time is of the essence
It can’t be a coincidence that within a week Erik ten Hag met Sir Alex Ferguson for dinner and then effectively pressured a referee ahead of Manchester United’s biggest game of the season.
Ten Hag described Newcastle as “annoying…they try to annoy you”. When asked if he was specifically referring to wasting time, Ten Hag confirmed that was the case.
In fairness to Newcastle, they aren’t the lowest in the league for average time the ball is in play during their matches. Leeds are. So it’s Newcastle.
Also read: ‘Only the people at the club know’ – interview with Marcus Rashford
Newcastle are best known for it as they are having, by their standards, a successful season and their goalkeeper Nick Pope is infamous for it. In Newcastle’s goalless draw with Arsenal, the ball was in play for 43 minutes and 17 seconds of the 90.
Referee David Coote and fourth official Simon Hooper have been warned to make sure the ball is not dead as often as it is when Newcastle play.
Eleven games and one goal is a disastrous run for any striker, never mind a United striker. United have only lost once since Wout Weghorst defected from Besiktas on loan, but they are not fulfilling the role he was signed for; Score goals
Weghorst has fought for chances during his 11 starts, but last week he struck meekly in one-on-ones against Barcelona and Leicester. On Thursday night, his sacking led to a comeback for United in their return loss to Barça.
If Weghorst is to be removed, the caveat is that United are limited in terms of their game changes. They can ‘only’ name nine substitutes and recent matches have reinforced just how vital their game-changers are from the bench.
A lot depends on the fitness of Marcus Rashford, but if he is available, an attacking foursome of Rashford, Weghorst, Antony and Bruno Fernandes with Alejandro Garnacho and Jadon Sancho in reserves would be percentage play.
Is Rashford fit?
That is the question United fans will be asking on the trains, buses and cars to Wembley. Rashford has scored 16 goals in his last 18 games and has 24 club goals on the season. United’s next top scorer, Bruno Fernandes, is on seven.
Wan Bissaka or Dalot?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s withdrawal midway through the second half against Barcelona came as a surprise, as it reignited his unlikely association with Antony. Wan-Bissaka was first serenaded at Old Trafford as he returned to the dugout.
Wan-Bissaka is a resurgent right-back, but Dalot’s attacking instincts align more naturally with Ten Hag and the Portuguese cannot be written off as a mere substitute after two ill-timed injuries.
Allan Saint-Maximin is a mercurial footballer and scored brilliantly against United last season, which may ensure Wan-Bissaka continues at right-back.
the boys from brazil
Five Brazilians are likely to start at Wembley as Bruno Guimaraes has returned from Newcastle suspension and is ready to be alongside Joelinton. He will surely face Casemiro and the indefatigable Fred.
Fred produced one of his best performances against Barcelona in midweek and even in two uneven performances against Leicester and Barcelona last week, he scored goals for Marcus Rashford.