Manchester United: United on the up but Wolves a tricky test
Manchester United welcome Wolves to Old Trafford for the last of the Premier League's New Year round of fixtures on Monday, with the Red Devils keen to maintain their upward momentum under Ralf Rangnick.
It's not all been plain sailing for the highly-rated German coach since he was named interim boss at the end of November following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking with some solid results masking a few disappointing performances.
The 63-year-old started with a well-deserved win over Crystal Palace but a narrow success over Norwich and the festive 1-1 draw at Newcastle were certainly not up to the same standard.
Unbeaten under Ralf
However, the bigger picture is that United has not lost since the former RB Leipzig manager came in. Of course, there remain plenty of teething problems as players get to grips with his new methods but there were signs in the most recent game, a 3-1 win over Burnley, that things are beginning to click.
A high-pressing, high-energy approach is Rangnick's preferred game-plan and, when it works, it should give the likes of Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood, 3.10 in the any time market, the time and space to shine in the final third.
Indeed, Rangnick, who was realistic in his assessment of the previous barely-deserved St James' Park draw, said the win over the Clarets saw the players he inherited display their best attacking football of his brief tenure.
There is still plenty to do but, all things considered, it looks like the Red Devils are at least moving in the right direction once again, with them 1.65 for another victory.
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Fernandes back, Pogba still out
They will welcome back the influential Bruno Fernandes against Wolves following suspension and Victor Lindelof should also be available. Paul Pogba remains out with a thigh issue - something which some supporters may view as a positive - as the France star continues to divide opinion.
The clearly-talented midfielder has failed to win over a large section of the United fanbase, who are well aware of his potential to be world class but have also grown increasingly frustrated at his seeming desire to leave Old Trafford again at the earliest possible opportunity.
Wolves have been difficult to predict under Bruno Lage this term but there's no getting away from the fact it's been a decent season for the Black Country outfit and they are 5.75 to win on Monday.
A quick check of the table shows them to be only a place and six points behind Monday's opponents and to be sitting eighth, knocking on the door of the European places, must surely be an acceptable position for a Wolves team that remember finished down in a below-par 13th in the 2020/21 campaign.
Few goals at either end
Lage has made them difficult to break down - they have only conceded 14 goals - which is the same as Chelsea and a figure bettered only by Man City, but the problem is they've only scored a paltry 13 themselves. Only Norwich have hit fewer.
It means some fans have openly questioned the slow, pragmatic and frankly dull tactical approach, designed at stifling the life out of games, which Lage has adopted.
A quirky stat seen before this Old Trafford clash revealed none of Wolves' last seven games have produced more than one goal. It probably best sums up their current situation as they have either been edged out 1-0, drawn 0-0 or pinched games themselves by just a single goal, while always being in contention. That run has included games against all of the top three so, in many ways, it's a run to be proud of rather than sniffed at.
United can edge it
It's hard to envisage much of a different scenario playing out on Monday, with Lage again likely to set his team up to frustrate. The difference in playing United compared to some is that their attacking threat, if it clicks into top gear, is very hard to contain.
Expect a tight tussle with the home side winning by - shock-horror - a 1-0 scoreline appealing in the betting market at 6.50.
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