There is still work to be done for at Old Trafford
Manchester United gave a debut to Bruno Fernandes, but their hopes of fresh inspiration were dashed as their new midfielder was unable to inspire them to end their league hoodoo against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had decided to give his new signing a chance from the start due to Nemanja Matic’s suspension after his red card in midweek; and whilst the former Sporting midfielder was certainly the best attacking threat the hosts had, it was not enough to penetrate an organised defence.
It was a game pretty much true to the standard set by these sides since Wolves were promoted last year; they boast the technical quality to control the pace of games, even at Old Trafford, but perhaps lack the confidence to go for the jugular. This is a responsible approach as it most certainly protects them from the counter, which is United’s best threat, but one can’t help but feel that the Midlanders might have enjoyed a better reward with even greater ambition.
Certainly, there was little to be afraid of from a United attack desperately lacking in penetration. Daniel James is low on confidence, Anthony Martial is peripheral, the jury has long been in on Andreas Pereira, and the onus on Juan Mata to create for these three often leaves the Spaniard with static accompaniments.
Wolves, for their part, knew their best chances of attacking were exploiting Shaw with Traore’s blistering pace. That, or trying to expose Lindelof, though the Swede had a confident night in defence. Chances were at a premium at either end.
Thus, the spotlight naturally fell on Fernandes. He was not outstanding, and yet, he was clearly performing to the level which proved he was a significant upgrade on the poor standard around him. Wolves knew it too, and often made it difficult for United to get the ball to him in good positions. There was one moment just before the break where the new man had a shot from 20 yards, but the effort was easily saved.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with neither side willing to give an inch. Solskjaer did at least amend his formation; moving James over to the right, and Pereira to the left, with a flat midfield two. It had little impact. Juan Mata had a chance on the hour but fired wide; from a similar position 18 minutes later, Mason Greenwood - on for Pereira - had a shot which almost deviated, but slowed, via two deflections.
In-between times, a publicised planned walk out never really materialised. In the 68th minute, it was arranged for a ‘mass evacuation’ in protest against the owners and the running of the club by the absent Ed Woodward. Only a handful left their seats.
Plenty remained until the bitter end, and it was bitter; late changes with Lingard and Dalot thrown on were clearly gambles. Maguire had one chance when a free-kick fell to him but the Wolves defence had re-organised by the time he got settled. Dalot had possibly the best chance of them all when he met a good Wan-Bissaka cross, only to head wide.
Three points would most definitely have been two more than Solskjaer’s side deserved. And Wolves, really, for that matter. As far as United were concerned this was a reminder of where they are and their current standard. Wolves were playing them on historical reputation and treating them with the according respect. United were probably guilty of doing the same with their visitors and were perhaps unprepared for a resolute and better organised opponent, despite the fact that Wolves have controlled these games in the last two years.
It remains a headache when every senior absentee represents a catastrophe in terms of expectation levels. Nemanja Matic was close to the exit door at the beginning of the calendar year and yet Pereira being in the team ahead of him today was enough for United to have a midfield that was not the sum of its parts. Marcus Rashford should not be so far ahead, in terms of stature, of Anthony Martial, who had one of his worst games for the club. It was a time he could least afford it and it tells you much about current standards that some were wishing Ighalo - the incredibly divisive forward who has arrived on a short term loan - was available to least make something of an impression ahead of the disappointing Frenchman.
Solskjaer also needs to find a solution for Daniel James and Andreas Pereira with some level of emergency. James is already run into the ground and opponents know a little physicality is enough to bully him out of games. Pereira is in the manager’s good books but many are wondering what else James Garner needs to do, what Dylan Levitt did wrong, or what happened to Timothy Fosu-Mensah, that none of them have been anywhere near getting opportunities they surely deserve in an area of the pitch that has not been impressive.
Once more, an opportunity to close the gap to Chelsea in fourth place, after the Blues dropped points, has been missed. It was the greatest indication of all that even with a new man, Champions League qualification remains a distinctly remote possibility for struggling United.
De Gea 6