Football Features

Neves and Moutinho’s midfield masterclass sees Wolves pick up historic win over Manchester United at Old Trafford

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:04, 3 January 2022

Joao Moutinho was the late match-winner as Wolves pulled off a shocking upset to beat Manchester United 0-1.

Before the game if you had asked someone which Portuguese veteran you expected to score a precision shot from the edge of the box in the closing stages of the game, Moutinho would not have been the name on your lips.

Yet not only did Moutinho score that winner, but he absolutely put his illustrious compatriot in the shade with a magnificent midfield performance alongside his other compatriot, Ruben Neves.

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“We come here to play our game, to do our game,” said Moutinho after the match. “Play football, play with the ball, that’s what we do.”

And play with the ball is exactly what Wolves did. Moutinho had 79 touches and completed 52/60 passes (including 2 chances creates). Ruben Neves had 82 touches and completed 56/69 passes – with 24 passes in the final third. Moutinho also pressed superbly, making 6 tackles as he snapped into United’s midfield to swing control Wolves’ way.

“Never once did United have control of that midfield,” opined Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports’ coverage, and he was absolutely correct because it was Moutinho and Neves who did snatch hold of things and make Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic look like animated training cones, with McTominay not even that animated really.

The goal itself came when Phil Jones cleared an Adama Traoré cross to the edge of the box where Moutinho lay in wait. This shouldn’t have been a threat as McTominay or Matic (or both) should have been in position to stop the shot from happening, yet they were nowhere to be found and Moutinho had time to take a touch and then strike it sweetly through the crowd and into the net.

So not only did McTominay or Matic fail to offer the kind of control that the Wolves duo did, but they couldn’t even cover their defence in any real fashion, let alone offer a consistent or reliable goal threat.

Goal threat that the Wolves pair did offer, of course. Of the three best chances in the game, two of them fell Wolves’ way and while one was Moutinho’s goal the other? A superb Ruben Neves shot from long-range that David de Gea had to lunge and tip over.

In fact, watching the game, you could be forgiven for thinking that Moutinho and Ruben Neves are exactly the players (as a pair) that Manchester United need. Midfielders who can take control of a game, spread the ball around, move it forward, and yes, score goals. United have battlers, hard-workers, tryers, but there’s such a massive lack of quality.

Bruno Lage’s Wolves came to Old Trafford and picked up a historic victory, their first for 42 years, and it all came thanks to a midfield masterclass from Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, the kind of midfield masterclass that will have Manchester United moping around the city because it is exactly the kind of quality control they are desperate for.