Manchester United vs Middlesbrough
Friday February 4th, 20:00
Live on ITV
Boro hoping to end United’s superb recent record in the FA Cup
Although these two sides are separated by over 20 places in the football pyramid, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have become relatively familiar foes over the last 30 years. They may not have faced one another since 2017, however, this the 11th time that the pair have met in this competition and the visitors will be hoping to pick up their first victory in 13 attempts against this opposition.
Manchester United saw their FA Cup run ended by eventual champions Leicester last season, and they were relatively unimpressive in their 1-0 victory against Aston Villa last month. Despite this, they possess a superb record when it comes to facing non-Premier League opposition in this competition, winning 28 of their 31 games against sides from lower divisions.
Nevertheless, Middlesbrough will be no pushovers and although they only just edged past Mansfield at the beginning of January, they will be expected to put up a decent fight on Friday night. Having conceded just three times in their last eight matches, Chris Wilder’s side are unlikely to be daunted by this trip to Old Trafford.
Changes expected for both sides
With a midweek fixture against Burnley on the horizon, Ralf Rangnick may be tempted to make changes for this FA Cup tie. However, with several players still making their way back from AFCON and the South American Qualifiers, his hands may be tied.
Nemanja Matic may be given the chance to impress, whereas the recent form of Anthony Elanga should be enough to merit the Swede’s inclusion in the XI. Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have recovered from illness in time to feature here and this may be the perfect opportunity for the out-of-favour Jesse Lingard to play himself back into contention.
Paul Pogba is available for the first time since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure, however, the French international is unlikely to be thrown straight back into the starting line-up.
Uche Ikpeazu led the line in Middlesbrough’s third round victory over Mansfield, however, the powerful frontman has since left the club on loan. Caolan Boyd-Munce impressed in the previous round and should be handed another chance to showcase his talent, whereas this appears to be the ideal opportunity for Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun to impress. His impressive cameo against Coventry has left the fans wanting more, unlike Aaron Connolly, who has been subject to criticism from some sections of the Boro fanbase.
Boyhood Manchester United fan Matt Crooks will be desperate to feature and the former Red Devils trainee is a tempting prospect at 11/2 to score anytime on the Sportsbook.
Defences set to dictate
Harry Maguire has praised the impact of Rangnick and although United haven’t quite clicked in the final third, their defensive record has undoubtedly been boosted following the managerial switch. The England international has spoken about the change of approach which has seen the club’s midfielders work harder to cover more space and close down the opposition quicker.
This has taken the pressure off Maguire and his fellow defenders and has allowed them to concentrate on the basics. As a result, United have given away far fewer chances and have conceded just six times in their last eight outings.
Middlesbrough have an xGA of just 0.99 across their last four Championship outings and have kept five clean sheets in their last eight matches. Preston were the last second tier side to score 2+ goals against the Teessiders back in mid-November and it appears as though Wilder’s unique style of play has been successfully implemented in an incredibly short space of time.
Boro can slip into a compact back five when required and they will not make it easy for the hosts to break through on Friday evening.
Second half excitement expected
Although ITV will be hoping for an high-scoring 90 minutes, it appears to be a relatively unlikely prospect.
These two managers like their sides to exert control and they both have the tactical nous to potentially thwart the opposition. It looks set to be a fascinating 90 minutes and at 2.1411/10 on the Exchange, Under 2.5 Goals is extremely tempting.
This may also be a game which springs to life after the break. Although the Premier League club may inevitably sneak through to the fifth round, backing the HT draw at 7/5 on the Sportsbook makes sense.