By Lee Savery
Manchester United return home after embarrassingly dropping into the second tier of European football in defeat to FC Basel on Wednesday night. Suddenly, winning the Premier League feels even more important and three points against Wolves would be a start.
Only a win will do as a recovery is needed. Fast. This weekend could see the possibility of closing the gap of our noisy neighbours as they play Chelsea on Monday night. A defeat would end a disastrous two weeks for the club and is something we dare not think of. Will this be the first league game since the home win against Norwich, on the 1st October, that United have scored more than 1 goal?
Struggling Wolves come into the game after coming from behind to beat fellow Premier League strugglers Sunderland 2-1. They currently find themselves in 16th place and have lost three of the last six matches in the league. On the road it hasn’t been very good for the Black Country side. They have lost the last five away games. Their last meeting with United ended in victory at Molineux for Wolves as they ended United’s unbeaten Premier League start in our 25th fixture of the season.
Last season’s corresponding fixture was a tight affair. Ji-Sung Park opened the scoring right on half-time before a product of the Man United academy Sylvan Ebanks-Blake equalised with 25 minutes to play. But in typical United fashion, the Red Devils snatched victory in the 93rd minute. Park came up with a sublime individual run and finish to send Old Trafford into raptures.
Team Selection Thoughts
Seemingly our strongest team was on show in Switzerland on Wednesday but the performance was so un-United like, you do wonder what is our actual strongest team. Sir Alex Ferguson is expecting a response and whichever 11 is selected for the job on Saturday will have that ringing loudly in their ears by 3 o’clock. With nine first team players out injured, it will be a difficult selection.
After an unfortunate mistake from David De Gea clanger in midweek, Sir Alex could turn to Anders Lindegaard again after his impressive performance against Aston Villa last week. Such a decision to drop the young Spanish keeper would be deemed as drastic to some as we all know of De Gea’s potential but I am sure it will be something carefully considered by the management.
In defence, the big loss is of Captain Nemanja Vidic who is out for the rest of the season after suffering a bad knee injury against Basel. It is a massive blow. Phil Jones could return to his more natural position in the centre of the back four alongside either Rio Ferdinand or Jonny Evans. Or the United youngster maybe rested due to the high volume of football already this season. Chris Smalling & Patrice Evra should be in the full-back positions with the current injuries to the Da Silva twins.
In midfield, I expect Michael Carrick to return whose passing ability could be what this United team right now. Carrick has always split opinion amongst fans and with a midfield crying out for creativity right now, this could be the perfect time for him to, finally, prove his importance and critics wrong.
On the wings Ashley Young has suffered a recurrence of a toe injury and is unlikely to involved. I would expect Antonio Valencia & Nani to start although with Park’s recent record against Wolves (three goals in his last three matches against them), the manager could select the South Korean.
In the forward positions, it is expected Wayne Rooney will start buoyed by UEFA’s decision to reduce his international ban to just two games but still hasn’t scored since the 2-0 away victory at Otelul Galati and hasn’t scored in the league since the 3-1 win at home to Chelsea back in September. He should be partnered by Danny Welbeck although Dimitar Berbatov might be available.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of WolvesForum.co.uk and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Well, we can now afford to go into the game without definitely needing something to stay out of the bottom three so hopefully we might approach the game with a bit more intent rather than desperately hanging on for a point.
Wolves performed well using a 4-4-2 system against Sunderland, but Manchester United at Old Trafford is a rather different prospect! I would therefore expect us to go with a 4-5-1. Hennessey will be in goal, and he is a very good keeper (he needs to be at times!). The selection headaches will probably be in defence. With Craddock out I can imagine us bringing Roger Johnson back at centre back and hoping he has ironed his poor form out on the training ground after being dropped. Another possibility would be moving Ronald Zubar to centre back and playing Richard Stearman at right back. I can’t see that personally, so would imagine that it will simply be a question of whether Zubar keeps his place at right back, or Stearman comes back after injury. At left back – Ward picks himself and is easily our player of the season.
Karl Henry will be available for selection, and will in all likelihood return alongside O’Hara and Dave Edwards in midfield. Nenad Milijas might get in ahead of Edwards, but I don’t think McCarthy rates him at the moment. Wings will be Matt Jarvis on the left and either Stephen Hunt or Adam Hammill on the right. Hammill is more exciting, but Hunt gives us workrate that could be important.
