Man United could struggle to break down a resilient Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Man Utd lost their title as the FA Cup’s most successful club when Arsenal lifted the trophy last season and they haven’t won the Cup since 2004. They haven’t even reached the final since 2007 and last term they required a replay against Cambridge in the 4th round after struggling past Yeovil at this stage. The season before was even worse as they were knocked out at the first hurdle by Swansea and with the pressure still on Louis van Gaal he knows that being victims of a giant killing at Old Trafford will not be tolerated by the home fans.
It’s been 20 years since United conceded more than once against lower league opposition in the Cup but they lost 1-0 to Leeds here at this stage in 2010 the last time they entertained League One opposition and given their own struggles scoring a repeat is far from implausible. A fine Wayne Rooney back-heel eased some of the pressure last weekend as two second-half goals ended an eight game winless streak but United have still scored just 12 times in their last 15 games, with seven blanks, and no ground in the English leagues has seen fewer goals this season.
Premier League sides have won 67% of their 98 FA Cup home matches against third tier teams since 1992/93, though the two such ties last season both went the way of the away side. That included Sheffield Utd’s win at QPR and since 2011/12 they’ve made the 4th round every year despite having to start in round one. They’ve also posed regular problems for top-flight clubs as they’ve gone W6-D7-L6 against such teams in the Cup since 2002/03, including a very respectable W3-D3-L4 on the road.
However, the Blades have had a pretty mediocre campaign and though they won all four matches in December they lost at home last weekend. Three of those four wins were 1-0 scores and their stats on the road don’t mark this game down as a classic, with their last eight away matches in all competitions featuring just 11 goals as six have been level at half-time.
The Red Devils should be far too good but with their injury problems in defence and the lack of bite in attack we wouldn’t want to be getting too involved in backing them at 1.30 or covering the -1.5 goal handicap. Instead, it looks safer to back the under-goals in the hope that the Blades are happy to hang on for a draw, while with two games next week it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Man Utd give Martial or Rooney a rest.
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