Ruben Neves’s wonder strike helps Wolves peg back Manchester United
Paul Pogba sees second-half penalty saved by Rui Patricio at Molineux
Wolves’ goalkeeper Rui Patricio saves a penalty shot from Manchester United’s Paul Pogba during the Premier League match at Molineux. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Wolves 1 Manchester United 1
For a while it looked like Manchester United would enjoy the rare feeling of leaving Molineux with three points and fresh optimism. In a first half dominated by Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team, Anthony Martial fired them into the lead. But Wolves came roaring out at them in the second half and drew level thanks to a wonderful goal by Ruben Neves. Paul Pogba then missed a perfect chance to put United back in front, Rui Patricio saving his 67th minute penalty.
The way United exploited Chelsea’s naivety at Old Trafford on the opening day proved they are dangerous opportunists. The challenge here was to provide evidence of more rounded development. Doing so in this arena would be especially encouraging given how they floundered at Molineux last season.
United had come here in March in the week after a sensational Champions League comeback at Paris Saint-Germain, a victory that went a long way towards securing the manager’s job on a full-time basis for Solskjær, and not only in the mind of over-excited interviewers like Gary Neville.
But Wolves proceeded to dump them unceremoniously out of the FA Cup and then beat them here again in United’s next away league match; United’s form got worse after that, especially on the road, as they were thrashed at Barcelona and Everton before, perhaps most embarrassingly of all, drawing at Huddersfield.
Thus they pitched up at Molineux this time without an away win since that false dawn in Paris. So nifty opponents were not the only thing in their way here: they also had to overcome a strategic, even psychological, hurdle.
At least the manager had new tools. Only six of the United players who started the defeat on their last visit here were redeployed from the beginning this time, with the alterations including United’s three summer recruits.
Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were obvious selections, but Daniel James’s inclusion intrigued. It was the young winger’s first start since his arrival from Swansea, his goal-scoring appearance off the bench against Chelsea apparently earning him a promotion. “He gives us the X-factor of his pace, and he’s incredibly hard working off the ball,” said the manager of the 21-year-old before kick-off. No doubt he hoped James’s speed, especially on the counter-attack, might help curb the offensive enthusiasm of Wolves’ left wing back, Jonny.
As for Wolves’ approach to the game, they saw no need to change. Nuno Espirito Santo fielded the same side that began against Leicester last week, which included 10 of the players who started the win over United in April.
United began by dominating possession here but without necessarily controlling the play, Wolves being a supremely well organised side who are adept at keeping teams at arm’s length. The action was tight and intense.
The hosts were the first to threaten, albeit without mustering a shot, in the eighth minute after Raul Jimenez tricked and bullied his way past three defenders before feeding Matt Doherty, whose cross was turned behind for a corner.
United, though full of energy and bold intent, did not really disturb their hosts until the 18th minute. Pogba released Rashford with a smart pass from midfield, then Rashford toyed with Ryan Bennett on the left before pinging over a wicked cross towards Martial. With two defenders challenging him, the striker was unable to apply a decisive finish from close range.
Still, Solskjær could take heart from his youthful’s side dynamism and enterprise. James, though, had to accept a lesson in the 24th minute when he was booked for simulation after nudging the ball past Joao Moutinho and taking a tumble. Maybe that was borne of the youngster’s frustration at being unable to get much involved in the game. Soon, however, United came up with something more admirably inventive. And Wolves had no answer.
In the 27th minute Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard combined sharply before Rashford slipped a cute pass through to Martial, who raced away from Willy Boly and rammed a first-time shot high into the net. Rui Patricio had no chance.
Now United had the home team where they wanted them. Wolves would have to open up more, at some point. But, deprived of the ball, Wolves’ first thought was to avoid suffering more damage as United’s passing and movement grew even more confident.
In the 35th minute Conor Coady had to step in to make a vital tackle on Martial after the forward wriggled past Bennett in the box. Moments later Boly had to strain to intercept a clever looped pass by Pogba towards Martial. Just before half-time Boly had to charge to the rescue again to thwart Martial after the increasingly troublesome striker forced Bennett into a mistake at the edge of the box. Wolves welcomed half-time when it came.
Nuno made shrewd use of the pause, replacing Doherty with Adama Traore, who soon used his thrilling pace to push United backwards and spread alarm in United’s defence.
After a free-kick won by Traore and delivered by Moutinho, Jimenez glanced a header against a post. One minute later Wolves drew level in brilliant style.
After a short corner on the right, Moutinho pulled the ball back to Neves at the edge of the area. The younger Portuguese took a touch and then swept a wonderful curling shot into the net via the crossbar.
Pogba led United’s attempt to regain a grip on the game. He gained an ideal chance to restore their lead in the 67th minute when he was tripped by Coady following a one-two with Lingard. Patricio read his powerfully struck spot-kick and batted it away. – Guardian