Manchester United travel to Molineux in the Premier League on Sunday to face Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves lost their opening two fixtures in the league, albeit to Leicester City and Tottenham, but have played and put four past Nottingham Forest in midweek in the EFL Cup. United’s disappointing draw and, more worryingly, familiar shortcomings against an organised Southampton last weekend have undone any early optimism.
All is far from lost for United and they have an opportunity on Sunday to prove they can break down a stubborn side with a similar test at Wolves. A major criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s 99th match as United manager at St Mary’s last Sunday was not selecting his best team. Early momentum was talked up preseason yet shuffling the starting eleven – while there are many players to keep happy – backfired. Solskjær was left with no choice but to leave out Scott McTominay, who needed and now has had groin surgery, and still brought McTominay on in an attempt to rescue central midfield highlighting the paucity of credible options. Inexplicable, though, was Solskjær selecting Anthony Martial at the expense of Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood was still United’s best player from the right and moved central with Jadon Sancho’s eventual introduction after an hour. Martial’s contribution for an hour was comfortably United’s worst. There is merit in reintroducing Martial with United’s current options in attack, but perhaps for Greenwood, Sancho or Paul Pogba were United in a healthy position second half. Rather than a case of hindsight after the event – gambling on Martial was glaring overconfidence from Solskjær, and worse against Greenwood’s early season promise while Edinson Cavani remains absent. The United manager will have had his reasons but they appear unfathomable on a par with previously giving Andreas Pereira more minutes than Juan Mata.
United, and Solskjær in his 100th game as manager, will hope they aren’t as flat and clueless again this weekend.
If not now, when? United could do with the lift that Varane will surely give the Reds, and crucially allow options ahead in midfield to be refreshed with more reassurance behind in defence – especially facing teams sitting deep. It may be an iterative process doing both but United don’t have much to lose and plenty to gain.
Continued consistency from Luke Shaw down United’s left is not only welcome but absolutely vital at the moment, and long may it continue.
With McTominay sidelined and a creative drive desperately needed in central midfield, it’s time for Pogba to move back. Nemanja Matić might have been useful in preseason but certainly wasn’t at Southampton, leaving *gulp* Fred to partner the Frenchman. Providing Pogba isn’t on the verge of joining Paris Saint-Germain which, given the sobriety levels of this summer’s transfer window right now, could suddenly happen. Whatever the reason for Pogba’s uptick in form, he’s more than capable from central midfield. Why United aren’t now scrambling for a replacement for Matić is anyone’s guess.
Solskjær: "It’s no secret that Sancho was ill. He didn’t work out the first week after arriving. He was quite ill and was not even close to being in the necessary shape to start against Leeds." #mulive [dagbladet, @FAFiltvedt] https://t.co/FewUY5p2f8— utdreport (@utdreport) August 27, 2021
In the starting lineup this weekend, please Boss.
Bought precisely as a backup option when required for the wide positions, preferably on the left. Limited, and didn’t have the best game against Leeds, but James can do a job when the alternative is to play better players out of position where they’re needed.
Anthony Elanga is exciting but it would be an unfair load on the youngster to solve just yet.
️ "I see @JesseLingard as our player. I know there’s speculation about him, but he’s had a very good pre-season and he's in the England squad," Ole adds.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 27, 2021
"It’s just unfortunate that he got COVID before we started as he would have started the first game."#MUFC | #WOLMUN
Jesse Lingard is unlikely unless he really is staying, in which case chuck him in.
"Donny has worked hard and he’s done well. I can’t say anything else but he will get his chances when the season gets going," Ole says.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 27, 2021
"Scott couldn’t play [on Sunday] and Nemanja has been our best player in pre-season, that’s why I chose him."#MUFC | #WOLMUN
Donny van de Beek?... Maybe.
The Glazer family believe a Cristiano Ronaldo homecoming would get them back onside with United supporters. Juventus are holding out for €30m and his availability appeals to the Glazers #mulive [@samuelluckhurst]— utdreport (@utdreport) August 27, 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo? *vomits*