Manchester United let lead slip away as Joao Moutinho earns Wolves a point

Manchester United 1-1 Wolves: United’s unsatisfying draw showed just how many issues remain and just how much work needs to be done at Old Trafford

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Saturday 22 September 2018 16:48
Manchester United 2018/19 Premier League profile

Despite three successive wins at difficult away grounds, the mini-revival of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has seemed to be of quite a fragile nature, and the arrival of Wolverhampton Wanderers would be its sternest test.

This is no normal newly-promoted side, but one stocked with talents from Mourinho’s own nation and stable, and on this evidence, plenty of them could be deemed capable of playing in this United side.

A win would have given credence to the idea that Mourinho is slowly solving this side’s problems. This unsatisfying draw, however, showed just how many issues remain, just how much work needs to be done and – on an afternoon when Manchester City and Liverpool won handsomely – just how far United still have to go.

Sir Alex Ferguson made his first appearance at Old Trafford since undergoing emergency brain surgery in May and spoke, before the match, of his hope to be welcomed home with a victory. And yet even when Fred’s first United goal gave the hosts their first-half lead, three points never seemed likely.

Wolves had been the superior side up to that point and though this was an evenly-matched contest on the whole, Nuno Espirito Santo will return to the west Midlands disappointed that his side did not add to Joao Moutinho’s second-half equaliser.

This was a retread of so many afternoons at Old Trafford on the way to last season’s second-place finish. United would be careless in possession, caught out defensively, overpowered in key areas and yet, by some strange alchemy, still take the lead.

So it was in the 18 minutes leading up to Fred’s opener, when Wolves were sharper than their hosts to a man. All, that is, except one. Unless David de Gea is enduring a rare off-day, United’s goalkeeper is capable of single-handedly staving off a dominant opponent.

Raul Jimenez, Wolves’ imposing focal point up front, had the beating of United’s backline in that opening period but was left cursing De Gea’s supreme reactions. Jimenez shot low and hard at close range after seven minutes, hoping to finish off Helder Costa’s excellent work down the right, but was denied brilliantly, De Gea saving with his legs.

Willy Boly believed he had beaten the United ‘keeper after a quarter of an hour, connecting powerfully with a corner from the right, but there was De Gea again, reacting in double-quick time to beat the ball away. Moments earlier, he had been static as Ryan Bennett cleared the crossbar with a free header.

Though despite their case to be two ahead, Wolves soon found themselves one behind. United’s breakthrough will be remembered as a first goal for Fred, the £52.5million summer signing from Shakhtar Donetsk, but it came about through the class of Paul Pogba.

The danger appeared to have snuffed out, even if Conor Coady had failed to sufficiently clear his lines following Alexis Sanchez’s cross. The Wolves captain could not, however, have expected the majestic, slide-rule pass Pogba suddenly produced, playing Fred into space on the edge of the penalty area. A first-time shot beat Rui Patricio.

Once ahead, United composed themselves without ever asserting control. Now behind, Wolves had lost their early momentum but still carried a latent threat. The closest either came to another first-half goal was with the last action of the opening 45 minutes, as Patricio tipped Fred’s goalbound free-kick onto the crossbar.

Wolves then began the second half as strongly as they had the first, with one crucial difference. This time, they scored. Questions will be asked of Luke Shaw, who failed to cut out Costa’s cross despite driving him all the way to the byline.

Fred celebrates his opener at Old Trafford

Costa, in fairness, still did well to find Raul Jimenez, and Jimenez made the right decision by putting his back towards goal, looking up and teeing up a team-mate rather than taking on the chance himself. Moutinho was on the edge of the penalty area, waiting to effortlessly lift the ball into De Gea’s top right-hand corner.

Mourinho responded from the touchline by sacrificing goalscorer Fred and an ineffective Sanchez, who was rested in midweek and yet lasted just over an hour here. The changes did not have the desired effect. Romelu Lukaku, poor on this occasion, headed United’s best opening wide when unmarked, then mercifully discovered he was offside.

Joao Moutinho peels away to celebrate his equalising goal

Even so, United appeared to decide that Wolves were vulnerable aerially and came closest to a winner through corners and crosses. Marouane Fellaini, United’s plan B, C and D then all the way through to Z, saw his one headed opportunity comfortably blocked by Patricio.

If either side could have won it late on, it would have been Wolves. Adama Traoré threatened on the counter, testing De Gea on three occasions in the closing stages, each time coming close but not close enough. The visitors would take a deserved point. United could count themselves grateful for theirs.

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