Paul Pogba missed a penalty as Manchester United had to settle for a point at Molineux in a 1-1 draw with Wolves, with Ruben Neves’ stunning strike earning the hosts a point after Anthony Martial’s ferocious opener.
United started with hunger against a Wolves side that bit them hard last season, and they’re now unbeaten in four encounters against United.
United took the lead following a beautiful passage of play, topped off by Marcus Rashford sliding in Martial to rifle a left-footed finish high past Rui Patricio.
Wolves, timid in the opening 45, bit back in the second. United were rattled and conceded a brilliant equaliser when Neves fired in a fierce shot off the underside of David De Gea’s crossbar after the Red Devils failed to clear a corner.
The game was an open spectacle from then on with both sides showing intent. United could have won it when Pogba was felled by Conor Coady inside the box, but his resultant penalty was brilliant kept out by Patricio.
Here are our talking points.
MARTIAL LAYS DOWN THE LAW
A popular chant was created by United fans upon Martial’s much-maligned arrival at Old Trafford five years ago for what was admittedly an exorbitant fee for an unheralded player.
A dream debut goal against famous foes Liverpool though was the perfect riposte and the song gained a cult following as he continued to make the critics eat their words during an impressive debut campaign that yielded 17 goals in 49 appearances.
Since then, however, the flamboyant Frenchman has fallen badly out of tune as he’s flitted from the fabulous to the frustrating – often cutting a dejected and disillusioned figure. Having impatient, outdated managers like Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho hasn’t helped his cause.
But following Romelu Lukaku’s departure, he was given back the No9 shirt (he had it upon arrival until Zlatan Ibrahimovic usurped him of it when he was signed in 2016). Murmurings and a bit of magic in pre-season though hinted that he might finally be ready to shed his sulky attitude – backed by the belief instilled in him by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that he can be United’s leading light.
He was excellent on the opening day against Chelsea – grabbing a typical No9’s goal – and his opening strike at Molineux was magnificent. In terms of talent and traits he has the ability to be as good as anyone else in his position. It’s just a question of attitude. It’s early doors but this season he appears to have the right one.
Altogether now: “Tony Martial came from France, English press said he had no chance. £50 million down the drain, Tony Martial scores again”.
WOLVES SHOW PLENTY OF BITE
It’s now four games unbeaten for Wolves against mighty Manchester United, and Nuno Espirito Santo’s dogged side had to show plenty of bark as well as bite in order to get themselves back into this contest.
At 1-0 down at half-time United had them on a leash and it looked a long way back for the hosts, who despite being just a goal adrift, had been completely dominated. Raul Jimenez had worked hard but looked toothless and starved up front. United’s defence looked comfortable and David De Gea had been a bystander – until he was left grasping at thin air when Neves’ rocket of a shot crashed in off the underside of his crossbar 10 minutes into the second half.
The latter 45 minutes were in complete contrast to the first half efforts from the hosts as they surged at United from the off, with the introduction of Adama Traore a masterstroke from Santo. He’s bulked up over the summer and he bulldozed his way down the right wing as Luke Shaw tried to keep track, with Scott McTominay drifting from his central role to help out, something that Wolves exploited.
A 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last term was followed by a 2-0 FA Cup win in March and then a 2-1 home triumph in the league in April as Wolves weaved their magic against the Red Devils in 2018/19.
They seemed to find that same form after the break as confidence oozed. Joao Moutinho was getting on the ball and pulling the strings, with Diogo Jota coming to life while Conor Coady was for the most part commanding.
A lot of talk over the summer has concerned whether they can replicate the tremendous feat of finishing seventh this season – especially with their new-found Europa League commitments.
On this evidence, plus a stronger squad, they will be plotting a raid on the top six.
RED DEVILS ON THE RISE
Solskjaer may well be annoyed at throwing away a winning position but he will ultimately be encouraged by what he saw from his side.
The Norwegian and Jose Mourinho found their nemesis in Wolves last season, with the Molineux men picking up four points from their two Premier League encounters as well as putting paid to their FA Cup hopes as United were dumped out in the quarter-finals. It turned out to be the tail end of a purple patch under their former striker and it was largely downhill from there.
But a full pre-season to work with his players and implement his own ideas – as well as bring in three players he feels adhere to the values of the club – is beginning to bear fruit for Solskjaer.
Ahead of kick-off, most United fans would have taken a point at a ground that will prove to be one of their more difficult away days this season, as long as they saw a good performance. And that’s exactly what the players delivered, with United absolutely bossing the first half and dominating the chances.
A 65-35 per cent swing the Red Devils’ way in terms of possession was telling, as were nine shots compared to the hosts’ six and an 87 per cent team pass success rate.
True, United were rattled by Wolves’ second half fightback, but unlike when they found themselves on the back foot against the same opponents last season, United rose to the occasion. They always looked dangerous with their free-flowing attack of Martial, Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Dan James linking up well and showing guile and ingenuity as Paul Pogba fuelled their waves of attacks.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a beast in defence but also a growing force going forward, as is Luke Shaw – safe in the knowledge Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof behind him are a far more reliable pairing than United have possessed in many years.
They’re still very much a work in progress under Solskjaer. They’re also far more of a coherent unit as well as a potentially potent attacking force.
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