Manchester United's confidence building as Wolves and Liverpool matches highlight vital week

Manchester United celebrate Marcus Rashford's first goal against Norwich on Saturday
Image: Manchester United celebrate Marcus Rashford's first goal against Norwich on Saturday

Manchester United go into a crucial week with just a little bit more confidence and maybe, just maybe, a slightly more relaxed squad boosted by Saturday’s 4-0 win over Norwich.

The manner of the win served to stem a growing sense of negativity that was beginning to build around a start to 2020 that saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side without a win in three games and trying to bounce back from a shell-shocking first-half against Manchester City - all of that ahead of an FA Cup third-round replay and a Premier League clash with old rivals Liverpool.

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There is an argument to suggest the FA Cup game might be the biggest fixture for United this week because of the potential rewards on offer and the reality that getting past Wolves would do even more wonders for the confidence of Solskjaer's squad.

It would also put them firmly on the front foot for the trip down the East Lancs Road to Anfield next Sunday where they try to challenge an unbeaten Liverpool side who look like champions-in-waiting.

Image: Ed Woodward faced the ire of United's crowd at Old Trafford

Fans still on Woodward, Glazers back

But it was not all good news on Saturday with questions being asked about the mood of the fans following a thumping win that was punctuated with songs from the Stretford End targeting the Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

What was odd about the chants, which lasted 10 minutes or so and weren't picked up by the rest of the stadium, is the timing of them on an afternoon when on the pitch there was a sense of enjoyment that such a commanding victory brings.

What I think it demonstrates is an uncertainty among the fanbase about the direction the club is going in, the Solskjaer songs were still sung more lustily and by a lot more people too but it lent a peculiar flavour to the afternoon and probably emphasised what a January signing could do to improve the morale among some supporters.

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Mason Greenwood against Wolves
Image: United's FA Cup draw with Wolves provided little in the way of thrills

Can United buck recent Wolves trend?

Everyone is praying Wednesday night's game will be more entertaining than the first one at Molineux which, again, showed Manchester United's ability to splutter on the big occasion.

City's dominance in the League Cup semi-final first leg probably leaves the FA Cup as the only route for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to claim some domestic silverware but he'll have to do something he's not managed since returning to Old Trafford - overcome Nuno Espirito Santo's side. In their last five meetings, United have suffered three defeats and secured two draws, but before that, they enjoyed eight wins on the bounce over Wolves at Old Trafford.

Marcus Rashford celebrates his opening goal against Liverpool
Image: Rashford was also on target against Liverpool in their first meeting this season

And then there is Liverpool…

United's last game there, a 3-1 defeat, was Jose Mourinho's undoing and while a similar result wouldn't be fatal for Ole, the gap between the two sides had someone I was chatting to at Old Trafford reminiscing about the 70s and 80s when the opportunity to frustrate or even halt subsequent Liverpool teams was a season highlight.

United showed plenty of desire and commitment back in October to claim a 1-1 draw with Jurgen Klopp's side but they will miss Scott McTominay's presence in the middle of the park, even though Brandon Williams if selected, might have enough passion and drive for the entire team!

Bruno Fernandes
Image: Bruno Fernandes could be on his way to United but it would mean a U-turn from the club

Will United perform Fernandes U-turn?

There is also the chance of a fresh face in the United squad this week, as we approach the halfway stage of the January window, but is that chance realistic?

There seems a clear desire to improve midfield options but acquiring Bruno Fernandes would be a colossal u-turn on the club's part and right now the advice seems to be steeped in caution rather than the fanfare that typically comes with a new arrival. Clearly United had their fingers burnt with Erling Haaland, a player they wanted to bring in, but whatever the reality of the intricacies of that deal, he's ended up at Dortmund and that public failure is something that no one at Old Trafford wants to see repeated this January.

Funds are available and targets have been selected but those targets have essentially been earmarked for the summer window and history shows few signings and even fewer success stories from United dabbling in the winter transfer market. Ole has spoken about emerging from January with a stronger squad rather than a weaker one and part of that process will also be to persuade Ashley Young to delay his exit until the end of the season.

Marcus Rashford celebrates his second goal
Image: Rashford scored twice on his 200th game for United

Confidence, belief and Rashford's big day

Saturday could have been one of those pivotal days for United. Defeat against bottom-of-the-table Norwich would have increased the volume on those alarm bells ringing around Old Trafford.

It is difficult to assess whether this 4-0 victory will be a foundation that can be built upon in the face of injury-ravaged opponents who seemed content with their day out at Old Trafford but those goals will breed confidence and the clean sheet will bring some added belief to David De Gea, who had been through a shaky couple of weeks.

What it also spelled out clearly is the importance of Marcus Rashford and the need to keep him fit for both club and country. Reaching 200 games is quite a landmark for a 22-year-old and only Norman Whiteside, Ryan Giggs and George Best have reached the milestone quicker in a red shirt.

While United, by their manager's admission, have been up and down this season, Rashford has scaled new heights both in his consistency and goal-scoring. He's now hit 19 goals and Solskjaer was delighted that his deft opener was from within the six-yard box where he wants Rashford to be even more ruthless. His quality with the ball, decision-making and pace have made him the prime example of a United player leading by example.

Mason Greenwood celebrates scoring his Manchester United's second goal of the game
Image: Mason Greenwood continued his impressive season with another goal

Greenwood and Martial on the rise

Another Academy product making a real name for himself is Mason Greenwood. His predatory instincts are already well-known but once again he demonstrated the ability to carve out a finish that looked unlikely. Three Norwich defenders stood between the 18-year-old and the goal, using one of them as a shield he opted to strike with his left foot and found the far corner with Tim Krul pretty handily positioned too.

His ability to shoot effectively with either foot make him an unpredictable threat but the thought behind many of his goals this season and the cleanness with which he connects have got his manager rightly purring. There's a lot of criticism thrown Ole's way but what cannot be ignored is that under his stewardship Rashford is maturing into a confident and high-quality striker while Greenwood's development has been both a blessing and pleasant surprise.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game
Image: Anthony Martial appears to be a player reborn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Throw in Anthony Martial and it is clear Solskjaer is getting more out of his strikers than his predecessor managed. On Saturday, the Frenchman's goal celebration was one of joy, and that's now four goals for him in his last five appearances.

Although his movement can still frustrate, United fans showed their appreciation of him as he left the pitch high-fiving supporters on the touchline before applauding the Stretford End and he is not far off equalling his best goal haul since arriving at Old Trafford.

And now he gets the chance to equal his United-best 12 goals in a season in a week which could end with United on a real high...or potentially heading back towards square one.

New Year, same Super 6!

New Year, same Super 6!

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