Wolves v Manchester United, Saturday 16th March, 19:55
Whereas Wolves last reached this stage of the FA Cup back in 2002/03, we’ve got serious pedigree in this tournament and have made the quarter-finals at the very least in each of the past four seasons.
In fact, we’re W16-D2-L2 in this tournament since the start of 2016, with both defeats versus Chelsea, while one of the draws saw us lift the trophy anyway as Palace were beaten in extra-time in the 2016 showpiece event.
Our recent defeat at the Emirates should act as a reminder of the hard work to come rather than setting in any sort of panic. We remain in good form on broad terms, though Wolves are not to be underestimated having been excellent against the top sides to date this season.
Much of the reason for Wolves’ success against the ‘Big Six’ has been down to the tactics of Nuno Espirito Santo, who has his side well organized in defence with instructions to counter-attack at speed.
The manager utilized a 3-4-3 formation throughout their campaign last term, but showed flexibility to switch things around after a run of five defeats from six winless matches from late October through to the end of November, as they’ve since adopted a 3-5-2 shape.
The extra man in the middle was crucial in their next outing, a 2-1 win over Chelsea as Cesc Fabregas was rendered anonymous, as they’d previously been overrun in the centre on occasion.
Despite Maurizio Sarri’s criticisms of their tactics in the stalemate between Wolves and Chelsea last Sunday as they met again, that owes more to his frustration of its effectiveness, and we can’t afford to repeat another passive performance in the centre of the park as we just did at Arsenal.
With Jesse Lingard returning too early last time and enduring a set-back, it would appear he’ll have to wait until after the international break before seeing first team action again, but the treatment room is clearing up with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera back in training too and both could feature here.
The return of the snappy Herrera cold be particularly important as we’ve been stretched in the middle of late, while other absentees Phil Jones, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia wouldn’t have featured from the off even if they were available.
There could also be a welcome return to the starting line-up for Anthony Martial after he completed the final 20 minutes against Arsenal following a groin injury, especially with Romelu Lukaku dropping recent standards and going back to fluffing his lines as the Belgian’s search for consistency continues.
Although our form remains impressive, we’re only W6-D2-L2 over the last 10 outings and Wolves are dangerous opponents. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have gone a very even W3-D4-L3 against ‘Big Six’ sides this term and their tactics are better geared to facing the top sides, as the few problems they’ve encountered have largely come against the weaker sides in the division.
With that in mind, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the hosts took this one to extra-time, though quality should shine through in the end and the enhanced odds surrounding progression over 120 minutes look generous.
*all odds are subject to change