The road warriors are finally coming home. After three straight away wins (and an international break), Manchester United play at Old Trafford on Saturday for the first time this month. Let’s hope it goes better than last time.
The Reds host upstart Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend, shooting to extend their winning streak to four. After back-to-back wins over Burnley and Watford, United took their road show to Switzerland and battled through a tough start on the artificial pitch to brush aside BSC Young Boys 3-0.
But there’s scant time to celebrate this Group H victory, as the Reds take on Wolves just three days later.
The West Midlands club returns to the Premier League after cruising to the Championship title a year ago with 99 points. Manager Nuno Espirito Santo and a few highly-rated Jorge Mendes clients lifted Wolves back to the top-flight in their first season together in England. They’ve settled right in and currently sit in 9th place — just one spot below United.
Wolves’ quick start includes an impressive draw with Manchester City, showing they possess the talent to challenge the very best. This isn’t your typical newly-promoted team.
Wolves aren’t after mere survival, but hope to make some noise in the top half of the table. And, after the season they just had in the Championship, who could blame them?
Nuno typically sets up his side in a 3-4-3 formation and, much like José Mourinho, prizes stability. In fact, he’s named an unchanged starting eleven for all five Premier League matches this season. With eight points already on the board, don’t expect Nuno to start chopping and changing now.
For the visitors, it all starts with 21-year-old Ruben Neves. The youngster moved from Porto to Wolves last summer and promptly proceeded to outclass his Championship competition by a mile. His stats last year — six goals and one assist — don’t tell the full story of his dominance. From his defensive midfield position, Neves sets the tempo for Wolves and has the talent to play at the very top.
His £15.8 million fee now looks to be inspired business and will be dwarfed by whatever the club sells him for in the future. On that note, Manchester United are among those rumored to be sniffing around Wolves’ young playmaker. This season, Nuno pairs his star with new signing Joao Moutinho to form one of the Premier League’s best midfields.
Manchester United also enter this contest bursting with confidence. Say what you will about the Spurs debacle last month, but it seems to have shocked the Reds to life. Since that 3-0 defeat, United have won three in a row and look almost back to their best.
Against Young Boys, Mourinho lightly rotated his side while still keeping his big guns in the lineup. Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, and Nemanja Matić all played big minutes in the Champions League opener.
For precautionary reasons, Antonio Valencia skipped out on the trip to Bern due to the unusual playing surface at Stade de Suisse. “We decided not to play Antonio Valencia because his knee is not a knee that needs an artificial pitch at all,” Mourinho explained before the match.
Diogo Dalot ably deputized at right back, showing the immense promise that led Mourinho to label him as the best young player at his position in all of Europe. It was only one game, but Dalot looks like the real deal. Still, expect to see Valencia back in his normal spot this weekend.
Both Matić and Marcus Rashford are suspended for Saturday’s match, creating openings for Fred to rejoin the lineup in midfield and either Jesse Lingard or Juan Mata on the front line’s right side. Mourinho might just opt to bring back the bulk of the side that defeated Burnley and Watford — the results that seemingly put United’s season back on track. That means another start for fan fave Marouane Fellaini. (C’mon, he’s been great this season.)
United play four of their next five matches at Old Trafford and must make this home-field advantage count. That starts on Saturday with three points against Wolves. Mourinho would surely love to get one over on his former player (Nuno played for his Champions League-winning Porto side), especially considering all the speculation last month that Nuno might replace The Special One at Old Trafford.
All that talk is on the back burner now, though. Manchester United are back to winning ways and long may that continue.