Wolves v Manchester United: Classy Wolves can play their way to Wembley
There's a fascinating FA Cup quarter-final in store on Saturday night, and Kevin Hatchard thinks Wolves can spring a surprise.
"Wolves have consistently competed well against the top sides in England, and injury-hit United have been drained by a series of high-intensity matches."
Wolves v Manchester United
Saturday 16 March, 19:55
Live on BBC One
Wolves face another test of progress
There weren't many people who had watched Wolves last season in the Championship who genuinely felt they would return to the second tier after just one season, but there is still surely a sense of achievement that the drop has been avoided with months to spare. With 44 points on the board, Wolves can now turn their attention to trying to qualify for the Europa League and attempting to win the FA Cup for the first time since 1960.
Not only are Nuno's side in great form at Molineux, with five wins from the last six games in all competitions and an unbeaten run on home soil that stretches back to the first week of January, but they have consistently played well against the elite teams in the division.
They have held Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal to draws, beaten Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea, and at the weekend they were moments from a second victory over Maurizio Sarri's Blues, only for the incomparable Eden Hazard to snatch two points away from them.
Raul Jimenez was Wolves' scorer at Stamford Bridge, and I must admit I've been surprised by how well he has adapted to the Premier League. He was always a good player but never a great one, but a tally of 12 league goals and six assists shows he has stepped up a gear or two. Add in a couple of FA Cup goals, and you have a very dangerous goal threat. At the other end, a solid defensive unit has leaked just 36 goals (a better record than Arsenal and Manchester United), and the class of Portuguese playmakers Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves has given the team a style and a swagger.
Nuno has no fresh injury concerns, and can select his strongest side.
Can United recover from Emirates setback?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered his first Premier League defeat as Manchester United boss last weekend, as Manchester United lost 2-0 at Arsenal to lose ground in the race for the top four. Romelu Lukaku diverted an early chance onto the crossbar in a profligate performance, and a rare error from keeper David De Gea produced a setback United never recovered from.
Solskjaer is desperate to win a trophy in his first season, but with a Champions League quarter-final tie looming and huge Premier League games to come his resources are being stretched thin. Lukaku is the latest name on an eye-wateringly long injury list that includes Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian. Ashley Young is suspended, while Ander Herrera could return from injury. One wonders whether a slew of draining games against opponents like Liverpool, PSG and Arsenal is starting to take its toll.
That said, United have pulled off some impressive away victories of late at PSG in the Champions League, Chelsea and Arsenal in the FA Cup and Tottenham in the Premier League. Opta tell us that United have won nine of their last ten FA Cup matches away from home, and across his time at Cardiff City and Manchester United, Solskjaer has won all four of his FA Cup away games as a manager.
Wolves can cause an upset
If you look at Wolves' recent home record, and their results against the top sides, there's every reason to think they can compete with a United team that is missing key players and that has had to deal with the physical toll of playing a lot of high-intensity games in a short spell.
There has to be a result on the night, as there are no replays anymore at this stage of the competition, so instead of backing Wolves to win inside 90 minutes it's worth backing them in the To Qualify market at [2.3].
Goals on the cards if Wolves get space to play
Wolves' last six matches have featured fewer than three goals, but if you look at their home games against good sides there's a different picture. They beat Liverpool 2-1 in this competition, lost 3-2 to Spurs in the league and beat Chelsea 2-1.
It's a tight call, with Under 2.5 Goals trading at [1.85] and Over 2.5 Goals on at [2.08].
Jimenez to continue rich vein of form
Raul Jimenez has scored in three of his last four matches, and I'll back him to score again here at [3.25].
On the United side of things, Anthony Martial has scored in two of his last five appearances, and with a manager who finally believes in him and isn't slating him, the Frenchman has looked a lot happier and more effective. He's trading at [3.15].
If you use the Same Game Multi option on the Sportsbook, you could back Wolves to qualify and Jimenez to score at combined odds of 4.44.
Back Wolves to qualify at [2.3]
Back Raul Jimenez to score at [3.25]