Manchester United must solve two familiar problems after Wolves draw
A mixed night for midfield
On the face of it, it was a static and erratic midfield fielded by Manchester United against Wolves and it largely proved that way. Yes, it contained potential lock-pickers in Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira, but those usual pre-match fears about slow and pedestrian football through the United midfield were borne out at Molineux.
It was Pereira who gave it away cheaply in the build-up to the Pedro Neto corner which, via Leander Dendoncker’s head, found Matt Doherty who really should have made it 1-0 on 13 minutes. Sergio Romero came to United’s rescue for the first of two big saves in the match.
As the game wore on, United’s midfield found themselves facing a different problem. Wolves’ midfield were a two rather than a three, meaning they preferred to sit off and allow the likes of Pereira and Matic time on the ball – but with the forward runners tightly marked.
It’s hardly a new issue for United this season. Their inability to break teams down is almost becoming a running joke and it’s exactly teams like Wolves who have exposed them. Pereira continued to probe and Mata linked the play nicely enough but it was Nemanja Matic who tended to slow things down far too often. Wolves’ sharp runners looked too much for the ex Chelsea man, especially in the latter stages as he fatigued.
Matic has stepped in admirably for United amid key injuries in the past week or two, but his Old Trafford days look numbered given that his contract expires in the summer.
United would love to add a midfielder in January – and they simply must improve on Matic, Pereira and the general midfield showing against Wolves.
Lack of depth shows
You could understood why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made seven changes for this one. But it didn’t pay off.
A three-day preparation period, which was affected by Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard’s illnesses, was hardly ideal after his charges had endured an energy-sapping night at Arsenal. That’s not to mention the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City coming up in midweek. David de Gea and Luke Shaw were left at home, along with the injury absentees, who included Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe – who would all have had a chance of playing had they been fit. They would have all fared better than the players who did feature.
Fred and Marcus Rashford were among those who travelled, but only made cameo appearances off the bench. The pair have started United’s last 12 successive league games together so warranted the rest.
The second string looked exactly that.
It was the periods when Wolves looked tepid and cautious that a more experienced and quality outfit would have put the game to bed. With the raw Tahith Chong and the often indecisive Mason Greenwood, coupled with a mishmash midfield, United simply didn’t look capable until Rashford came on and struck the woodwork.
Molineux curse continues
Some of the United staff joked, while arriving outside the stadium before the game, that they were sick of the sight of Molineux. It was fair enough, really, when you considered that United were dumped out of the FA Cup in the quarter-final stage here last season and their frustrating 1-1 draw in the league in August.
This time, VAR came to their rescue when ruling out Doherty’s headed ‘goal’ for handball, but that recent Molineux hoodoo seemed to affect United’s players when Wolves were laying siege to their goal in the final 15 minutes. United looked scared to lose, rather than emboldened to go out and grab the win.
Solskjaer record against Wolves therefore now reads: five games – all of them away from home (one with Cardiff City) – and no wins. Getting away with a draw must have felt like a victory of sorts.
More work for United’s paper-thin squad
For all the changes that football has witnessed in recent years, one draconian aspect of the ‘old’ game that remains is the FA Cup replay – in the earlier rounds at least.
United have now played seven games since December 15th. They are already piling up in January with the Carabao Cup, and in February with their Europa League commitments.
A very thin United squad is about to be tested to its limit.
You might also like
- January 2020
- December 2019
- November 2019
- October 2019
- September 2019
- August 2019
- July 2019
- June 2019
- May 2019
- April 2019
- March 2019
- February 2019
- January 2019
- December 2018
- November 2018
- October 2018
- September 2018
- August 2018
- July 2018
- June 2018
- May 2018
- April 2018
- March 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- December 2017
- November 2017
- October 2017
- September 2017