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Jan 5, 2019 at 12.30pm UK at Old Trafford
Attendance: 73,918
Man UtdManchester United
Mata (22' pen.), Lukaku (45')
FT(HT: 2-0)

Preview: Manchester United vs. Reading - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's FA Cup third round tie between in-form Manchester United and Championship strugglers Reading at Old Trafford.

A revitalised Manchester United will switch their focus to the FA Cup this weekend when they host Reading at Old Trafford in a third-round tie.

The hosts have won four games from four under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so far, whereas Reading are languishing near the bottom of the Championship table.

Man Utd

Interim Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on January 2, 2019© Reuters

Manchester United appear to have begun their New Year resolution of a fresh start early, and 2019 is so far feeling a lot happier for the club than much of 2018 did.

Eyebrows were raised when the Red Devils selected a former player with limited managerial experience as their interim boss following the sacking of one of the most successful coaches of all time in Jose Mourinho.

However, Solskjaer has so far ticked every box for United, restoring their attacking swagger with 14 goals, rejuvenating the club's big-name players and - most importantly - racking up the wins with four from four games.

United won just four of their last 12 league games under Mourinho, but Solskjaer's record so far does not only compare favourably to his predecessor - he also stacks up against the biggest names in the club's history.

Sir Matt Busby is the only other manager to have won his first four games in charge of United - a feat not even Sir Alex Ferguson achieved - and Solskjaer will expect his side to make it five in a row on Saturday lunchtime.

Critics will point out that the Norwegian has had a kind start to his reign, facing Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and Newcastle United prior to this match against Championship strugglers Reading.

Solskjaer can only beat what is put in front of him, though, and regardless of the opposition there is no doubt that United are playing with a greater freedom now, which is helping them to unlock the potential which for so long seem stifled.

There was even a clean sheet to celebrate during Wednesday night's 2-0 win at Newcastle - just their third in the league all season - and with only one top-six opponent to face until a renewal of rivalries with Liverpool on February 24, this current run shows no sign of stopping just yet.

Solskjaer has already admitted that he will not want to leave the club when his current short-term deal expires in the summer, and if he carries on like he has started then he may not have to either, with United still searching for a permanent successor to Mourinho.

The interim boss will not need telling the importance of this competition either, having lifted the trophy twice during his playing days at Old Trafford - including once in the treble-winning season 20 years ago.

United themselves have won the trophy 12 times - a tally only Arsenal can beat - and they made it all the way to the final last season before being beaten by Chelsea at Wembley.

The Red Devils have not been knocked out in the third round of this competition since 2014 - at the hands of Swansea City - while you have to go back to 2010 for their last FA Cup defeat against lower-league opposition.

Recent form (all competitions): LLWWWW


Reading manager Jose Gomes on January 1, 2019© Reuters

Whereas Manchester United sacked a silver-haired Portuguese boss called Jose shortly before Christmas, Reading went in the opposite direction and hired one.

Jose Gomes took over just two days before Christmas following the departure of Paul Clement, who lasted just nine months in the hotseat following a dreadful start to the Championship season.

Like Solskjaer, Gomes's appointment surprised many considering the bulk of his recent managerial experience came in the Middle East, but unlike Solskjaer he has been unable to have an immediate impact on his players.

Reading are still searching for their first win under the new manager, picking up just one point from three games so far and falling to a 4-1 defeat at home to mid-table Swansea City on New Year's Day.

Combined with the end of Clement's tenure, Reading are now winless in their last 10 games stretching back to the beginning of November, picking up only five points from a possible 30 in that time.

Such a poor run of form has seen them slip into the Championship relegation zone, with five points now separating them from safety having won just four games all season.

Simply putting the ball in the back of the net is the main problem for Gomes to fix, with Reading having failed to even score in six of their last nine outings - a rather sudden drought considering they had only drawn blanks in two of their previous 14.

Indeed, despite that recent dry patch Reading have scored the same number of goals this season as fifth-placed Middlesbrough, but only three clean sheets all term have also hampered their chances.

One of those did come in their most recent away game - a goalless draw with an in-form Queens Park Rangers side - but the Royals have won just one of their last 21 matches on the road, stretching all the way back to last January.

It is almost four years since Reading won an away FA Cup match too - a run which includes a 4-0 defeat to United at this exact stage in 2017.

Recent form (all competitions): LDLLDL

Team News

Alexis Sanchez during a Manchester United training session on November 26, 2018© Reuters

Alexis Sanchez could be set for his first Manchester United start since November having returned from injury off the bench against Newcastle in midweek.

Romelu Lukaku also came off the bench in that match, scoring with his first touch, and he may also be restored to the starting lineup for this one.

Solskjaer has vowed to use youth during his interim spell, and the likes of Tahith Chong, Andre Gomes and Mason Greenwood are among the academy products hoping for a chance.

There could also be rare starts for Sergio Romero, Diogo Dalot, Matteo Darmian and Marouane Fellaini as Solskjaer looks to shuffle his pack following a busy festive period.

Reading, meanwhile, may be able to welcome veteran defender Paul McShane back into their squad after he returned to training following a knee injury.

Top-scorer Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is also pushing for a recall to the starting XI, while Callum Harriott may have earned a start after coming off the bench to score on New Year's Day.

Former United defender John O'Shea could feature against his old club, but fellow alumnus Tyler Blackett remains sidelined through suspension, while Leandro Bacuna also serves the final match of his ban.

Man Utd possible starting lineup:
Romero; Dalot, Jones, Lindelof, Darmian; Fred, Fellaini; Chong, Gomes, Sanchez; Lukaku

Reading possible starting lineup:
Jaakola; Yiadom, Ilori, O'Shea, Richards; Rinomhota, Swift; Harriott, Aluko, Barrow; Bodvarsson

Head To Head

Reading have won just one of their previous 21 matches against United across all competitions, with that solitary triumph coming all the way back in 1927 in another FA Cup third-round clash.

The Red Devils are unbeaten in 16 matches since then, winning 12 of those including each of the last four.

Fourteen of the 21 meetings have come in the FA Cup, with United winning eight of those including a 4-0 triumph in their most recent clash at this stage two years ago, when Wayne Rooney equalled Sir Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record with his 249th strike for the club.

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We say: Man Utd 3-0 Reading

United are flying under Solskjaer at the moment and it is hard to see them suddenly losing at home to a team struggling so badly in the Championship. It may be a second-string United side, but it should still be enough to comfortably beat Reading.

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Alexis Sanchez during a Manchester United training session on November 26, 2018
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