Wolverhampton Wanderers head back out on the road to face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday after securing their spot in the Premier League for the 2023/24 season.
Last weekend, Julen Lopetegui’s team defeated opponents from the West Midlands, Aston Villa, by a score of 1-0, while the Red Devils lost to West Ham United by the same margin.
Manchester United had a free week to prepare for a Premier League (PL) match for the first time since August, which was a relief for manager Erik ten Hag after watching his team suffer back to back losses. After their lackluster 1-0 loss at West Ham, the Dutchman gave his players two days off to relax. He’ll be hoping that this was the right move, as the Red Devils still have just a one point lead over the pack behind them in the top four, while still having a game in hand.
With three of their next four Premier League games taking place at Old Trafford, there is every reason to expect that Ten Hag’s team will compete in the UEFA Champions League next year, as he was quick to point out. This is supported by a streak of 26 straight unbeaten home games (W22, D4), with their last home Premier League loss occurring against Brighton on the first day of the season. This suggests that the Theatre of Dreams may have regained its fearsome reputation.
The only time the visiting Wolves have triumphed at Old Trafford since 1980 (D3, L10) was during the current campaign, and Julen Lopetegui’s team should be filled with confidence after a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa last week mathematically assured their survival. It’s understandable why Lopetegui calls it his “most difficult achievement in football” given that they are just the fourth team in PL history to be at the bottom at Christmas and yet remain in the competition.
Wolves have won only two of their previous 21 Premier League away games (D6, L13), so perhaps now that the pressure is off they can focus on improving on the road. To achieve so, they’ll probably need to improve upon their meager one league wide clean sheet on the road, given only one of their previous eight head to head matches with Manchester United had featured a score for each team.
After receiving criticism for his West Ham gaffe, veteran United goalkeeper David De Gea is expected to receive a new contract offer from the team. No player in the division has committed more mistakes that resulted in goals this season (four), while being in the lead for the Premier League Golden Glove. Diego Costa, a former international teammate, would try to capitalize on any reluctance, but in five head to head matches against the Red Devils, he has only scored once.
There had been little activity at the Manchester United medical facility last week, save for Alejandro Garnacho’s recent return from an ankle injury (the Argentine forward was an inactive substitute in the defeat to West Ham), but Marcus Rashford has suddenly surfaced as a “big doubt” due to a leg ailment.
Raphael Varane has recovered quickly from a foot issue and could be involved, although Lisandro Martinez (foot), Phil Jones (knee), Tom Heaton (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), and Scott McTominay (knock) are still far from making their comebacks.
Rashford is unlikely to play, so Ten Hag might think about moving Jadon Sancho or Garnacho back to the wide area as Anthony Martial and Wout Weghorst compete to start at the attack’s spearhead.
While Chiquinho and Sasa Kalajdzic continue to recover from chronic knee problems, Lopetegui anticipates working with the same group of Wolves players from the victory against Villa. Boubacar Traore is still developing his match fitness.
In place of Rayan Ait-Nouri and Hugo Bueno, who was dropped off the team for the previous match, Toti has unquestionably earned another start at left back, while Raul Jimenez is still unfavorable and trying to win back Lopetegui’s favor.
With survival already certain, Lopetegui would be tempted to give marginal players a chance to shine. However, the visiting manager should adhere to a tried and true strategy for this weekend’s test, when Diego Costa will go up against a depleted Red Devils backline.
Manchester United possible starting lineup
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Antony, Fernandes, Sancho and Martial.
Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup
Sa, Semedo, Dawson, Kilman, Toti, Neto, Neves, Lemina, Nunes, Costa and Cunha.
We predict: Manchester United 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
This season, Man United has experimented with one goal victory at Old Trafford, and regardless of how many goals the Red Devils give up on the road, they have usually been virtually impregnable in front of their home supporters.
With nothing but pride at stake, Wolves may expect to perform worse, but they might only be able to score one goal this time, albeit one that will keep them in control of their Champions League fate.