Manchester United’s unbeaten run is over, following the 2-1 defeat against Hull on Thursday, but it’s unlikely that fans will be too bothered. When a loss books your place in a Wembley final, it certainly softens the blow. On Feb. 26, United will face Southampton at the national stadium, hoping to win a first trophy under Jose Mourinho.
With the Premier League title out of sight, Mourinho will also take the FA Cup very seriously and play a strong side when the holders take on Wigan in the fourth round on Sunday.
When United beat Reading 4-0 in round three, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were rested, but the starting line-up included the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata. We should expect a similar line-up this weekend, three days ahead of a league game against Hull.
Mourinho has already confirmed that David De Gea will be rested, with Sergio Romero starting in goal. Meanwhile, 20-year-old keeper Joel Pereira, who recently returned from a loan spell at Belenenses, will be on the bench.
Fans will also be relieved to hear Mourinho plans to play Anthony Martial, amid conflicting reports over the Frenchman’s situation. While some claim he is content biding his time at United, others suggested that he is frustrated by Mourinho’s treatment.
Martial has been left out of the squad entirely for United’s past two games, with his manager claiming he didn’t make the most of his opportunity when he started against Liverpool. Mourinho has said that, if the 21-year-old is “magnificent” against Wigan, then he will keep his place in the team for Hull. If not, though, he will be replaced by one of the many other players United who can play in this position.
It is clearly up to the Frenchman whether he chooses to respond positively to this challenge, although it might help him if Luke Shaw was regularly playing at left-back behind him, rather than Matteo Darmian. Shaw last started on Nov. 30, though he was an unused substitute at Hull on Thursday.
Marcus Rashford, who scored twice versus Reading, will likely be afforded another chance to shine. His pace is a huge asset when he is played out wide, but he might start in Ibrahimovic’s central role on Sunday if the Swedish striker is rested for the FA Cup again.
While Reading are challenging for promotion from the Championship, Wigan are fighting a relegation battle in the same division. Ex-United defender Jaap Stam was disappointed with the way his team performed during his return to Old Trafford; Warren Joyce, United’s former youth team coach who left for Wigan earlier this season, will be hoping for better luck on his own return.
Having endured a difficult time when Joyce first took charge, losing five games in a row, Wigan now boast three straight wins in all competitions. Obviously, Nottingham Forest, Burton Albion and Brentford are not Manchester United, but at least Joyce’s squad will be in good spirits ahead of the game.
Mourinho will know how important the FA Cup could be to United. Having underperformed in the league, judging from the sixth place they currently hold, a domestic cup double would certainly allow his debut campaign at the club to be viewed positively.
Scott is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.