Football Features

“Rashford to the rescue!” – Five things learned as United beat Wolves to go second in the Premier League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:33, 29 December 2020

In an frustrating night of football, Manchester United beat Wolves 1-0 to go second in the Premier League.

The win was huge for United as it marked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first league win over Wolves, a side that has caused them problems. What did we learn?

1. Rashford to the rescue!

Sometimes you just need a hero to stand up. Someone to take a chance, have a shot. Today that someone was Marcus Rashford and that sometime was deep into stoppage time at Old Trafford.

United had laboured against Wolves, they hadn’t played well at all really, and perhaps the biggest disappointments were Rashford himself and Bruno Fernandes. The two talismans of the side that are nearly always in the team (both have played every game this season) both looked wracked by fatigue against Wolves, unable to conjure even the smallest amount of dynamism.

Fernandes missed United’s best chance in the first-half and created just three chances, losing possession 23 times which is high even for him. Rashford meanwhile created 0 chances and was constantly taking too many touches.

Then in the last minute, Fernandes bent a staggeringly beautifully ball in behind the Wolves defence and Rashford was away. He held onto it, seemingly too long really. The Englishman was unwilling to bend the ball into the box and instead kept on creeping infield until he had half a yard on his left-foot and then he let rip. The shot deflected off Roman Saiss and into the net.

A winner, a scruffy winner but a winner all the same. A huge winner to take The Red Devils second and breathe real life into the quiet gasps and whispers that, hey, are Manchester United title challengers?? If they are, they owe it all to Marcus Rashford. The homegrown boy who has quite incredibly scored more stoppage time winners for the club than anyone else in history. A legend in the making.

2. No mercy for Nuno

Wolves came into this game missing several key first-team players. And given that they don’t exactly have the strongest squad to begin with even a few key injuries can be shattering. Wolves clearly missed the likes of Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker, but that can be no excuse for how negatively they approached this game.

To be clear, playing with a low block is smart from Nuno, the issue was the way in which they broke out from defence. Which is to say, they didn’t. They had two players whose pace and skill make them one-man counter-attacks playing up-front and a young Ki-Jana Hoever at wing-back playing the game of his life; yet Wolves offered nothing in open play.

Yes Roman Saiss forced a couple of great saves from David de Gea from set-pieces, but with the personnel Wolves had out they should have done so much more going forward and at the end of the day they got punished for it.

3. Goals? What are they?

Much is made of the fact that Wolves have scored just six first-half goals in the Premier League so far this season (only three sides have fewer) but what is even more remarkable is that six of the eight halves of football played between Wolves and Manchester United in 2020, there have been no goals.

270 minutes of play and no goals. And in the half that saw scoring before today, the second period of an FA Cup tie, saw just the one goal from Juan Mata. This is just not a fixture that sees a lot of goalmouth action, because Nuno Espirito Santo knows how to handle Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s style of play (Wolves were the first side to swerve United off the road when Solskjaer’s initial caretaker run seemed unstoppable) and the Norwegian is so scarred by those defeats that he refuses to take the risks necessary to break down a side as obdurate as Wolves.

Moreover he doesn’t appear to have the tactical knowledge to get his side to find a way through nor the courage to take the risks necessary. So we end up with a game like this; sterile and lifeless. Fine for Wolves, but for Manchester United who are trying to elevate themselves it’s quite simply not good enough. Yes they stole a win at the death from a deflected strike, but performances matter as much as results and this was a horrific performance that bodes ill for their upcoming showdowns with Captain Jack Grealish, Pep Guardiola and, yes, Jurgen Klopp and his Premier League champions.

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4. Manchester United player ratings

5. Wolves player ratings