Manchester United missed a chance to move into the top four of the Premier League, losing to Wolves 2-1 for the second time in 3 matches. Scott McTominay’s opener was canceled out by goals from Diogo Jota and an own goal from Chris Smalling.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested that he would “freshen things up” for the second match in 4 days following the international break, but few expected him to make 6 changes, including a fully rotated attack and midfield, bar Paul Pogba. United’s shape at the start was a surprise as well, matching up with the home side’s 3-5-2.
United were quick to show their intent to attack Wolves early, and should have been ahead in the 5th minute. Romelu Lukaku got his head on Diogo Dalot’s pinpoint cross, but could only put his header straight at Rui Patricio in goal.
United were determined not to repeat the lethargy of last month’s performance and were rewarded for their positivity with a lead in the 13th minute. Scott McTominay picked up the ball outside of the box after a spell of United possession, took a touch past the nearest defender, and scored with a low drive that went across the goal and into the corner of the net. It was a fine way to score a first senior goal for the academy graduate, who provided quick proof that he did not deserve to be dropped when Nemanja Matić returned from injury in the first place.
Five minutes later, United spurned another point blank header. This time it was Jesse Lingard’s turn to allow the ‘keeper to save his headed effort despite having the whole goal at his mercy.
As often happens in football, profligacy was punished. Fred took a sloppy touch after receiving a pass from David de Gea, and turned over possession in a dangerous area. Ashley Young was then slow to step forward, and Diogo Jota received the ball in an onside possession with only De Gea to beat. The striker made no mistake with his hard, low strike, and the home side were level after 25 minutes.
The equalizer took all the wind out of the visitors’ sails. After the Wolves goal, it took more than 10 minutes for United to even get out of their own half in any meaningful way. Wolves were easily the better side for the rest of the half, bar a late shot from Lukaku after being played in by Pogba that was just inches wide of the post. The goal would’ve been undeserved in truth, and Solskjaer was surely grateful for a chance to regroup at half-time.
United started the second half as they did the second. In the first ten minutes after the restart, the visitors had three-quarters of the possession. They should have been rewarded for their dominance with another goal. McTominay placed a low header just left of the goal center, but Rui Patricio made a brilliant reflex save to keep the ball from crossing the line.
Just after failing to go ahead, United shot themselves in the foot yet again. Ashley Young had already picked up a yellow card minutes earlier that may have been a bit soft. When he got his second in the 57th minute, there was nothing soft about it. Young lost out on a loose pass to Jota, and lunged to win it back, catching the goalscorer over the top of the ball with his studs. The referee rightly gave him his second booking, and United were left to play the last half hour and change with 10 men.
Solskjaer decided to stick with a back 3, and sent on Phil Jones in place of Fred to shore up the back line. The Reds were not quite being overwhelmed by Wolves, but were no longer able to play on the front foot. Only partially fit after picking up a knock at the weekend, Anthony Martial came on for Lukaku for the final 18 minutes.
In the 77th minute, United somehow managed to give themselves yet another self-inflicted wound. Chris Smalling hesitated to clear a ball into the box intended for Leander Dendoncker, and then De Gea froze as well. The ball eventually rolled into the net, with the last touch coming off Smalling.
De Gea at least partially atoned for his part in the game winner, coming up big to deny Wolves a third. Which is more than could be said for United’s shambolic defense, which continued to concede chances to the home side. In the end, United were left to rue their own missed opportunities and unforced errors, as they made a mess of their chance to climb to third in the table.