Manchester United have faced wolves five times since the Black Country club returned to the lead pack last season and they have yet to taste the win against Nuno Espirito Santo’s team, scoring three meager goals in five games.
The most significant game was in March when the Wolves defeated Man Utd 2-1 England Cup quarterfinal.
United entered the match in superb form. The Red Devils had won 10 and drawn two of their previous twelve games. However, the newly promoted side mitigated their threat of considerable attack, limiting them to just two shots on target.
It was a familiar story at Molineux last week, as visitors failed to shoot in a national game for the first time since January 2015.
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The disciplined unity of the Wolves, made up of five defenders and two midfielders, proved difficult to break, but few found the task as daunting as the 12 FA Cup winners.
Frank Lampard provided the plan to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, when his Chelsea defeated the Wolves 5-2 in September, proving that it is possible to violate Santo’s lively defensive structure.
But Solskjaer’s insistence on a lone striker policy at previous meetings made it difficult to create clearly defined opportunities when the Wolves regained their defensive form.
What is more worrisome for United is that in each of the last five games, their opponents have always seemed the most likely to win.
Each fixture followed a similar pattern. The Red Devils start quickly, but soon seem to be devoid of ideas as the Wolves grow in the game and dominate the final stages.
It remains to be seen if Solskjaer will adapt his tactics on Wednesday evening, but with the recent emergence of Mason Greenwood, it is likely that he will turn to the 18-year-old at Old Trafford.
Visitors hope that first league Adama Traoré, nominated for the month of December, will recreate some of the magic he has produced in recent weeks.
Traoré has made more acquisitions than anyone in the top five European leagues this season, completing 75.3% of his dribbling attempts.
He gave his back full of sleepless nights and it seems that the only way to stop the wingman is to dirty him. In Traore’s first 27 appearances this season, he drew 25 amazing yellow cards.
Newcastle Lateral back Jetro Willems said the winger is “a tougher opponent than Cristiano Ronaldo”.
“He is known as the fastest man in football and now I know it is true,” he added.
The only effective tactic to stop Traoré was to double, and sometimes even triple, the Spaniard at the foot of the fleet, which allows the lateral rear Matt Doherty to have more freedom to overlap.
If the wolves are to make it to the fourth round, it is likely that Traore’s counterattack and dazzling pace will prove essential.
Despite their high league position in seventh and their equally impressive European setbacks, the wolves seem to have reached a kind of mid-season slump.
So the FA Cup replay on Wednesday suddenly becomes even more important.
Santo’s charges have failed to win any of their last four games in all competitions. Perhaps their demanding schedule and relatively small team are catching up with them, having played more games and used fewer players than anyone in the Premier League this season.
The West Midlanders cause was not helped by injury to star winger Diogo Jota. It was a big miss despite the obvious competence of 19-year-old deputy Pedro Neto, who replaced the former man from Atletico Madrid. Jota’s absence left the Wolves short of attack options, which was highlighted in their 1-1 draw against the Magpies last weekend.
The head coach couldn’t make a change to influence the outcome, with the only offensive option on the bench, the inexperienced Benny Ashley-Seal.
The former Porto boss deplored the lack of attack options available to him after the match and insisted that it was “obvious” that they needed reinforcements in January.
For the Wolves, victory in the resumption of Wednesday’s third round could lift them out of their doldrums and be a turning point in their season before a decisive series of games at home and on the continent.
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