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Manchester United should be encouraged by draw at Wolves
Anthony Martial on target again in 1-1 draw with Wolves
Last Updated: 20/08/19 11:59am
Manchester United had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Wolves at Molineux on Monday Night Football after Paul Pogba’s second-half penalty was saved. But a point is more than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed on his previous visit. This was progress, writes Adam Bate.
Manchester United would have gone top with a win and Paul Pogba had the chance to earn it from the penalty spot only to see his effort saved. After a first half in which Wolves were dominated at Molineux, it will feel like two points dropped for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But there were signs of progress for United and they should take confidence from their start.
Chelsea held them at Old Trafford in the spring but were well beaten on the opening weekend and this too was an improvement on United's result in last season's fixture. In fact, Wolves beat Solskjaer's team twice in a fortnight earlier in the year. It was those defeats that led many to see this as a test of the United boss. He didn't win but he did pass the test.
In the final nine games of last season, United dominated possession against Arsenal, Wolves, Everton, Chelsea, Huddersfield and Cardiff - winning none of those games. The feeling was that this summed up the problem with this Solskjaer side. They can win on the counter-attack but they cannot do it when opponents let them have the ball.
Against a Wolves team that included 10 of the same starting line-up that won the fixture at Molineux in April and nine of the team who won the FA Cup quarter-final two weeks before that, there were no surprises. This was a familiar challenge. "They are so hard to break down," said Solskjaer beforehand. "They lay low, defend deep."
Wolves were not going to offer many opportunities to counter-attack. Only Manchester City and Liverpool have conceded so few goals from fast breaks since their return to the Premier League. As a result, Solskjaer's selection was an interesting one. "He has gone with all the pace on the counter-attack," said Gary Neville. "This team is not set up for possession."
Even so, that is precisely what they had. Sixty-nine per cent of it in the first half and 60 per cent in the second. This was a game between two teams happier without the ball and perhaps that explains why it featured the longest wait for a shot in a Premier League game featuring Manchester United since Opta began collecting such records 13 years ago.
Rashford and Martial impress
The positive for Solskjaer is that this first shot resulted in the opening goal of the game. There is a real connection developing between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial as they interchange positions in search of the space. This time it was Rashford dropping deep and playing the pass through for Martial to finish high into the net with his left foot.
The pair might have combined for a goal just before when Pogba found Rashford out wide and the England international twisted and turned away from Ryan Bennett before almost finding Martial at the far post. In the second half, it was Martial's flick that found Pogba in the build-up to the penalty. The trio do have the quality to unlock these tight defences.
Solskjaer called it "a mature performance" in the first half and it was understandable that he should see it that way. There was a patience to their play. Wolves' counter-attacking opportunities were stifled. However, that did not last. "The second half was sloppier," Solskjaer told Sky Sports. "We are young team who will learn. We learnt on the pitch tonight."
Youth will need time
He was not exaggerating when calling this team young. It is the youngest that any manager has named for a Premier League fixture this season and the youngest Manchester United line-up named inside the first month of the season in eight years. This is his vision and there was enough enthusiasm to their play for it be one that supporters will get behind.
Daniel James had a mixed evening, being booked for simulation, but his stunning pace will win him admirers - particularly if he tracks back as willingly as he did to dispossess Raul Jimenez in the first half. Aaron Wan-Bissaka continues to show what a formidable defender he is, making nine tackles - more than twice as many as anyone else on the pitch.
The introduction of Mason Greenwood late on only underlines the fact that this Manchester United team will need to be given time to fulfil their potential. But if they can show this kind of promise and pick up results like this one along the way then some optimism is merited.
This point could have been three but it should not be underestimated. Wolves' unbeaten run at Molineux dates back to the first week of the year. Arsenal and Chelsea, the sides seen as United's biggest rivals in the race for the top four, both lost there last season. Solskjaer has avoided that fate this time around but there's no guarantee they will do the same.
"If we play as we did today with a bit more urgency we will be fine," Rashford told Sky Sports afterwards. For all the disappointment at passing up the opportunity to go top, perhaps that should be the overriding feeling among Manchester United supporters too. This has been an encouraging start.