Manchester United claimed a dramatic injury time win over Wolves thanks to Marcus Rashford’s deflected goal; a predictably tight game settled in the sort of fortuitous fashion it always promised, and although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team climb to second in the league, for the second game in succession it felt as if the issues at Old Trafford which will restrict their ability to sustain a proper title challenge were present.
You would have been forgiven for thinking Amazon Prime had acquired the rights to re-runs of the last two seasons and they were playing a game of spot the difference; all the traditional hallmarks of recent encounters were there, with Wolves making no apologies about their decision to be pragmatic and hit on the break. They were emboldened by their positive results in those recent years.
It took United 34 minutes to create a proper chance and when it came, from a Greenwood cross, Fernandes should have done better. His effort from inside of the six yard box should have gone anywhere but straight at the goalkeeper – if it had, his team would have been a goal up. But it wasn’t, and that was owing to the fact that Fernandes was already on the stretch having done the hard work by getting in front of his defender.
As United seemed to try and up the tempo going into half time, they learned of the risk of the counter. The first earned a free-kick from which Saiss tested De Gea. Then, the visitors tried to exploit the pace of Traore, but Bailly’s pace and alertness helped him intercept the ball to sniff out danger.
It took 19 minutes for United’s first chance of the second period; a half-chance at that, a header from Rashford that went over. Martial was brought on for Greenwood, the hope being that he could add some dynamism despite never doing that in these fixtures over the last two years.
With a quarter of the game remaining, the first big talking point came; Cavani had the ball in the net from a corner but was offside. The game was stopped for a VAR check against Coady for a possible handball – no penalty was given, though it seemed very much as though it would have been one of those given earlier in the season. It’s been a difficult year for the Premier League but it has done the integrity of the competition no favours at all to constantly have had so many rule changes in the middle of the seasons.
In the 75th minute Paul Pogba hit a shot from 25 yards which was comfortably saved.
But Wolves have literally been here so often that they know to keep calm and allow United to become rash and make their own mistakes. They don’t yet have the quality or composure that is needed in order to get the right result in this sort of game and you could blame the players for not being good enough, the manager for not being smart enough, the owners for not backing the manager enough or you could just give credit to a good, organised opponent.
And still – football is a game at its best when taking chances. Solskjaer was undoubtedly about to read from the script about his team being the more adventurous and he would have had somewhat of a point – thankfully his players made it for him and snatched all three. Fernandes took a chance with another long pass in the third minute of time added on. Rashford took a chance when it seemed like he’d held on to the ball for too long. This time, fortune smiled on the hosts – the ball deflected off Saiss and just, only just, into the corner.
United earned a dramatic win to send them second in the league. All of their issues were still prominent, it was fortune and not quality which determined the result, and so it still feels as though Solskjaer’s team are some way off a genuine title challenge.
And yet the nature of the win makes you think, what if? Could it be?
This bloody club.
RASHFORD’s GOAL 1-0. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/z7afDgnRSt
— Alex (@GeniusMUFC) December 29, 2020
Solskjaer has been accused of many things when it comes to his selections and it is fair to say that encounters with Wolves over the last three years have usually been very tight affairs so getting the team right was crucial.
Pogba was back in, Bailly started and Martial was dropped for Cavani. The changes were reasonable and we could all see why they were made. Fred and McTominay would have made no sense in a game like this.
It was a war of attrition with only a couple of openings and one real chance in the full game before Rashford struck. The nature of the goal means it’s silly to start saying Solskjaer changed the game or that a significant step has been taken forward; it serves no purpose to be downbeat after a win, particularly in the last minute, but we should remain realistic about this team’s ability and cautious about praising the manager too much as it was another form of divine intervention which meant United claimed the three points tonight.
Wolves are a good opponent. United didn’t improve enough in the summer transfer window to say they have solved those issues about taking them on so it is a game where you can trace blame for the owners. These are the moments of definition, after all.
Definition should be put into perspective – putting the pressure on this team to be a title-winning side is expecting too much of the squad and the manager. It’s improvement – make no mistake – but it’s improvement as narrow as the margin of Rashford’s goal.
De Gea 7