Manchester United return to action on Friday evening with an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Middlesbrough on the agenda.
After a two-week winter break, Ralf Rangnick‘s side will host the Championship outfit at Old Trafford in their attempt to progress into the fifth-round of the domestic cup competition.
This encounter will be played at 8:00 PM GMT and will be showed live on ITV. If you are planning on streaming the match, be sure to have a NordVPN subscription which allows you to stream games securely and with lightening speed. Sign up here for 68% off a two-year subscription!
United’s performances have gradually improved since Rangnick joined the club and the results have started to come with. Before the break, they had won back-to-back matches against Brentford and West Ham, with an impressive team showing against The Hammers.
The 1-0 victory against Aston Villa in the third-round of the cup last month was not the most convincing win, with The Villains being denied of two goals through offside calls, but it showed a defensive solidary that had been rare to see earlier in the season.
With the defensive side steadily improving, Rangnick will want to start seeing the same in offence. This encounter is a great opportunity for the team to show some spark in the final third.
However, the Boro are certainly no pushover, with Chris Wilder‘s side winning six of their last seven games. The North-Yorkshire outfit are pushing for the play-off positions, currently sitting seventh in the table, behind West Brom on only goal difference.
Though, it did take a last minute own goal in the third-round for them to progress, with League 2 side Mansfield giving them a difficult match.
There are a couple of notable players returning to the fold for this fixture, with Rangnick confirming that Paul Pogba will be in the squad after being out with a hamstring injury for two and a half months. He also hinted at a possible start for the Frenchman.
Meanwhile, it’s likely that Luke Shaw features from the start after Alex Telles played 90 minutes for Brazil on Wednesday in their 4-0 win over Paraguay. This also means that Fred is unlikely to start the match. Hannibal Mejbri will also be part of the matchday squad.
However, there are some players unavailable through different reasons. Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard have been granted time off for the encounter, while Victor Lindelöf misses out through illness and Eric Bailly returned from international duty with a swollen ankle. Mason Greenwood will not play for the club until further notice, Manchester United stated.
The visiting side could introduce new Arsenal loanee signing Folarin Balogun at Old Trafford. Former Red Devil Paddy McNair is set to start.
Riley McGree will miss the tie due to Covid-19. Sammy Ameobi, Darnell Fisher and Marc Bola are all doubts for the trip.
Ones to watch
For the hosts, the player to watch will certainly be Pogba if he is in the starting team. After a stellar start to the season, which involved seven assists in four games, United have missed the class and quality of the midfielder in the last couple of months.
Despite it being likely that Pogba will leave the club in the summer when his contract runs out, he can still offer United a lot until then, as Rangnick has previously explained. His return will be a good indicator to how he can help the club over the next month in their push for top four and potential silverware.
It will also be interesting to see who starts between the sticks for Manchester United. It was David de Gea against Villa, with reports claiming that Rangnick had promised the spot to Dean Henderson. Despite the Spaniard’s impressive form, having just won United’s Player of the Month award for January, it’s likely that Henderson will be given a chance to impress after making just two appearance so far this season.
It will be incredibly difficult for the England international to challenge for the number one spot at United right now, with De Gea currently undisputedly the first choice, which is why Henderson wanted a move on loan last month. However, it will be interesting to see how he can impress if he is to feature on Friday evening.
For Wilder’s side, Matt Crooks will be one to watch. The centre-midfielder has scored six times this season and could provide a threat going forward for the visitors. Aaron Connolly could also be a threat against United’s backline, the Brighton forward is on loan at the Championship club and has shown his talents previously in the Premier League.
Predicted line up (4-3-3)
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw;
Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba;
Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford
Cup glory is vital
Since United were knocked out of any possible title race conversation in the early stages of the season, reaching the late stages of the cup competitions is a must. After crashing out of the Carabao Cup, that leaves two chances for the Reds, who face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League later this month.
That leaves England’s most prestigious cup competition as the club’s best chance of lifting silverware this season.
For a team of Manchester United stature to not have won a trophy in five years is embarrassing, and while there is, of course, a bigger picture in progressing in the league, the feeling of lifting a trophy would be invaluable for the majority of this young team.