Manchester United v Wolves
Wednesday January 15, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 1
United still hitting bumps in the road
Using Manchester City as a barometer can be a dangerous thing for Manchester United managers. David Moyes further eroded his waning authority as Sir Alex Ferguson's replacement when he suggested his United side should aspire to reach City's level, after a sobering defeat to their crosstown rivals. Similarly, United's recent humbling at home by City in the Carabao Cup exposed some small-time thinking on the part of current Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He suggested that City's decision to field a full-strength team showed they regard United as a team that is "going places."
With United just five points behind Chelsea in the race for the top four, and still in three cup competitions, there's an argument to say that the club is making progress, but it's of a slow and painful nature. For every 4-0 win over basement club Norwich City, there's a smacking by City on home turf, or a limp surrender at Watford. United have won just one of their last four games in all competitions, and if you stretch back further they have only won four of their last nine.
It's not all doom and gloom. Young players like left-back Brandon Williams and striker Mason Greenwood have really caught the eye, and Marcus Rashford is in the form of his life. The England international has scored 22 goals for club and country this term, and has found the net in 16 of his last 23 appearances.
Solskjaer admits Rashford may be rested for this game, and with a weekend visit to runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool on the horizon, the Norwegian may well make a raft of changes. Midfielders Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay are still sidelined, and Luke Shaw is short of full fitness.
Nuno insisting fatigue factor isn't an issue
With 37 games already in their legs, Wolves could be forgiven for being a bit jaded at this stage of the season. However, manager Nuno Espirito Santo insists fatigue wasn't to blame for a sluggish performance in the weekend's 1-1 draw with Newcastle United at Molineux, a result that extended the team's winless run to four matches. While he does want to make signings on the January transfer window, especially in attack, Nuno dismisses any suggestion that playing in the Europa League's qualifying rounds has had a detrimental impact.
The Wolves boss has a point. The club is just three points behind United in the Premier League, and still in the FA Cup and Europa League. They played well in the goalless draw at Molineux that necessitated this replay, hitting the bar through Raul Jimenez and having a Matt Doherty goal rightly ruled out for offside.
It's also worth noting that Wolves tend to play well against the better teams. Since the middle of September 2018, they haven't lost any of their five meetings with United. This season they have beaten Manchester City home and away, and drawn with Leicester City and Arsenal.
United too short to win in 90 minutes
The hosts are trading at 2.0811/10 to win this, and that feels too short to me, especially given Wolves' recent success against them. With a visit to Anfield on the horizon, Solskjaer may well not field his best team, and I'm expecting this to be a really closely contested game, just as the first match in this tie was.
I'll back Draw and Away in the Double Chance market here at 1.9210/11, which means that we win if Wolves win, or take the tie to extra time.
Expect a tense and tight contest
Three of the last five meetings between these teams have been draws, and have featured fewer than three goals. Wolves have lacked a clinical edge in attack of late, scoring just twice in their last four games, while United have seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet land in five of their last nine matches.
I think Under 2.5 Goals is the way to go here at 1.84/5.
Keep an eye on star strikers
At time of writing, Marcus Rashford's potential involvement in the match is unclear. If he does start his stunning form means he's worth considering in the To Score market at 2.166/5. If not, Mason Greenwood is his likely understudy, and the teenager is priced at 2.8615/8 after he scored against Norwich.
With Patrick Cutrone back in Italy and Diogo Jota injured, Raul Jimenez seems almost certain to lead the attack, and he scored in last season's FA Cup win against United. He has netted 17 goals in all competitions this term, and is trading at 3.052/1 to score here.