The pre-amble to this game began in earnest a couple of weeks ago in the League Cup. Wolves narrowly lost out in that game but fielded a strong side against a more second-string United outfit that included the likes of Ben Amos, Bebe, Gabriel Obertan and Federico Macheda in the starting XI.
Manchester United aren't setting the world on fire in their normal fashion this season, with Wayne Rooney still conspicuous by his absence since becoming the highest paid player in the Premier League; but this will make little difference to the quality of the United side that will line up on Saturday.
On the other hand, Big Mick is likely to stick with a 4-5-1 formation including Karl Henry and Dave Jones to protect the back four, whilst looking to the in-form Nenad Milijas and Matt Jarvis to provide Kevin Doyle with something of quality to chase. Wolves managed to make their chances count last weekend and will be confident the same can happen again if opportunities arise.
The positive result against Manchester City seems to have covered over the cracks that were starting to appear in Wolves' campaign, after their failure to beat West Ham, and will have buoyed the players for the daunting fixture in Manchester. If they only have one thing at Old Trafford it must be belief; without that, only time will tell how much you're beaten by.
Team selection may very well be in the limelight; if you remember, last season's game was overshadowed by a row over McCarthy's weak team selection. The Wolves boss clearly had one eye on his next crunch game against relegation candidates Burnley; this led to accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour from some managers; but Mick had the last laugh as, despite the 3-0 drubbing by United, his side went on to beat Burnley 2-0 and Wolves eventually avoided the drop.
Maybe this time will be different; the game this weekend is one of those games that could provide some extra, unexpected points, but not points that McCarthy believes his side will have to rely on if they are to retain Premier League status. The Arsenal game, although at home, is a similar proposition; there is no harm in being realistic with your expectations against sides that are, in all honesty, better than you.
Therefore, there is still a case for tactical selections; this week, McCarthy will have earmarked a certain amount of points as a job well done before the New Year. As his side currently sits on nine points and with Manchester United, Arsenal, Bolton, Blackpool and Sunderland all to play before 2011, I would guess that he would be looking to pick up at least five points from those games; any more would be a great help but any less would be real cause for concern.
The three games following the visit of Arsenal, especially against Owen Coyle's Bolton side at Molineux, are the games in which Wolves need to take points; one win and two draws would see them onto at least 14 by Christmas; which isn't quite enough - so McCarthy has to look at the Sunderland game as must win; 17 points at Christmas is a whole lot better than 14.
In the end, this is all just speculation. Anything could happen in any of those games that see Wolves rise up the table towards safety, or get dragged further into a torrid relegation battle. McCarthy will be loathe to let this happen as in Wolves he has a side that has the wherewithal and talent to become a Premier League mainstays.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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