A coveted fourth-place finish in the Premier League could be at stake as Manchester United entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Not long ago, Erik ten Hag’s side looked on the cusp of returning to the Champions League after a season-long absence, but after back-to-back away slip-ups, nothing’s safe anymore.
The Red Devils lived up to their ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ reputation as Said Benrahma’s first-half winner fired bottom-half West Ham United to a 1-0 triumph last Sunday.
After a brace of away defeats ‘to nil,’ Man Utd return to the Theatre of Dreams looking to strengthen their grip on fourth place, with fifth-placed Liverpool tightening the noose in recent weeks.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have taken advantage to whittle down the gap to a single point, but United are still in firm control of their Champions League ambitions with a game in hand.
For the first time since August 2022, the hosts have had a week to prepare for a Premier League assignment after the Dutch manager gave his players two days off to rest in the wake of their London disappointment.
Ten Hag will demand nothing less than victory from his recharged team when they meet Wolves, who have effectively ensured top-flight survival despite an underwhelming season.
Despite alternating between wins and losses in their last five league outings (W3, L2), Wolves have moved ten points clear of 18th-placed Leicester City with only three matchdays left.
But with nothing but pride left to play for, Julen Lopetegui’s side could prove a challenging opposition, and Man United cannot take anything for granted if they’re to avoid a dramatic season finale.
A narrow 1-0 triumph over Aston Villa in their most recent home league outing marked United’s 25th competitive win at Old Trafford this season, accounting for their fourth-best win tally on home turf in one campaign.
Since a 2-1 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on the opening weekend, ten Hag’s men have racked up a jaw-dropping 26-game unbeaten home run in all competitions (W22, D4).
Such an outrageous home form indicates Old Trafford houses the fear factor again, something United will rely on heavily after falling to a 1-0 loss in this corresponding fixture last season.
You’d need to go back to 1961 for the last time Man Utd lost consecutive league matches to Wolves on home turf, yet it doesn’t mean the Red Devils have been in cruising control of this match-up.
The last nine meetings between United and Wolves in all competitions have featured a mere ten goals, highlighting the potential for a cagey, low-scoring contest.
Ten Hag wouldn’t mind another uneventful affair as long as his side take an all-important three points, as they’ve done in their last three top-flight home matches.
With three of Man United’s four remaining Premier League fixtures coming at the Theatre of Dreams, the Red Devils faithful have every reason for optimism regarding the club’s effort to return to the Champions League.
Player to Watch: Marcus Rashford
Could this finally be Rashford’s landmark day? The 25-year-old forward is one goal away from becoming the first Man Utd player since Wayne Rooney to score 20+ home goals in a single season.
But it’s worth noting that he’s failed to find the net in his last three competitive appearances at Old Trafford.
As in United’s case, Wolves’ patchy form depends on the playing ground, as evidenced by the fact 15 of their last 17 Premier League points have arrived at Molineux Stadium.
Lopetegui’s charges have won four of their last six league outings without conceding, but each victory in this sequence came in the West Midlands, emphasising their travel sickness.
Since beating basement boys Southampton 2-1 in early February, Wolves have failed to win any of their last six Premier League matches on hostile turf (D2, L4), most recently slumping to a woeful 6-0 defeat at Brighton.
Stretching beyond the realms of this season, the visitors have amassed just two wins on their last 21 top-flight road trips (D6, L13), while they’ve earned a league third-low 11 points away from home in 2022/23.
Things tend to get worse against more prominent rivals, with Wolverhampton suffering an alarming ten defeats in their last 11 Premier League away encounters against top-four sides (D1).
What’s even more concerning for Loteptegui is that his team only scored four goals during that 11-game run while conceding a staggering 23 in return.
Player to Watch: Ruben Neves
Although it’s not his primary assignment, Neves has often proved a solution for Wolves’ well-documented scoring problems this season.
Closely followed by Man United in the past, the deep-lying playmaker has mustered six goals and one assist, boasting more Premier League goal contributions than any other Wolves player in 2022/23.
Lisandro Martinez (foot), Phil Jones (knee), Tom Heaton (ankle), and Donny van de Beek (knee) remain at a distance from their anticipated comebacks.
However, Raphael Varane (ankle) and Scott McTominay (knock) are on track to potentially return in the upcoming weeks, but this clash will probably come too soon for either of them.
As for Wolves, Boubacar Traore is gradually improving his match fitness, while Chiquinho and Sasa Kalajdzic are undergoing rehabilitation for their long-term knee problems.
It means Lopetegui will have to call upon the same squad that toppled Villa 1-0 last weekend but also lost four of their last five league matches outside Molineux (D1).
Manchester United potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot; Casemiro, Christian Eriksen; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho; Marcus Rashford.
Wolverhampton Wanderers potential starting line-up:
(4-4-2): Jose Sa; Nelson Semedo, Craig Dawson, Max Kilman, Toti; Pedro Neto, Ruben Neves, Mario Lemina, Matheus Nunes; Diego Costa, Matheus Cunha.
We Say: Manchester 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
A 1-0 scoreline has become a common theme in Man United’s recent Premier League outings, and nothing should change this weekend.
With Ten Hag’s men struggling in front of goal, one strike could decide this showdown against the misfiring visitors.
How To Watch
With the game not broadcast live in the UK, the only option fans will have to watch this game is through Manchester United live streams and a VPN.
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