Manchester United will hope to secure safe passage through to the FA Cup fifth round when they welcome Middlesbrough to Old Trafford on Friday.
Club footballing action has resumed this week after the end of the first international break of the year. In England, the 2021/22 FA Cup recommences on Friday night, with Manchester United and Middlesbrough locking horns at Old Trafford in the first fixture of the fourth round.
Manchester United entered the FA Cup in the third round, meeting fellow Premier League outfit Aston Villa, who they beat 1-0 courtesy of an early Scott McTominay goal. The Red Devils are currently on a four-game unbeaten run, bouncing back well since suffering a shock 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers last month.
On the other hand, Middlesbrough played an engrossing FA Cup third round tie with Mansfield Town, edging out the League Two side 3-2, with Elliott Hewitt scoring an injury-time winner. Boro’s recent form has largely been strong, with Chris Wilder’s men suffering only one defeat in their last ten outings, putting themselves in contention to secure promotion to the Premier League.
Manchester United beat Middlesbrough 3-1 the last time they met each other, back in 2017. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the FA Cup fourth round encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ralf Rangnick on Lingard situation: “Jesse has asked to be off until Monday to clear his mind”. ? #MUFC
“He didn’t leave because we had problem with Mason Greenwood – and also because of the club not finding agreement with another club”, Rangnick added. pic.twitter.com/qFUyL60ypD
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) February 3, 2022
A lot has happened at Manchester United since the last time they played a game. On Friday, the Red Devils’ interim boss Ralf Rangnick will be bereft of the services of at least four first-team players. At the same time, two other stars will no longer be called upon following their loan departures in the January transfer window.
Anthony Martial has joined Sevilla on a loan deal for the remainder of the season, while Donny van de Beek has signed for Everton in a similar transfer. In addition, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani miss out despite being fit, with the latter returning late from international duty with Uruguay while the former needs some time off after failing to secure a deadline day move away from Manchester United.
Lingard’s blocked move came courtesy of the controversy surrounding Mason Greenwood, who will not feature for Manchester United until further notice. The other absentees for the Red Devils are centre-backs Victor Lindelof (illness) and Eric Bailly (ankle). But there is some good news, as Paul Pogba has rejoined training after recovering from a hamstring injury.
The Frenchman is in contention to feature for Manchester United against Middlesbrough and will come off the bench in the second half on Friday. Meanwhile, Rangnick will line his side up in the 4-3-3 formation that he has preferred recently, with Bruno Fernandes reprising a slightly withdrawn yet free role.
The Portuguese international will be the creator-in-chief for Manchester United, with support coming from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga. The young forwards will look to bomb the flanks with pace, with Cristiano Ronaldo being the central figure. The veteran striker will also look to use his hold-up play to good effect, especially with Middlesbrough likely to employ three centre-backs.
Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay will reprise largely defensive roles in midfield, with the latter having more freedom to roam higher up the pitch during possession phases. Raphael Varane will pair up with Harry Maguire at the heart of the Manchester United defence, with Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot being the two full-backs who have a big role to play under Rangnick. Finally, David de Gea should take his place in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): de Gea; Dalot, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; Bruno Fernandes, Matic, McTominay; Elanga, Ronaldo, Rashford
Unlike his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Chris Wilder does not have a plethora of roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. On Friday, the Middlesbrough manager will likely miss out on just two first-team players.
Marc Bola is the major absentee, with the 24-year-old centre-back nursing a knee injury that has brought his season to a premature end. The other key player missing for Middlesbrough is James Lea Siliki, who is still at the Africa Cup of Nations with host nation Cameroon.
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) February 3, 2022
Wilder will line Middlesbrough up in his preferred 3-5-2 formation, with the centre-backs having a big role to play in the system. Joe Lumley will be the man between the sticks, with Dael Fry, Sol Bamba and former Manchester United defender Paddy McNair being the three centre-backs. Fry and McNair will be the overlapping full-backs who will pose a major threat in the final third.
The two wing-backs will provide width higher up the pitch, looking to find the strikers inside the box in dangerous areas. Isaiah Jones and Neil Taylor will be those two players, with the former’s change in pace also making him a tricky customer to deal with for the opposition full-back.
The three midfielders will have a lot riding on them in the middle of the park. While they will look to keep things tight, the two box-to-box midfielders will also have the license to go as high up as the Manchester United box while not shying away from aiming long-range efforts.
Matt Crooks will sit at the base of the midfield, with Marcus Tavernier and Jonathan Howson being the two box-to-box midfielders. Folarin Balogun, a January signing from Arsenal, will likely make his first start for Middlesbrough, pairing up with Andraz Sporar in the final third.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Lumley; McNair, Bamba, Fry; Jones, Howson, Crooks, Tavernier, Taylor; Sporar, Balogun
- Since a 4-1 defeat at the Riverside Stadium in October 2005, Manchester United have remained unbeaten in their last 13 meetings with Middlesbrough across all competitions (W8 D5), with their last meeting coming in March 2017.
- Middlesbrough have been drawn with Manchester United for the 11th time in the FA Cup, more often than any other opponent. They have progressed from three of the other ten ties, most recently in 2001/02 during their run to the semi-finals.
- Manchester United have won 28 of their last 31 home FA Cup matches against sides from a lower division (D2 L1), including each of their previous eight without conceding a goal.
- Middlesbrough have progressed from only one of their last 10 FA Cup ties against Premier League opposition, though that one instance did come in Manchester in 2014/15, beating Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad.
- Scott McTominay has scored three of Manchester United’s last seven FA Cup goals, all of which have come in 1-0 victories at Old Trafford – vs Watford (January 2021), West Ham United (February 2021) and Aston Villa in round three this season.
Player to Watch
A lot has been said about Paul Pogba and his precarious contract situation at Manchester United. While the Frenchman remains a key figure for the Red Devils, there is a feeling that his departure might not hurt the club too much, considering how inconsistent he has been since arriving from Juventus five and a half years ago.
On his day, very few players are better than Pogba, but those moments do not come regularly. That said, Pogba will be raring to return to action at a time when Manchester United’s sporting situation is becoming desperate. While Pogba will continue angling for a move, a strong end to the season might help Manchester United keep him, starting with the game against Middlesbrough.
Manchester United 2-0 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough’s form since Chris Wilder’s arrival should fill them up with confidence when they visit Old Trafford with a sense that they do not have anything to lose. On the other hand, Manchester United’s situation is the polar opposite, and they look like they are one defeat away from plunging into chaos.
But Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford showed resurgent signs heading into the international break, while the long-awaited return of Paul Pogba sets them up nicely for this game. Anything other than a Manchester United win will come as a major surprise, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 victory for the hosts, with Boro giving them some moments of worry.