Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Erik ten Hag’s deceptive second album at Manchester United started with a bang but few will understand how. Wolves dominated the hosts who changed their coach days before the start of the season and United were lucky not to be awarded a penalty in extra time but ended up on points.

Wolves wasted a host of chances to get at least a point from the game as Raphael Varane’s header sealed the scoreline. Many will feel Wolves should have had one last chance to sort things out in the dying seconds of the game when Andre Onana lunged at Sasa Kalajdzic, only for referee Simon Hooper and his VAR colleagues to decide the challenge required no penalty, despite the goalkeeper not coming close. from the ball.

The new season was met with protests outside before kick-off as fans expressed their displeasure at Glazer’s ownership of the club and were joined by a separate appearance regarding Mason Greenwood, while United debate whether to bring him back into the fold. They have delayed announcing his possible return after an internal investigation into the attacker. Inside the ground, there were banners and loud chants of “We want the Glazers out”, as frustration with United’s potential continued sale.

Onana’s debut was much more memorable than the Mason Mount game, with the former Chelsea midfielder, like his new team-mates, unable to influence proceedings in the final third. He was picked alongside captain, Bruno Fernandes, to play ahead of Casemiro, but the newly formed midfield spent most of the evening watching Matheus Cunha cut through their heart.

The Brazilian showed why Julen Lopetegui was keen on Wolverhampton spending heavily on him, but the late Spaniard did not capitalize on him in five months as his replacement, Gary O’Neill, did in 77 minutes at Old Trafford. Unfortunately for Wolves, they couldn’t find a vital target, which goes to show why they scored just 31 times last season. Coaching the players really well, O’Neal brought a new identity to the team that had fans chanting his name from the start.

Manchester United's Andre Onana (right) falls at Wolverhampton Wanderers' Sasa Kalajdzic but no penalty is awarded.
Luck was with new Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana after he bumped the wolf into Sasa Kalajdzic late in the game, but no penalty was awarded. Photo: Peter Powell/EPA

It’s hard to criticize Kona given the amount of effort and dynamism he’s brought to Wolves, but he will be frustrated that he couldn’t beat Onana. He wasn’t the only offender for the visitors, however, as Pedro Neto and substitute Fabio Silva had good chances without success. The visitors scored 23 shots, the most by the away team in the league at Old Trafford since 2015, but only six on target, though the performance will give them hope that things are not as bad as they looked when Lopetegui left last week.

United were consistent throughout, relying on two defenders to combine for a winner as their forwards struggled to create much in the final third. After 76 minutes of missteps and quarter chances, Aaron Wan-Bissaka tapped in a fine pass from Bruno Fernandes, before lofting the ball to Varane to head in from close range.

Many had thought the goal would have lifted United and dented Wolves’ confidence, but instead the hosts retreated further into their shell as Wolves continued their dominant performance, forcing Onana to make a number of saves and defenders on the last balls.

United have lost their last two opening games and fans will be relieved to leave Old Trafford with ambiguous smiles on their faces, although many questions remain about how the team will build on Tin Hag’s first season improvements. New signing Rasmus Højlund was unavailable due to a back problem, not that the striker’s presence is of much help when a team is unable to create chances. They had three shots on goal as Jose Sa was allowed a quiet night.

Manchester United take the lead thanks to a close header from Raphael Varane.
Manchester United take the lead thanks to a close header from Raphael Varane. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Wolves easily got past United on a regular basis, and Casemiro couldn’t hold back Cunha who displayed incredible stamina and dribbling skills to take the ball up the field. Lisandro Martinez was taken off at the break after being shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Neto, an example of United’s struggles against a volatile club.

United wouldn’t be too bothered by how they got away with the win, but they should have been left with a point at best. Onana produced a solid game on his United debut but should have ended it facing a penalty when he jumped up to catch a cross and caught Kalajdzic in the face with no ball in sight. Hooper did not immediately award the penalty, but there was silence within the stadium as the VAR reviewed it, only to determine that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the original decision.

Wolves think otherwise, though United would be happy to let their grievances fall on deaf ears as their season proceeds, even if it is entirely undeserved.

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