It was Manchester United’s match to lose. Instead, interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and company will be left wondering what went wrong on their path to perhaps the only shot at silverware this year.
The Red Devils were looking to go back to winning ways after last Sunday’s defeat against Arsenal. On the other end, Nuno Espírito Santo’s men were attempting to reach their first FA Cup semi-final since 1998.
Two second half goals from Raúl Jiménez and Diogo Jota solidified United’s fate in this year’s FA Cup run. A late consolation from Marcus Rashford didn’t provide United enough time to orchestrate a comeback. Alas, United crashed out in arguably one of the worst performances of the post-José Mourinho era. As it stands, United’s sole chance at hardware comes in the Champions League. No pressure.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Solskjaer must quickly address United’s momentum loss
With United currently on a losing streak, Solskjaer is finding himself in the hot seat for the first time since becoming caretaker manager in December. His side’s back-to-back losses doesn’t negate the Norwegian’s remarkable strides over the last three months. However, it appears the matter of United carrying momentum from match to match is still worrisome.
In the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s contest, it looked as though the Red Devils were resigned to their untimely exit. The impulse to repeat a similar resurgence seen in the Paris Saint-Germain triumph was nonexistent, and Solskjaer delivered a damning admission in his post-match presser.
“What was missing? Quite a lot really,” Solskjaer lamented to the media. “That was the poorest performance we have had. We didn’t have the urgency or quality on the ball, the tempo wasn’t high enough and we played into their hands. It was a big step backwards, I have to say.”
His record remains nonetheless superb -- this was only United’s third defeat in 19 games with him at the wheel. However, the supercharged efficiency of the first games under Solskjaer’s reign has given way to successive collapses.
Romelu Lukaku was sorely missed
Saturday’s team news was a delightful surprise. Fan favorites Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera would all return to the starting lineup after missing some matches nursing individuals sprains. Unfortunately, their returns would soon reveal a harsh truth: a Romelu Lukaku cameo was desperately needed.
The Belgian has been in remarkable form as of late, finding the back of the net six times in his last four appearances. United’s number 9 missed the trip to the Molineux due to an ankle injury, and his absence was keenly felt.
The Red Devils lacked a physical threat against Wolves; someone who could rival the likes of Willy Boly and Cody. Marcus Rashford doesn’t match Lukaku’s physicality, which coincidentally has often been Lukaku’s crutch on the pitch. Given the flashes of brilliance shown by the 25 year-old these last few weeks, another late winner for his side wouldn’t have been surprising at all, had he been available.
International break comes at the right time
United won’t play again until March 30 when they host Watford in the Premier League. Until then, the international break will a valuable time for Solskjaer to evaluate the circumstances leading to these last two defeats. The defeat at Emirates wasn’t ideal, but the more pressing agenda item on Solskjaer’s list will be addressing the lackluster midfield and defensive unit that contributed to Saturday’s loss in the FA Cup.
With another testy month on the horizon, including two games against a dominant Barcelona in the Champions League, Manchester United must address any obstacles plaguing them from making a serious run in the Champions League.