So Far So Good For Man Utd But Wolves Are Capable Underdogs
A 4-0 win against Chelsea, clean sheet, and impressive home debuts from all three of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s summer signings ensured that it was practically the perfect opening weekend result for Manchester United.
United attacked freely all afternoon, and tried to do so even during the testing moments when Chelsea looked like they might force their way through. But United’s new-look defence dug in, and the home support left Old Trafford feeling quietly optimistic about their team’s top four chances.
Indeed, the UK’s best bookmakers saw enough to improve their top four chances from evens (+100) to 5/6 (-120).
It is hard to make a balanced assessment about the season after just one game, and although it wasn’t Chelsea’s finest eleven of the Premier League era, it was three points against a side who despite their summer transfer ban, and the sale of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, will have one eye on that fourth Champions League spot.
Daniel James stole the hearts of the home crowd coming on as a late substitute and scoring the fourth, but in defence – Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire the two other new additions – were outstanding, and stood up fantastically well to the threat Frank Lampard’s men posed.
With Wan-Bissaka in particular, it’s easy to forget that this is only the start of his second season in the Premier League. The right full-back continued his outstanding pre-season form and could make the position his own for the next ten years, and not just for club, but country as well – he was that good.
Wan-Bissaka For England
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, was watching on, and it would be foolish of him not to include the former Crystal Palace player in his England squad for the games next month against Bulgaria and Kosovo. Bookmakers give the 21-year-old a 50% chance (1/1) of making Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad for next summer.
One man who’ll definitely be part of the squad is Maguire, who is further on than Wan-Bissaka in his development, but was no less impressive.
Next to Victor Lindelof, the central defender displayed all the attributes United have lacked since the Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand days, and although he has some way to go before emulating their spells at the club, he stood out, and not just because of his giant frame.
The England international was seen organising and encouraging those around him, and his qualities were put to full use in the build-up to United’s second, showing patience and timing to dispossess Tammy Abraham on the edge of the 18-yard box.
It’s Wolves up next, in what is arguably a tougher test. Solskjaer knows all about the challenge that awaits having took his side to Molineux twice last season, losing 2-1 in both the FA Cup and league fixture. However, United are 5/4 (+125) favourites for all three points.
And after watching United’s performance back, Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo and his staff will certainly fancy their chances of making it three straight wins against United, which Betfair put a best price of 12/5 (+240) on.
United Rode Their Luck
There was a period in the first half in particular where Chelsea, on another day, might have scored twice or possibly even three times. Abraham struck the outside of David De Gea’s post early on, and then Emerson hit the same upright from a tighter angle.
Santo should also have also noted Luke Shaw’s struggles positionally. The defender was caught out one or two times, and often, when he was in the right place, Chelsea doubled up on him making it very difficult for him to cope down his side.
After the game in his post-match press conference, Solskjaer explained that Shaw’s lack of protection meant that Rashford, who was positioned higher up the field and wide left, was in a good position to hit Chelsea on the counter. A more clinical and savvier team might not be so wasteful.
Inevitably, the heavily scrutinised Paul Pogba was the next subject for the awaiting media.
Sublime in the second half with two assists, he gave the ball away cheaply in the first period and United must demand more consistency from him in that midfield area next Monday, especially when there’s still so many question marks about the supporting cast of Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay.
Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera have moved on and not been replaced, which means if the Frenchman gets injured, or continues to be plagued by inconsistency, United are left with a midfield that resembles a bottom half Premier League side, rather than one that should be challenging for a place in the Champions League.
So it’s still a fragile position for Solskjaer to be in. So much expectation is placed on the shoulders of Pogba and while the defence is undoubtedly stronger, there’s enough frailties in other areas of the pitch for opponents to cause problems.
Wolves might just be the ones to exploit it.