Reaction as United draw 1-1 at Wolves.

The ultimate conclusion from yesterday evening’s game is surely that United are improved from last year but still quite a distance from challenging for the major honours.

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Maybe those lessons can be learned between now and the end of the season; there was a lot more wrong than just the penalty miss which contributed to United not winning the game, and yet a lot more right than the performances on this ground last season which resulted in a loss. 

Manchester City drew at Molineux in August last season so one could reason that this result is not terminal to United’s hopes of league glory but the reality is that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are not at that level. So the evaluation has to be less about the result and more about the approach, and at least on that level, no-one can criticise the United boss.

He set out his team in a positive manner to try and win the game. It was a clever move for the first goal that was finished in convincing fashion by Anthony Martial.

The first half was entertaining, the second half less so, but United should still have come away with all three points. He made positive changes to try and snatch an unlikely win close to the end.

It is a fairly underwhelming feeling considering the chance to win the game (through Lingard’s effort which hit the woodwork as well as the penalty), but it is still nonetheless an improvement on last season, and let us at least consider that a step forward.

All teams in every game will concede a spell of pressure; United were punished in the period where Wolves were in the ascendancy and still needed a genuine goal from the Gods.

And what a goal it was. To a lot of United fans Ruben Neves would have looked very nice in the Old Trafford midfield; he stayed at Molineux and provided another moment for a spectacular highlight reel.

It was a decent draw that felt underwhelming and more like a sucker-punch defeat considering the chances United had to put the game to bed. But it was a step forward so let us be ‘glass half full’. 

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In the league game here last season — in too many league games over the last five years — United ended games like that with a whimper. They were trying to win, which might seem like the least you expect, but at least we saw it.

Now we wait and see what the response is from what feels like a setback.

Control

The major positive, at least in the first half, was in United’s control of proceedings despite only playing with two central midfielders. This was a fairly bold approach from Solskjaer and it paid off for a while. Wolves did come back into the game and this will be something the manager needs to work on in terms of getting his midfield to be be more compact and disciplined, but the opponents last night were no easy pickings and their equaliser was outrageous. 

Solskjaer’s response to that? Try and take the game to Wolves and get all three points. Admittedly, at long points in the second period, United did not have the control of the game, and did not dictate the pace of it, but they did threaten and that was clearly the intention of the manager. Baby steps in the right direction.

Selection

Once more Solskjaer made a statement with his team choice, leaving Matic out and going with a strong first choice defence. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka continue to impress.

In terms of forward progression for the club, this appears to be the most positive and bold move, with the average players who have underwhelmed for too long clearly put further back in the pecking order.

The beneficiary this week was Dan James in place of Andreas Pereira, the weakest player from the midfield in the win over Chelsea. Solskjaer resisted the temptation to play Matic and instead chose to overload the attack. There were moments where James’ pace looked as if it genuinely frightened the home players.

James wasn’t brilliant — it was a tough introduction — but he kept trying.

Paying the penalty

How do you explain Paul Pogba taking that penalty after the Rashford goal last week? Is it because he was fouled, that he pulled rank? It was a poor penalty and another fairly average performance from a player who had a spotlight on him (he wasn’t awful, but wasn’t really good). 

It is a rather trivial matter but it is still a talking point because it was a change in taker from last week. It also suggests that the players take it upon themselves, and decide on the fly, and you would hope that there would be more conviction than that.

It will emerge from the game as the topic that will be discussed ad nauseam. It will be (mildly) interesting to see the reaction from Pogba; a player prone to publicly showing how he feels, will not be able to bite his tongue.

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