, ideally on both sides is required. Luke Shaw also returned to his best form against Burnley, seemingly turning a corner on the poor form and injury which saw Alex Telles claim the position.
Both Dalot and Shaw should be starting against Wolves as that should set United up nicely, at least in an attacking sense in defence. Harry Maguire has been scapegoated as the problem in the defence this season which was partly because of his form – which is no guarantee for any player. The modern fan seems to compare actual players which their pixel version on computer games, which seems a strange things to be doing. Maguire was missed at he end of last season and probably the same people were worried about that. Raphael Varane has since returned from injury and will find form again and he and Maguire should both start against Wolves.
Midfield: Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay
United’s midfield is one of the major problems that needs to be solved at the club. There is no defensive steel in the midfield and there are many problems based on the quality of the players at the club currently. Gone are the days of having players like Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Nobby Styles and Paul Scholes, although United have a player similar in quality to Scholes in Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese magnifico was suspended for the Burnley match and will be back in contention to win his place back in the squad against Wolves. With a 4-2-2-2 or 4-4-2 formation with wingers, Fernandes is wasted out wide.
There is nothing stopping Fernandes from playing in a number six role, seemingly as a deep-lying playmaker, which is what Scholes used to do for United. Of course, the wingers will need to be at their best to accommodate this as with Fernandes in an advanced position, he was more open to scoring or assisting the goals. Alongside him against Wolves could be Scott McTominay, who scored against Burnley and could have had more than one goal. Used as a defensive player by Jose Mourinho, McTominay has the ability to be the other player in the midfield, maybe until the problem in the midfield has been solved.
Wingers: Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford
United’s wingers, played in either a 4-2-2-2 formation, which is effectively similar to a 4-4-2 formation with wingers as opposed to left and right midfielders. There are distinguishing factors that separate the two formations, but United would be better in a 4-4-2 with wingers than the 4-2-2-2 as with the players currently in the squad, the 4-2-2-2 formation has not been working as well as it could with a few different players in the squad. Jadon Sancho had a tough start to his career at United, which saw many or the rabble who moaned about him not signing for the club in 2020 criticising him and suggesting that he was another flop.
Again, it seems to be the same people who compare a real life player to one forms of many pixels on a computer game, seeking the same form – which is not likely to happen because of ‘real life’. Sancho scored two goals under Carrick and could have had a third against Burnley, which was adjudged to be a Ben Mee own goal, which matter not as United ended up winning that match – which is all that really matters. Marcus Rashford should occupy the left-wing role against Wolves as his time on the bench should have shown him what he needs to be doing to find his form again. If this works, it could be great for United.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani
Ever since Edinson Cavani returned from injury, United seemed to have better stock in the attacking ranks. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 goals and three assists so far this season, with Cavani on two goals, meaning the duo have contributed 20 goal scoring actions this season, which with a combined age of 70 is a good rate. Age is just a number, or so they say. United should be playing two forwards from now on as they will help United get back up to speed. Granted, there will need to be rotation at times and with Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial (for now) and Anthony Elanga – there are many options there.
Ronaldo is the man to find the goals and keep United scoring in matches and his presence in the attacking ranks is second to none. But when the service is not there, Ronaldo struggles and it is shown by his actions. Keeping Ronaldo happy and United scoring have the same solution – creativity, hard work and determination. Cavani is the same, if there is no service, he is an isolated figure but the pair of them can create space for each other as they have a great standard of finishing. Ronaldo is lethal in most aspects of attack with Cavani specifically lethal in headed goals. He scored a few of them last season. This duo is world class.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Phil Jones, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Jesse Lingard, Fred, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek; Mason Greenwood, Anthony Elanga
United can name nine substitutes on the bench in the Premier League, using just three of them despite Rangnick’s support for five substitutes in the league. This is something that smaller clubs argue against because of the advantage of the bigger clubs. Perhaps they want the bigger clubs to have a player less in the starting XI’s to give them more chance? I would expect to see Dean Henderson on the bench as he seems to have been told that he’s going nowhere this month, despite being linked with an exit. Phil Jones and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be available in defence, should they be needed.
In midfield, which is a problem area for United could see the likes of Jesse Lingard, Fred, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek on the bench, although the latter has been a figure of ever-presence on the bench, not being granted many minutes n the pitch, which seems to have continued from Solskjaer’s spell, into Carrick’s and now Rangnick’s. In attack, which is an area that is of strength for United this season, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga could be available. Anthony Martial, despite his unhappiness, is still out with a knee injury and not likely to feature in this match and maybe any others if he is allowed to leave this month.
Written by John Walker