Soccernet Preview: Wolves v Manchester United
The last time Wolves met Manchester United, they left Old Trafford with a 3-0 defeat and two months later were handed a £25,000 fine for "failing to field a full-strength team". But the controversy manager Mick McCarthy caused with his decision to make wholesale changes - ten in all - to his team was arguably justified when Wolves followed up with a comfortable 2-0 victory over fellow relegation strugglers Burnley.
Ironically, this time around it could be Sir Alex Ferguson who sends out a weakened team, with the United boss sure to have one eye on next Wednesday's Champions League second leg against AC Milan. But Ferguson would be foolish to underestimate a Wolves side who have drawn with Liverpool and Aston Villa at Molineux, beaten Spurs and gave an excellent account of themselves against Chelsea, before eventually losing 2-0. Crucially, with Chelsea playing in the FA Cup, a victory will take United top of the Premier League, and with Sir Alex realising the potential psychological importance of such a move at this stage of the season, the newly-crowned Carling Cup winners are unlikely to rest on their laurels.
The last time the two sides met at Molineux, Wolves sprung a shock on the then-champions when Kenny Miller grabbed the winner in a 1-0 victory in 2004. Mick McCarthy will send out a full-strength side hoping to emulate that achievement and aiming to avenge a disappointing defeat to Bolton last weekend. In reality, even a point could prove valuable in what is developing into an intriguing and extremely tight relegation battle.
Wolves player in focus: David Jones. There will be no player on the pitch at Molineux more determined to prove himself to Sir Alex Ferguson than Wolves midfielder Jones. A product of the Manchester United youth academy, Jones captained the club's young guns to 2003 FA Youth Cup-glory and also skippered the reserve team, before leaving the club for Derby in 2007 after finding it impossible to break into the United's first-team. After playing in Derby's ill-fated 2007-08 Premier League season, Jones moved to Wolves where he has continued to flourish. The former England Under-21 international struggled with injuries at the beginning of this campaign but is now an integral part of Wolves' midfield, netting the winner against Tottenham last month.
Manchester United player in focus: Dimitar Berbatov. With Michael Owen injured and Wayne Rooney likely to be rested, the duty of leading Manchester United's front-line will probably rest with Berbatov. When the Bulgarian arrived at United in 2008, big things were expected of a player who had scored an impressive 45 goals in 106 games for Spurs. But the Bulgarian has failed to set Old Trafford alight, with his impeccable touch and fantastic footballing brain often overshadowed by his inability to find the net with the regularity expected of a No.9. And with just nine league goals to his name this season, it is time for the Bulgarian to step up to the plate.
Key battle: Kevin Doyle v Nemanja Vidic. Last May, Serbia defender Vidic was named United's Player of the Season after his commanding presence at the back helped United to a clean-sheet record and a third successive Premier League title. This campaign has been a little tougher for Vidic, restricted to just 14 league appearances because of injury, and after being embarrassed by Gabriel Agbonlahor in last week's Carling Cup final he will be determined to show he can cope with a tricky striker in Doyle. The Irishman is Wolves' top scorer with six goals in 23 league appearances and he caught the eye with an impressive display in the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea, reportedly alerting the attention of some of the Premier League's big boys. An excellent finisher, Doyle is good in the air and can use both feet; his busy approach will provide an interesting test for Vidic.
Tactics: Mick McCarthy said his side "took the game by the scruff of the neck" against Chelsea and indeed, Wolves played with no fear, with Kevin Doyle the lone frontman in a formation reliant on the wing work of Matthew Jarvis down the left and Kevin Foley down the right. They will likely adopt a similarly confident approach against United but must be wary of the Red Devils' pace on the counter - with Nani and Antonio Valencia providing a dangerous presence of their own down the flanks. Darron Gibson may be handed a starting berth, and if he fills the holding role then Michael Carrick will have the opportunity to play in a more advanced position to pull the strings in midfield.
Quotes: Wolves left-back Stephen Ward admits he can't wait to face his boyhood side: "I was a childhood United fan so it's nice to play against them, and my Mum and Dad are coming from Ireland for the weekend so I'm sure it will be emotional for them. But once the whistle goes, I'll be doing all I can to get a result for Wolves and nothing would give me greater pleasure than beating United. A year ago we were watching these lads on TV so it's a great testament to us that we're now sharing the same pitch as them."
Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester United's title run-in: "You have to focus at the turn of the year and make sure you don't make mistakes. We lost to Everton and we were a bit tired. But we recovered against West Ham and we recovered again [against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final]. We have shown time and time again that this football club has determination. They don't give in and that is a good quality. You will see that in the remainder of the season. We won't give in."
In the news: A prospective takeover of Manchester United has been splashed across most of the back pages this week, with a group of London financiers known as the Red Knights trying to convince fans to boycott United season tickets in a bid to send a message to the Glazer family. It was also revealed on Thursday that United's current owners have reportedly rejected an astonishing bid of £1 billion for the club, and are holding out for a figure closer to £1.5 billion.
Wolves team news: Striker Andy Keogh has returned to training after almost four months out with an ankle injury, but a place on the bench is the best he can hope for, while this match also comes too soon for Michael Kightly and David Edwards. Mick McCarthy has named an unchanged line-up in Wolves' past three matches and after the furore surrounding the defeat at Old Trafford in December, it could be four in a row against United.
Manchester United team news: Nani is available again after serving the three-match suspension he picked up for being sent off against Aston Villa last month, and he will likely slot into the United midfield, but Michael Owen (hamstring), Rio Ferdinand (back) and Ryan Giggs (arm) are all out of contention. Jonny Evans is also doubtful after a knee injury, picked up in last week's Carling Cup final, ruled him out of Northern Ireland's friendly with Albania. There were 11 United players on international duty in midweek, with all escaping unharmed from their respective matches.
Probable Wolves line-up (4-5-1): Hahnemann, Zubar, Berra, Craddock, Ward, Foley, Guedioura, Henry, Jarvis, Jones, Doyle
Probable Manchester United team (4-5-1):Van der Sar, Rafael, Brown, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Gibson, Park, Nani, Berbatov.
Soccernet prediction: Mick McCarthy won't get away with fielding a weakened Wolves team this time, but even with his strongest line-up on show, Manchester United will have too much quality and should leave Molineux with all three points.