Mike Holden previews Friday's live FA Cup clash between Derby and Manchester United.
Louis van Gaal remains in charge at Manchester United but his days at Old Trafford appear to be numbered, so take no notice of the Red Devils’ wretched league form and ignore the Dutchman’s rigid philosophy. Instead, back United’s senior players to seize the initiative and shoot their way into FA Cup fifth round with a bet on United to win and both teams to score at 7/2.
The mutiny might not happen straight away but it’s hard to imagine seasoned pros like Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata standing by and doing nothing if their miserable season looked like taking another wrong turn against lower league opposition. We’ve now approached the point where disobeying the manager’s orders no longer carries the same consequences.
Call it an investment for the future. The players will want something to keep them going long after LVG’s expected departure and a cup run might just be the perfect opportunity to end the campaign on a high under new management. Let’s not forget, 2004 was the last time United won this competition and none of the current squad were with the club then.
Derby are very capable opposition by Championship standards with a manager who has coached at the very highest level, and Paul Clement is shrewd enough to come up with a strategy that causes United problems. But the Rams lack big-match pedigree and even if they got themselves into a winning position, you suspect it would have to be quite late in the day for them to hold out.
As such, you’ll understand the logic behing supplementing the original wager with a bet on the Derby/Manchester United half-time/full-time outcome, which is available at 28/1. United might take a while to find their stride but with the backing of a noisy 5,000 away following, and given what’s at stake, you’d expect them to come alive at some point, asking questions of Derby’s mental strength.
In that respect, Monday’s capitulation at Burnley was an apt precursor. Clement got his pre-match tactics spot-on and the Rams were the better side for 45 minutes. But the second period was a catalogue of misfortune and once the tide started to turn against them, their brittle confidence, dating back to last season’s late-season collapse under Steve McClaren, became apparent.
And when you talk about incentives, the prospect of beating United in a one-off at the iPro Stadium doesn’t come close to the allure of securing Premier League football after the pain of two failed attempts. Derby will be motivated, for sure, but at no stage will they lose sight of the fact that promotion is their number one priority.
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