After three successive away wins, everyone was keen to see which Manchester United team would turn up at Old Trafford.
A problem which seemed to plague the club in Louis van Gaal’s time and Jose Mourinho’s first season was the inability to put teams like this (and by this, let’s say any team other than the top five) away. You could put that down to two things — the failure to put away chances and the failure to control a game.
United may have had territorial advantage but Wolves looked more likely to win as the game wore on. United missed Nemanja Matic but he was not the explanation for this result; the team were not good enough, and Wolves thoroughly deserved their point.
There is a temptation to pick apart such results and performances in the pursuit of drawing bigger conclusions but what did we learn that we didn’t already know?
Manchester United should always hope to score two at home because they are so often their own worst enemy, either through casualness or defensive mistakes. It was more the former than the latter this time around for Wolves’ goal.
When it came time to chase a goal, the two players they brought on were Juan Mata — hardly the penetrating kind — and Anthony Martial — hardly the interested type, at present. Backing them up were a cavalry of Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia and Andreas Pereira (the latter still trying to find his feet in this team). They were in front of a defence of Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof who did not play badly but had the Wolves attack full of confidence that they could embarrass them.
So much of the creation was left to Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw and the visitors did enough, mostly, to close those avenues.
When there is such a clear chasm in quality and urgency from one player to the next in this team, inconsistency is quite expected.
Hate to say I told you so
Back in January, this writer spoke on our YouTube show to express concern about the potential signing of Alexis Sanchez. At that point, despite the criticism, the interchanging of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial seemed to be to the benefit of the team.
I felt that Sanchez wasn’t so significant an upgrade — even at his best — to justify stunting that progress and form. However, I also felt that we should have kept faith in Danny Welbeck when we signed Robin van Persie, so I reserved the right to be proven wrong. I hoped I would be.
It would still be a ‘what if’ if Sanchez had been at his best. Effort is no longer enough, even in the eyes of Jose Mourinho, to guarantee this player his place on the pitch. On occasions like this, it’s a shame Martial’s attitude is what it is.
Sum of their parts
So here’s a controversial take for another game where he can’t really be blamed. Romelu Lukaku can become a redundant weapon when so many of his team-mates are misfiring. He’s not the type of player who can fashion a goal from little, even in the same way that a veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic could, as immobile as he had become.
Ibrahimovic, for all his years, was more of a team player than Lukaku, as his winning goal in the League Cup Final showed. That was to the benefit of the team because it brought other players into the game more. Romelu Lukaku can justify his inclusion by pointing to his goal tally but so could Ruud van Nistelrooy in his latter years. So could Wayne Rooney in 2010. Hopefully you’ve noticed the pattern and the point.
Yes, the issue with Lukaku is complicated by the fact that the service he receives is exceptionally poor for a club of United’s size, so the jury should still be out on him. It’s not an immediate or urgent problem. It just feels disappointing that a player of such presence can pass ninety minutes practically unnoticed.