Manchester United, for the second time in 17 days, again fell prey to Wolverhampton Wanderers. When it seemed they were back on track; fuelled by the much-awaited announcement of Solskjær as their permanent manager, Wolves handed a massive blow to United and their Premier League top-four aspirations. At Molineux, Manchester United dominated the game for the first 20 minutes, and then, from there on, the hosts ran the show. The game also addressed the need for United to spend big in the summer to bolster the defence and remove some deadwood. One of the obvious daily football predictions is the need for United to strengthen their squad in the next window.
United ruled the first 20 minutes of the match. In midfield, McTominay and Fred dominated the game for the visitors. Dalot and Shaw surged down the flanks, Lukaku and Lingard tested the mettle of the Wolves defence.
Before it was a minute on the clock, Rui Patrício had been called into action by Lingard. United were all over the pitch, seemingly determined to avenge the FA Cup defeat at this very same stadium. Five minutes on the clock and Patrício was tested again; a towering header from Lukaku forced another save from the Portuguese international.
Manchester United had an early answer in the 13th minute, McTominay firing a shot into the bottom right corner. Shaw had found Lingard just outside the penalty box, the English international moved inside with the ball before eventually turning around, passing it to Fred. The midfielder, unable to find space, went for the safest option, passed the ball to McTominay who stood nearest to him. The Scottish international took a touch before steering the ball into the net past a diving Patrício.
United gifted Wolverhampton the first goal!
When it looked like the game was drifting away from their hands, Wolverhampton were gifted an opportunity by Fred, which they capitalised on. Fred who lagged at clearing the ball was dispossessed before Jiménez spilt the United defence with a killer pass for Jota, who scored from close distance.
In the 36th minute, Patrício pulled off an incredible save to keep Wolves in the game. Lingard’s header had power and direction to find the back of the net but Patrício, with his quick reflex reaction, denied United the control of the game.
Although Wolverhampton deserved this victory, Manchester United had their fair share of chances to win the match. Patrício made some brilliant saves to keep Manchester United away from scoring. McTominay drove a low header in the 55th minute but Patrício again made another excellent save to deny Manchester United.
Manchester United need to revamp their defence in the summer
Manchester United defenders were poor here. They invited danger with their misplaced passses. On a few occasions, they were positioned miserably. Had they played carefully and lived up to the standards of playing for United, the visitors would not have suffered this defeat. The lack of quality was clearly evident on the night.
A second yellow card for their stand-in centre-back Ashley Young meant United had to play the rest of the game with 10-men. This was an example of the incompetence of the United defence. Young could’ve played the pass without going for the tackle. However, he made a rash tackle on Jota to receive his second yellow card.
With the numerical advantage on their side, Wolves continued to threaten the United defence.
Defensive error lead to an own goal
The second goal – a Manchester United own goal – further demonstrated the misery of this United defence. Jiménez had won the aerial battle against Phil Jones from a Moutinho cross and after a scramble, Chris Smalling diverted the ball into his own net to concede an own goal. United’s defence looked helpless as the ball rolled into the net in slow-motion. De Gea, arguably the best goalkeeper, watched it go in. Phil Jones, lying on the ground, watched it dent United’s hopes of a top-four finish. Smalling, who attempted a futile interception for the big mistake he made, watched it crush United’s hopes of revenge.
Tottenham Hotspur had conceded a similar goal against Liverpool. Here, it looked like spursiness had crept into United’s game.
Wolverhampton Wanderers should have had their third in the injury time when carelessness from Lindelöf led to Ivan Cavaleiro one-on-one with De Gea, but his shot rattled off the post to the dismay of the supporters at Molineux. Lindelöf had time to clear or intercept the ball but he let Cavalerio shoulder him and take control of the move. It may not have gone in but clearly exposed the weakness’ of this United squad.
Top-four hopes diminished!
This defeat leaves Manchester United fifth, one point ahead of sixth-placed Chelsea who have a game in hand. The ramifications of this result could be huge. Manchester United have conceded the advantage to Tottenham in the top-four race. This could very well lead to United missing out on a Champions League spot next season.
However, as the game highlighted, Solskjær has plenty of work to do. In the summer transfer market, the Norwegian will have to buy some quality defenders to solve United’s problems. Someone who can bring in the effect Virgil Van Dijk has brought to Anfield. The future of certain players seem uncertain; Solskjær will have to sort that out. He will have to dump out players who don’t play to the standards expected of a Manchester United player.
As it stands, a huge task awaits him down the road. He will have to oversee the rebuilding process at United and make them genuine title contenders again. The job in hand is a tougher one, one that needs acuity and hope is that Solskjær has it.