When Manchester United visits Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on Sunday for their third encounter of the new Premier League season, there will be a festive spirit in the air.
Just days after the 20-time champions pulled off a remarkable deal to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club, Ole Gunnar Solskjær will supervise his 100th Premier League match in command of The Red Devils, and history might be written.
Friday, August 27 will be remembered in Manchester United memory as one of the most sensational and cherished days in the club’s recent history, as the Red Devils carried off one of the most incredible transfer hijackings in football history.
At the start of the day, club legend Ronaldo appeared bound for the blue half of Manchester, but United ended up securing a deal with Juventus to bring one of their best ever players back to Old Trafford just hours after news broke that they were also in the hunt to capture his signature.
A Form Guide
The signing of Ronaldo is definitely a huge boost for the squad. It’s a lift they clearly needed after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Southampton last time out, a result that sapped some of the early confidence generated by their Bruno Fernandes-inspired thrashing of Leeds United on the opening day.
While their visit to St Mary’s will probably be remembered as a two-point loss instead of a bonus, the outcome helped them match Arsenal’s Invincibles’ milestone of 27 Premier League away games without defeat.
The Red Devils will record the greatest unbeaten away run in English Premier League history if they avoid losing on Sunday, having not lost in away games in the Premier League since January 2020. It will also be a watershed moment for Solskjær, as he approaches a century of Premier League games in command of the club, a milestone he appeared unlikely to attain at times during his tenure.Embed from Getty Images
Bruno Lage’s side, on the other hand, are 16th in the initial standings, one of five clubs without a point and one of just three teams – together with Arsenal and Norwich City – without a goal. However, their football has been quite different to the Wolves we are used to watching; with them producing 42 shots in just two matches.
The Midlands team is making opportunities, but their difficulty has been converting them – something Adama Traore has been especially guilty of this season, having botched two remarkably similar one-on-one situations.
Wolves found their stride in front of goal in the EFL Cup second round on Tuesday, thrashing Championship side Nottingham Forest at The City Ground with four different players on the scoresheet.
Another timely reunion with former manager Nuno Espirito Santo beckons Wolves in the third round, when they will seek vengeance after losing to Tottenham Hotspur in their most recent league game.
That result made it back-to-back 1-0 losses to start the season, having previously lost to Leicester City on the opening day, and they have now lost five consecutive Premier League games since the ending of last season. They haven’t lost six games in a row since 2012, however their recent home record – five losses in their past seven games – does not inspire optimism that they can prevent that misfortune this weekend.
Fellow United supporters will have to wait a little longer to see Ronaldo in red again, but they may be rewarded to a debut for another newcomer in the form of Raphael Varane. Last Saturday, he was an unused substitute against Southampton, but he might get his first start on Sunday, replacing Victor Lindelöf at centre-back. Key summer signing Jadon Sancho is also vying for his first Man United start, having started both games thus far as a substitute.Embed from Getty Images
The most difficult task facing Solskjær this season will be integrating his expanding collection of high-profile forwards into the same team, and any full start for Sancho will almost certainly come at the cost of Anthony Martial or Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood has struck in each of United’s games so far and is unlikely to lose his starting spot, and a goal at the Molineux would make him only the second teenager after Robbie Fowler to net in his team’s first three Premier League games of a season. However, the England international might shift to a central role to make room for Sancho on the right wing, with Martial sliding to the bench and Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes keeping their spots in United’s attack.
Pogba has five assists so far this season, the highest by a player in the Premier League after just two games, with his assist against Southampton bringing him level with new colleague Cristiano Ronaldo on 34 top-flight assists.
After Scott McTominay went under the knife for a groin injury, Fred and Nemanja Matic are expected to resume their roles as United’s defensive midfielders, while Marcus Rashford, Alex Telles, Dean Henderson and Phil Jones remain absent.
Edinson Cavani is in line to make the matchday squad, however Eric Bailly may be unable to do so due to the proximity of the game.
Wolves are still missing lengthy absentees Jonny and Pedro Neto, although midweek saw Daniel Podence score his first goal since returning from injury in the EFL Cup.
Willy Boly and Yerson Mosquera have also returned to training and could make the team, with Boly being the most likely to start after his hamstring injury.
Raul Jimenez is back after a fractured skull last season, but he and partner Traore have had the most shots in the Premier League without scoring in the first two games of the new season. Podence and Francisco Trincao, who scored midweek, reminded Lage that he has other attacking alternatives if those two continue to struggle, though the Wolves manager is set to stick with his attackers for the time being.
Ones to Watch
United’s player to watch out for is the in-form Mason Greenwood. The teenager has managed to find the back of the net in both of United’s games this season. He is expected to start as United’s primary forward against Wolves as Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford are yet to train this season.
The Englishman has been a constant threat with his runs and also his clinical shots. His positional sense and also his work-rate has improved massively this season and the 19-year-old will definitely be competing for a starting spot in United’s starting line-up as a right winger, if not as a striker.Embed from Getty Images
Wolves can become a formidable force this season if Raul Jimenez returns to his pre-injury brilliance. He has Francesco Trincao’s and Adama Traore’s backing, which is comparable to how he played alongside Diogo Jota during his best Premier League season.
Raul Jimenez has a total of 47 goal involvements in 84 Premier League games, including 30 goals, and has been a crucial figure in Wolves’ two glorious seasons. In the 2019/20 season, only three forwards for their respective teams had more goal involvements or a higher goal contribution percent. For Wolves, Jiménez had a goal-to-assist ratio of 47 percent.
Going back to the United way
After a disappointing performance against the Saints, the Red Devils will be aiming to capitalize on an already-down Wolves. A win is the only result that United should be aiming for and if United manage to finish their numerous chances from set-pieces which they failed to do so in the 1-1 draw against Southampton, they can end up doing just that.
United have a chance to make it to the top of the table if they pick up three points and if other results go their way. The Wolves game is a huge opportunity to gain momentum just as we head into the international break and also prove that this is the United we used to know and also show its doubters that the club has some serious ambitions this season.