Wolves versus Manchester United is the most intriguing FA Cup Sixth Round tie - with an unusual Saturday night kick-off time. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action.
"This could be a battle between two sides playing two strikers upfront, which is something of a rarity these days."
Wolves v Man Utd
Saturday 19:55, BBC One
Match Odds: Wolves [3.5], Man Utd [2.34], The Draw [3.4].
Perhaps the most intriguing FA Cup quarter-final tie sees Manchester United travelling south to face a Wolverhampton Wanderers side who have a good record against the Premier League's top clubs here. Fresh from nearly defeating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Nuno Espirito Santo will be confident his side can cause United problems, too.
Their display last weekend against Chelsea was very defensive - Maurizio Sarri was seething about their negativity afterwards - but ultimately it largely proved effective. Having played a 3-4-3 system for the first few months of the campaign, Espirito Santo has switched to a 3-5-2 system that has looked particularly good in recent weeks.
Cup keeper for Wolves
In goal, Espirito Santo will use his designated cup goalkeeper, John Ruddy, rather than his compatriot Rui Patricio. Ruddy was given a Premier League runout a fortnight ago against Cardif to prepare him for this clash. Defensively, the back three of Conor Coady, Ryan Bennett and Willy Boly works effectively, with Coady likely to sweep up behind the other two, who will perform stricter man-marking duties on the United forwards.
In midfield, Ruben Neves offers energy and tenacity deep in midfield, and the occasion long-range shot too. Joao Moutinho was excellent in Wolves' draw at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign and can pull the strings well, while Leander Dendoncker has been the major beneficiary of the change in shape, and can burst forward with well-timed late runs.
Out wide, Matt Doherty has arguably been the best right-sided defender in the Premier League this season, while on the left flank Ruben Vinagre has impressed with his overlapping and crossing recently. They're given a little more freedom in the 3-5-2, and are both excellent going forward.
Two upfront for both sides?
But the biggest positive from this system has been the partnership upfront of Raul Jimenez and Diego Jota, who combined brilliantly at Stamford Bridge by putting together a move that wasn't simply a one-two, but more of a three-four to cut through the lines, with Jimenez finishing nicely. The Mexican provides the clever, back-to-goal link play while Jota loves running into space, and together they form an excellent partnership that can strike quickly on the break.
This could be a battle between two sides playing two strikers upfront, which is something of a rarity these days. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer switched from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-1-2 at Arsenal last weekend, and has previously used a midfield diamond with two strikers playing from wide.
Those strikers will probably be Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku. They combined excellently at the Emirates last weekend, albeit without managing to get on the scoresheet, and there's little reason to not play either here. Lukaku managed six in three games beforehand, and showed good all-round ability to link play last weekend. Anthony Martial is waiting in the wings, but probably won't come into the side here.
Matic and Herrera could return
In midfield, Solskjaer can count upon the return of Nemanja Matic and may be able to count upon Ander Herrera too. Paul Pogba is a definite starter, while Andreas Pereira might continue in an attacking midfield role, having impressed in recent weeks. Jesse Lingard seems less likely to start, but a role at the top of the diamond would suit him here.
Defensively, Ashley Young is suspended having collected two FA Cup bookings, so Diego Dalot - who has been excellent at both right-back and right-midfield recently - should come in. Luke Shaw is in fine form down the left while Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof are working well as a partnership, even if the Swede looked a little ragged at Arsenal. Solskjaer is another who likes rotating his goalkeeper for the FA Cup, so Sergio Romero should come in for David De Gea.
I fancy Manchester United here. Wolves are a well-organised side and handy against stronger sides, but I thought United were largely very good against Arsenal last weekend and there's little reason to suspect that they will struggle here. The speed of their front two, in particular, could cause problems, while Pogba is capable of dominating the midfield. I'll back Manchester United at [2.3].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Manchester United are in the last eight of the FA Cup for the fifth season in a row after beating Chelsea 0-2 at Stamford Bridge in the last round. If they are to make it to the semis again they will have to win on the road again, against a much-fancied Wolverhampton Wanders who almost got away with a win at Stamford Bridge themselves last time out, Eden Hazard’s 90th minute equalizer saving the home sides blushes.
Wolves are third favourites at [12.0] to win this year’s competition, behind the two Manchester clubs and they may never get a better chance. They are having a fantastic season, proudly sitting seventh in the Premier League table and with just one defeat in their last 11 starts in all competitions, they will prove a tough nut to crack for the Red Devils.
United’s defeat at the Emirates was a bit of a lacklustre display and maybe the win in Paris took more out of the team than I for one expected. That defeat put them behind two points behind the Gunners in the race for fourth and with them still in the Champions League the FA Cup could just be one competition too many for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It was 1960 when Wolves last won the FA Cup but I think they might get a bit closer to changing that stat after this. I will be backing them to make the Semi Finals, even if it has to be via extra time or penalties by backing Wolves in the To Qualify market at anything better than [2.3]