Fletcher has to start up front, which means I am reluctantly predicting Kevin Doyle to drop to the bench.
Weaknesses in the United side? Well, there aren’t that many. I am sure we will try and bung a few crosses in to test De Gea out under pressure.
Obviously very happy with the first three games, we even found ourselves top of the table fleetingly, and since then it has been a bit of a nightmare culminating in the horror show against Swansea in which, for the first time, the fans began to turn. Things have improved markedly in the atmosphere at the club since then and if we can go into the New Year on twenty points we will be where I expected us to be. I’ll be happy with a lower mid table finish so long as we’re not looking over our shoulders in the last three games.
Mick McCarthy is a fantastic man manager who motivates his players to play for him, but he often sticks with players too long because he has so much faith in them. I’m still not sure he can take us to mid table in the Premier League, but when there is a hint of pressure his team always seem to get a result as we did on Sunday. I don’t want him to get the sack because if he isn’t under pressure from the fans it means Wolves are doing well. I’m not sure what style of football he prefers because we seem to half way between different things; some weeks we play awful long ball rubbish and then the next we play great football. Some weeks we play with wingers and we look dangerous getting the ball into the box, but then we play with wide players who like to come inside and make it narrow. When we are bad we are very bad, but when we are good I love watching us play.
I don’t always agree with everything McCarthy does, but I will always be grateful for what he has done for Wolves. He’s put together a squad of players I genuinely like, there isn’t one I wish we didn’t have and he’s given Wolves three seasons of Premier League football as well as the joys of winning The Championship. Some fans are a bit restless, they always have been and always will, they strive to see ‘improvement’ but I believe we are getting there with time.
Impressed and Disappointed
Stephen Ward has easily been our best player. He’s improved the defensive side of his game and even from left back he can be our best attacking threat. If he carries on playing like this bigger clubs will start to take notice. Wayne Hennessey is proving that he is one of the best keepers in the league; his all around game is excellent. Roger Johnson was superb for the first three games but has disappointed since, while Jamie O’Hara has been inconsistent.
Jarvis has been disappointing. He is very much a confidence player and too be frank he hasn’t played with any at all this year. He was better against Sunderland, so hopefully we can begin to see the Jarvis that earned the England call up last year.
Anthony Forde and Matt Doherty are the ones pushing hardest for a first-team berth out of the kids, with the latter showing versatility as a right-back or in centre-midfield for the reserves. He most definitely wasn’t over-awed at Anfield, indeed he was one of our best players, and I get the feeling we’ll be seeing more of him this season. Of the others, Zele Ismail is the prematurely acclaimed ‘£100 million super-kid’ who looks to have something about him from what I’ve seen, but really we should lay off the hyperbole for now. I like the look of Jack Price, who is a small, creative midfielder in the Paul Scholes mould (how’s that for hyperbole) and Sam Winnall, who seems to score goals wherever he goes.
Three Key Battles
Phil Jones vs. Steven Fletcher
Steven Fletcher has been in superb form for Wolves. He has scored 10 goals in his last 15 games and will be someone that needs marshalling. Phil Jones has also hit a bit of scoring form with two goals in his last two games from midfield. He will be much needed in defence and Fletcher will give him a good match on Saturday.
Michael Carrick vs. Karl Henry
The ex-captain of Wolves is expected to return to their midfield after serving a one match ban. The tough tackling midfielder will be there to try and stop Carrick dictating the game for United. Carrick could be the catalyst for victory and Wolves will know this.
Danny Welbeck vs. Christophe Berra
Danny Welbeck has had a good start to this season and it will be good to have him back in the starting line-up with his pace and physical presence causing him to be a nuisance to opposition defenders. Christophe Berra is known to get a bit “hands on” with opposition strikers from set-pieces and it’s a wonder he hasn’t been punished by referees on more occasions. It will definitely be something to look out for during the game.
The fans deserve a response from the shambles of Champions League elimination in midweek and the manager will be expecting it. The football media would usually have this down as a “home banker” but with how unpredictable Manchester United have been this season, who knows what the result will be at full time.
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