After that emphatic 4-0 win over Chelsea last weekend, Manchester United hit the road for the first time this season. The Reds travel to Molineux for a Monday evening showdown with Wolves, who twice defeated Solskjaer’s side a season ago. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) What a difference a defense makes. With new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire thrown straight into the starting eleven, the United backline looked vastly improved over 2018/19 and earned a clean sheet to boot. AWB won six tackles, Victor Lindelöf sprayed passes all over the field, and Maguire did practically everything else. The £80 million man was unstoppable in the air and composed on the ball. Ole spent lots of money on his defense this summer, but it’s already paying big dividends.
(2) It’s wise not to jump to conclusions from one team selection, but Axel Tuanzebe making the bench ahead of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones seems important. Tuanzebe excelled on loan with Aston Villa last season and Solskjaer is already making good on his promise to give the 21-year-old a legit first-team chance. Andreas Pereira starting over Juan Mata also raised some eyebrows. Perhaps this season will see a shake-up of the old guard.
Solskjaer said on Friday that "you will tell by the team selection" who he wants here this season. Telling that Tuanzebe makes the bench ahead of Smalling, Jones and Rojo.— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) August 11, 2019
(3) In a season when United are desperate for a clinical finisher up front, both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial got off to flying starts against Chelsea. Rashford notched a brace (including a well-taken penalty blasted into the top corner), while Martial nimbly re-directed Pereira’s cross into the net in the second half. The United attack will live or die with the finishing and creativity of these two players.
(4) A year ago, Wolves really had United’s number. The Reds lost twice at Molineux and both matches rank among the most disappointing defeats of the Solskjaer era. In the first, Wolves knocked United out of the FA Cup. Then, a few weeks later, they upended our push for a top-four place with another 2-1 win.
(5) David De Gea is back. After a season to forget, the Spanish goalkeeper bounced back with a strong performance against Chelsea. Sure, he owes some thanks to the woodwork, but DDG put in a great shift with seven saves (including three from close range). United cannot hope to reach the top four without De Gea at his world-class best. And, so far, the early returns look pretty good.
(6) There were a lot of doubts around Manchester United this summer, but the team mostly silenced the naysayers with last weekend’s thrashing of Chelsea. As expected, Solskjaer lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1, pressing high and looking to hit the Blues on the counter. The entire eleven played reasonably well and no one deserves to lose his place on Monday. If Solskjaer does make a change, though, Jesse Lingard could shift inside to #10 to free up the right wing for Daniel James.
(7) After finishing seventh last season, Wolves must feel thrilled to still have all of their key contributors back for another go-round. The club brought Raul Jimenez aboard permanently for £30 million after a hugely successful loan spell in 2018/19. And talents like Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota stuck around, too. That includes manager Nuno Espirito Santo, who will surely have bigger clubs circling if he keeps Wolves up near the top.
(8) Plus, it helps to be one of super-agent Jorge Mendes’s pet projects. Wolves pulled off a major coup by adding rising star Jesus Vallejo on a season-long loan from Real Madrid. The young center back starred for Spain in this summer’s U21 Euros and remains extremely well-regarded by the Bernabeu brass. It’s just another sign of Nuno’s growing reputation — and Mendes’s influence — on the continent.
(9) On opening day, Wolves mustered a solid 0-0 draw at Leicester City. In past seasons, they probably would have won the match, but Nuno’s side ran afoul of the Premier League’s new hardline handball rule and, after a 90+ second VAR review, what would have been the winning goal was disallowed. There were plenty of VAR grumbles around England last weekend and Wolves are at the front of that line.
"What I'm concerned about is, let's not ruin the game."— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 11, 2019
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo had his say on VAR after his side had a goal ruled out against Leicester.
More: https://t.co/QHWkJruvrT pic.twitter.com/XAQSv74kG5
(10) Stat of the week: In 2018/19, Wolves won more points from the Premier League top six than the bottom six. Nuno’s side can struggle against teams that sit deep — as most relegation candidates do — preferring to exploit space against opposition that pushes forward and overextends their lines.
(11) On Thursday, Wolves completed their demolition of FC Pyunik in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. After grabbing a 4-0 lead in the first leg last week, they put another four past the Armenians at Molineux. Early-season Europa League matches can take a toll — just ask Burnley — but Wolves played mostly a second-choice side in the return leg. Monday’s match against United kicks off a busy spell for Wolves with five matches in fourteen days. That includes another two-legged qualifier against Torino with a spot in the group stage on the line.