Manchester United travel to Molineux for Monday night’s game with Wolverhampton Wanderers. United suffered twice away at Nuno Espirito Santo’s team during the back end of last season, both under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Wolves played the second leg of their Europa League third-round qualifying match against Armenians Pyunik on Thursday night while, presumably, United have been training hard.
United to match Wolves
“I am looking forward to the first hurdle, obstacle. You want robustness when the going gets tough,” Solskjær called for, ominously, in his pre-match press conference on Friday.
Certainly, United are in for a rougher ride against Wolves at Molineux. United will need to improve on the haphazard spells they showed — and got away with — in the opener at home to Chelsea.
Wolves, in midweek, rested nine of the players that started in their draw with Leicester in the Premier League, and perhaps will be sharper for the fixture congestion having not travelled this week. United, meanwhile, are looking to increase their early season performance levels, and Wolves will provide a good barometer of where they are right now.
United capitulated at Molineux last season in the FA Cup and couldn’t cope with Wolves in the league either a fortnight later. Solskjær won’t want this to be a theme.
Experienced heads again
Solskjær, prudently, selected relative experience in Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira to start against Chelsea, and will likely do similar for Wolves away. Minutes were, later on, given to Daniel James and then Mason Greenwood in a surprisingly perfect set of circumstances. But Greenwood may have to be patient for a start facing another tricky fixture, so too James even with his fairytale debut.
"The good teams I've played in always had a strong base with a settled backline," says Ole. "We hope to provide that for our attackers and midfielders and Fred, of course, we believe that he's going to have a big season." #MUFC pic.twitter.com/NqXGuBW9Sa— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 16, 2019
More pressingly in midfield, Solskjær talked up Fred before the weekend’s football and the Brazilian will be after Pereira’s place. Fred didn’t even make the bench previously so, unless he was off getting hitched again, Solskjær’s confidence booster is open to interpretation. Whichever, Fred may offer more bite than Pereira in midfield when he’s ready to feature.
Paul Pogba sat deep alongside Scott McTominay at Old Trafford with Pereira and Lingard hassling the opposition in front. Composure, however, is still required from the senior players. Less pirouetting, more dropping the shoulder then surging through midfield, would be welcome from Pogba. Similarly, Scott McTominay getting back to basics rather than spraying hollywood balls sideways to anyone in space. Leave Pogba to the occasional long irons hitting Martial/Rashford when Wolves venture forward.
Remarkable, by the way, that David de Gea was the oldest player in the side last weekend until Juan Mata came on with four minutes to go. The relentless march of time, et cetera.
Shaw not leaving Maguire exposed
Mourinho: “Maguire will learn that he needs to cover Shaw a lot." #mulive [sky]— utdreport (@utdreport) August 11, 2019
Mason Mount and Chelsea were wise to it, exacerbated by Marcus Rashford given the freedom to stay forward down United’s left side when they defended. Quite fun and fascinating having José Mourinho on Sky Sports in the UK, if excruciatingly tense at times sat with the usual British pundits, but he’s not wrong here.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf will want to build on a promising new partnership, which will include reining in their respective full-backs.
Just more Aaron Wan-Bissaka, please. What a joy this lad is; absolutely mustard. He’ll make mistakes, Wan-Bissaka, naturally — but here’s hoping they’re few and far between over the course of the season. The right-back spot is Wan-Bissaka’s if he wants it.
Martial getting amongst it
Anthony Martial scored one of the scruffiest goals of his United career against Chelsea, and it was no less enjoyable for it. Marked closely, but resolutely ahead of his defender, Martial, sliding in at close range, bundled the ball past a helpless Kepa for United’s second against the run of play. Solskjær will probably have appreciated it as much as Rahsford’s second and United’s third — especially if Martial’s role is to spearhead the attack more often than his partners. The Frenchman will face harder tests elsewhere — Molineux being no exception — and United will require more of that grit from Martial.