Wolves away has proved to be a tricky fixture for Manchester United in recent years. Sunday afternoon at the Molineux too proved a challenging task. But the Reds were resilient and managed to get the job done despite some growing pains.
With two new players thrown into the starting line up, you should almost expect a somewhat disjointed performance. Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane are still getting to know their teammates and that was reflected in United’s performance, particularly in the first half. But when you have young stars of Mason Greenwood‘s quality in your side, you can get away with it sometimes.
Ultimately though, getting wins in the early stages of the season is the most important — and United jet off into the first international break off the season with seven points out of a possible nine and an encouraging clean sheet to boot. With the win, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men are now also the lone holders of the unbeaten road record in Premier League history which now stands at 28 games.
Story of the game
United had to earn every single one of those three points against a well organized and game Bruno Lage Wolves side. The loss of Scott McTominay to injury has proved quite the blow to United’s midfield. The Reds could not get to grips with the midfield battle at St. Mary’s last week, and it was more of the same to start today.
Fred in particular struggled to adapt to his role which required a bit more pragmatism and protection of Paul Pogba who would be the one in charge of threading the ball forward. In the first half, the Brazilian looked a little out of sorts and Wolves were breaking on United at will.
Adama Traore was the main nuisance, using his terrifying speed and strength to break through all and any coverage. The lack of end product did hurt the Spaniard in the end, but he still gave the Reds a headache. All in all, it must be said that the right hand side of United’s defense which consisted of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the debuting Varane handled the tricky winger pretty well.Embed from Getty Images
Varane’s first minutes of the season were immense. The Frenchman showed exactly why United went all out after him. Composed on the ball, dominant in the air and elite at reading the game, those are the qualities that were on display time and time again, and they will inevitably take United’s defense to a new level. The clean sheet was a worthy reflection of Varane’s performance — but also David de Gea‘s.
The Spaniard in between United’s sticks was looking vintage at times — alert, sharp and with lightning quick reflexes. De Gea made a number of routine stops before coming up with a match defining moment in the second half. A Wolves corner saw Romain Saiss rise highest and direct a header on frame to which de Gea reacted excellently. Making the stop, the ball bounced right back to Saiss — with the keeper floored — allowing the Frenchman to get a follow up attempt. With the goal looking inevitable, de Gea made himself big and stopped the rebound with a massive, instinctive hand to the ball.Embed from Getty Images
That moment proved momentum shifting. United gradually got back on the horse and grew into the proceedings. Whenever the Reds were able to create any chances, it was with control of the middle of the park. Pogba was a lot more assertive after the interval and it was his effort that was once again instrumental to United scoring.
United’s No. 6 will not be credited with an assist for it, but his 50/50 challenge against Ruben Neves was crucial in winning the ball back ahead of the Reds’ winner. The ball fortuitously bounced into the feet of Varane and the new boy immediately gave it up to the high flying Greenwood — who had by then shifted out wide with Edinson Cavani on the pitch. Greenwood got on the ball and what followed will soon be trademarked. The 19-year-old shimmied before going onto his right foot and blasting an effort on goal. The tiniest opening is all he needs and Jose Sa could not stop it this time. There was mayhem in the away end.Embed from Getty Images
The longer the game went on, the more it felt like a United 1-0 smash and grab — and you need those wins too. This kind of a win is one that often eluded United last season. But finding the breakthrough despite an unconvincing performance is encouraging — especially after the disappointment of last week.
Midfield still an issue
With the imminent addition of Cristiano Ronaldo, there are now a lot of match winners in this United side. As much as football is about tactical nous and outsmarting your opposition, it is also about moments. And Solskjær has moments players aplenty. But the glaring issue over the last two weeks has been the midfield.
McTominay is more important to this team than anyone would care to admit it. But even when the Scot is fit, he won’t always be the answer and the depth in the engine room is worryingly thin. With just a couple more days left in the transfer window, it would make sense for United to seek one more reinforcement.
When everyone is healthy, Pogba will play games deeper. Today was a trial run with the qualities of Varane added into the fold and it looked okay at times — but okay isn’t enough. Pogba is a very important part to United’s success and he needs someone who will protect him when he plays as the floating eight. Fred failed to do that at times today and Nemanja Matic could have similar issues which will leave United exposed. The clock is ticking and this does have that final piece of the puzzle feel.