Wolves vs Manchester United result: Paul Pogba’s penalty miss costs Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side victory

Wolves 1-1 Manchester United: Ruben Neves’ spectacular 25-yard strike cancelled out Anthony Martial’s opener

Mark Critchley
Molineux Stadium
Tuesday 20 August 2019 07:23
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If this was the early barometer of what to expect from Manchester United that some billed it as, it was a decidedly mixed bag. Though never reaching the depths of visits to Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this year, it was another frustrating night at Molineux for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The league and cup defeats here in spring were two of the poorest displays of Solskjaer’s reign to date, but on this third visit, United’s first-half performance was encouraging. Anthony Martial’s excellent finish established a one-goal lead at the break, but United’s all-round composure and control of proceedings was just as impressive.

That composure and control deserted them after the break: firstly, when Ruben Neves equalised with the type of speculative attempt from range which he has trademarked; secondly, when Paul Pogba missed a penalty for the fourth time since the start of last season. It is unclear why a player with such a poor record from the spot is still on penalty-taking duties. Gary Neville, appearing on Sky Sports, compared United's spot-kick policy to a tombola.

Molineux is no easy place to visit. Wolves’ excellent record against the top six last season - only bettered by Manchester City and Liverpool - is well-known. Four points from opening games against Nuno’s side and Chelsea is hardly a disaster for United, but they will leave the Black Country ruing a missed opportunity.

Solskjaer named United’s youngest Premier League line-up in nearly two-and-a-half years, trusting Daniel James enough to make his first start. Molineux soon made him their villain for the evening, booing him for a perceived dive early doors. James was later booked for another piece of simulation, much to the home crowd’s delight.

They would not be laughing for long. Mere minutes later, United converted their dominance of the ball into their first attempt of the evening and an opening goal. It was a move of careful, precise penetration, with possession switched between several players on the left until Marcus Rashford slipped Martial through.

Martial still had much to do from a tight angle that Willy Boly’s presence was only narrowing further, but his sublime, lofted finish made it seem simple. Martial is Solskjaer’s preferred option in United’s central lone striker role and here, he demonstrated why. It was his 50th United goal, nearly four years to the day he joined the club.

Wolves’ organisation and defensive structure is their greatest asset but, having seen less than a third of the ball, it was arguably inhibiting them. Nuno introduced dribbling specialist Adama Traore at the interval and the hosts re-emerged with more ambition. An equaliser quickly followed.

Ruben Neves celebrate equalising against United

Moments after Raul Jimenez had turned a header against the upright, a Wolves corner broke to Neves on the edge of the area. The player who took more shots from range than any other last season was always going to follow Molineux’s command to shoot. The woodwork helped this time, as Neves bounced the ball in off the crossbar.

VAR briefly threatened to cut the celebrations short. A chunk of Joao Moutinho’s shoulder may have strayed ahead of the ball in the build-up, according to a less-than-perfect camera angle. By the time the officials had decided the goal would stand, the chants of “f*** VAR” were already in full flow.

Paul Pogba misses from the spot

Not long after, Wolves could have used the technology to bail them out, but goalkeeper Rui Patricio came to the rescue instead. Pogba drew the foul from Conor Coady which won the penalty but – just as against Burnley, Everton and Southampton last season – he failed from the spot, seeing his effort saved.

Why was Pogba allowed to step up given his record, and especially as Rashford successfully converted a penalty against Chelsea just last weekend? That will be the one of the main questions posed to Solskjaer after dropping these two points. And despite some cause for optimism, it is not the only one hanging over his United side.

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