Football Features

“Wan-Bissaka is a magician” – Five things learned as Man United and Wolves play out an intense draw

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:29, 19 August 2019

In a hotly contested night of football, Manchester United and Wolves played out a 1-1 draw at Molineux.

It was a game of two halves as The Red Devils dominated the first period and took the lead but Wolves responded after the break to equalise. What did we learn?

1. Penalty shenanigans

After a bright first-half, Manchester United were ahead at Molineux. Then the second half began and Wolves equalised. Finally The Red Devils managed a brief riposte, not a major one mind you, but Paul Pogba finally strutted his stuff and danced his way into the penalty area, winning a penalty after a foul from Conor Coady.

That should have seen United score a huge go-ahead goal that, with just over 20 minutes to play, would have given them a huge boost and a great chance to win the game and go top of the league. But Paul Pogba stepped up, and his penalty was saved by Rui Patricio. Being fair it was a good save as the Frenchman did put some power behind it – but the shot was not in the corner and it was at a nice height to be saved.

Pogba has now missed four penalties since the start of last season. In the Premier League he has missed an incredible 36% of his penalty kicks, which is absurd really. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said post-match that both Pogba and Rashford “are designated the penalty shooters and it’s up to them to decide there and then who wants it.”

Obviously Pogba wanted it more today, and that system would be fine if Pogba was a good penalty kick taker. The thing is he’s not. A good taker doesn’t miss 36% of his penalties. Marcus Rashford is lights out from the spot. He’s taken four penalties in his career and scored all four of them. He needs to be the man put on spot-kicks for United because as a side they’re not good enough to overcome such ridiculous shenanigans and reduce penalty shootouts to mere 50/50 chances.

2. Ruben Neves: long-range sniper

Sometimes you can see a thing coming and know there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it. It’s a strange feeling but when Joao Moutinho received a return pass from his short corner and fizzed a low cross towards the edge of the box, everyone knew what was going to happen. In the stadium they could see Ruben Neves, at home they couldn’t but just knew he was there – because why else play that pass?

So the ball reaches Neves at the top of the box. And this is a kid who loves to score bangers. He struck two from outside the box last season and when he took a touch to control the ball and then another to get it out of his feet, you could feel the sense of regret in the United defenders that no one thought to mark the man who has more goals than he does touches in the opponent’s box.

What’s even more crazy is that from this position, David De Gea knew exactly what was coming and had a good enough view that Ruben Neves would literally have to put it in the top corner to ensure a goal. So that is exactly what he did. A stunning, staggering goal.

3. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a magician

You usually only hear attacking players referred to as magicians. And that makes sense because creation can often be a magical act, to make something out of nothing and do so in a visually pleasing way… that all tracks. But here’s the thing: magicians also transform objects. Remember The Prestige? “The magician takes the ordinary something, and makes it into something extraordinary.”

Well Manchester United used to be an atrocious defensive side. They conceded 54 goals last season, the most they ever have. You could counter on the for fun. They were as permeable and fragile as wet paper. Not so this season, or rather as we saw at Molineux, they would be but for Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s defensive magic act.

The Englishman is a phenomenal defender. Against Wolves he pulled off an incredible 9 tackles, at least five more than anyone else on the pitch. He stopped countless Wolves counters all by himself, completely and utterly transforming the momentum and nature of the first-half. Instead of The Red Devils being run off the park by the home side, they actually managed to pin their hosts back and dominate the game. Wan-Bissaka even played two gorgeous passes into the box that Jesse Lingard should have controlled and buried.

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4. Wolves will hunt the big six again

Last season Wolves had a remarkable record against the Premier League ‘big six’ – they won six games, drew four and lost four. That equals 22 points which is 39% of their total. That is a remarkable haul to pick up against the best sides in the league who you ordinarily wouldn’t expect to get anything from.

Who knows what Wolves will do this season against the opponents around and below their level – they drew with Leicester on the opening weekend – but their performance against United showed they will be ruthless with the big six again. Wolves were outplayed by Manchester United for the first-half, but rebounded with a ferocious second period, picking up a massive equaliser and closing the match out on equal footing with The Red Devils. A genuinely impressive showing.

5. United’s weaknesses still self-evident

It’s only been two games but Manchester United have improved considerably since last season. The additions of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire alone will have seen to that, but even then the side look sharper and more focused in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge. His idea of how to play is clear, but does he have the players to execute that idea?

Daniel James is a promising young winger, but he’s raw as an Eddie Murphy comedy special in the 80’s. He spent most of the match against Wolves looking hopelessly out of his depth. He tracked back well, but offensively bar one moment of skill he did nothing besides dive twice.

Jesse Lingard is a wonderful defensive player, when you have to press an opponent he’s perfect. But against a dogged defensive opponent like Wolves he doesn’t carry enough threat with the ball. He was largely anonymous today, having way too little of an impact.

Scott McTominay is a battering ram of a footballer, and when United play in a low block he does a job perfectly. But when they open up and play expansively, his lack of mobility and technique on the ball is exposed. Wolves gave McTominay the runaround, and as a result Paul Pogba rarely got the ball in advantageous positions and wasn’t able to influence the game much beyond winning the penalty.

United signed three players, but if they were intent on becoming a serious side then they needed three more. Their midfield is still a serious weakness and at some point during the season it is going to start costing United serious points. It’s already cost them all three today, because a fully-functioning United would have been able to break Wolves down after the hosts second-half riposte.