Raphael Varane’s close-range header secured a 1-0 win for Manchester United despite an unconvincing performance against unfancied Wolves at Old Trafford.
Gary O’Neil’s visitors had the better of the chances before Varane’s 76th-minute winner, with Matheus Cunha spurning a golden opportunity to put Wolves ahead early in the second half in what was a lively performance by the Brazilian forward.
Erik ten Hag had stressed the need for his team to “raise the bar” before kick-off but it was a passive display from United in front of their own supporters. It took a good pass from Bruno Fernandes to unlock things, Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross finding Varane.
Man Utd: Onana (7), Wan-Bissaka (7), Varane (7), Martinez (5), Shaw (7), Casemiro (6), Mount (6), Fernandes (7), Antony (6), Rashford (5), Garnacho (5).
Subs: Lindelof (6), Eriksen (6), Sancho (6), Pellistri (6), McTominay (n/a).
Wolves: Sa (6), Semedo (7), Dawson (7), Kilman (7), Ait-Nouri (8), Nunes (8), Lemina (7), Gomes (8), Sarabia (6), Cunha (8), Neto (7).
Subs: Hwang (7), Bueno (6), Silva (6), Kalajdzic (n/a).
Player of the match: Matheus Cunha.
There were still opportunities for Wolves as substitute Fabio Silva twice forced United’s new goalkeeper Andre Onana into smart saves late in the game. There was even a stoppage-time penalty check when Onana clattered into Sasa Kalajdzic while failing to claim the ball.
O’Neil was booked for his complaints but he will be heartened even in defeat. Wolves’ 23 shots are the most by an away side at Old Trafford since Chelsea in 2005.
Ten Hag will surely be alarmed by that despite his side claiming the three points.
How Man Utd hung on to beat Wolves
Expectations for Wolves had been low coming into the contest, the departure of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the season meaning O’Neil had only had days to prepare his team. His was a team without a single new signing in the starting line-up.
But Wolves competed impressively, setting up well defensively and posing more problems on the counter-attack than United could cause at the other end. Indeed, the away side could easily have led at the interval if they had taken their chances.
Fine work by Cunha, eluding Lisandro Martinez with ease, set up Pablo Sarabia in the left channel but his effort was deflected just wide. The Spaniard returned the favour soon after but Cunha then screwed his shot wide of Onana’s other post.
- Alejandro Garnacho started on the wing for Manchester United as Mason Mount was included for his debut. Harry Maguire was named on the bench alongside Anthony Martial.
- New Wolves boss Gary O’Neil chose Rayan Ait-Nouri over Hugo Bueno in an otherwise predicted line-up as Matheus Cunha was fit enough to start up front. The returning Sasa Kalajdzic and Fabio Silva were among the substitutes.
The United goalkeeper was one of two debutants in a United line-up that also included Mason Mount but a header from Varane – a sign of what was later to decide the game – was as close as United came in the opening 45 minutes. It was all too slow.
The pattern continued in the second half, Cunha’s miss particularly shocking. Sarabia’s cross found its way to him at the far post and it seemed straightforward to turn the ball into net but he somehow contrived to strike the outside of the post instead. A huge let-off.
Cunha continued to torment the United defence with his runs from deep and another charge resulted in an opportunity for Pedro Neto but the tired shot was saved by Onana. A concerned Ten Hag turned to Christian Eriksen and Jadon Sancho to turn the tide.
United did win it when Varane nodded in but, strangely, they never really succeeded in doing that – Wolves continuing to push until the end. Only a pitch invader stemmed the flow, United needing all the help they could get, and they even survived the penalty call.
The MNF verdict on the penalty call
Karen Carney: “It is a penalty. O’Neil is right to feel aggrieved by it. Onana takes his eye of it and takes out a player – he clatters him.”
Gary Neville: “I think it is a penalty as Onana is nowhere near the ball. He was always under it and was never getting there. I always wanted my goalkeeper to come out and take the lot, and he has done that, so in some ways I think he has decided to disturb as much as he can the attacking player. I think it is a penalty.”
Jamie Carragher: “I am not sure. I did not think it would be overturned – it was not a big mistake when you talk about the high bar.”
Onana, who did so much good work, went for one that was beyond him and collided heavily with Kalajdzic, the beanpole striker on his return from a knee injury. It appeared as if the referee was running to the touchline to award the penalty but it was a yellow for O’Neil instead.
The warning was United’s on Monday evening, despite extending their unbeaten home run to 19 games. This was a team performance lacking in verve and an opponent less wasteful than Wolves – of which there cannot be many – would have punished them.
O’Neil: Moss apologised over ‘blatant penalty’
Wolves boss O’Neil revealed that Jonathan Moss, whose title is Select Group 1 Manager at PGMOL, has already apologised for the non-award of a “blatant penalty” for the challenge by Onana in stoppage time.
“We have just spoken to Jonathan Moss and fair play to him for coming straight out and apologising and saying it was a blatant penalty and should have been given,” said O’Neil.
“I spent the afternoon with him today, gave up a lot of my day and preparation around trying to understand the new guidelines and trying not to get myself booked on my first game with the new guidelines, which I failed in.
“Fair play to Jonathan for saying it was a clear and obvious error and he cannot believe that the on-field ref did not give it, cannot believe that VAR didn’t intervene.
“It probably made me feel worse actually because once you know you are right you feel worse about leaving with nothing.”
Ten Hag: We will have to play better
“It was a tough game,” said Ten Hag. “We can do a lot of things better but also I see a lot of positive things. I saw six or seven good high-ball regains and then we have to take more from the turnovers. In a low block, we defended for our lives and we survived it.”
“You have to find the foundation of the season and collect points. If we want to keep collecting points we will have to play better than we did today. But there were positives, the defensive organisation, the clean sheet and the mentality. We found a way to win.”
Player of the match: Matheus Cunha
It might seem strange to pick out a player of the match who wasted the losing side’s clearest chance of the game but it was Cunha who lit up the evening with his smart turns away from the defenders and his driving runs from deep. He has power and grace on the ball.
What Cunha could not do was score. He found the net only twice last season, which is as many as any player in O’Neil’s starting line-up mustered in all competitions for any club last season. Wolves will need him to add that to his game if they are to stop history repeating.
O’Neil appears excited about working with Cunha to help him become more complete and find the finishing touch. “I thought he was very good, he missed a lot of training this week with a slight issue, so we were never going to get 90 minutes out of him,” he said.
“There are lots of things he can still improve, he knows what they are at. There is one hell of a player in there, but we do need to work still to get him to the level that I know he can be at, to be able to do what he did tonight more regularly, to add a goal at the end of it.”
FPL Stats: Man Utd 1-0 Wolves
|Bonus points||Wan Bissaka (3), Varane (2), Onana (1)|
The game in stats
Manchester United have won seven consecutive home Premier League games for the first time since 2017.
Raphael Varane netted his first goal in 26 Premier League games, since scoring against Brentford in May 2022.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka ended a run of 40 Premier League appearances for Manchester United with a goal involvement, since another assist against Liverpool in May 2021.
Wolves directed six shots on target in the game, the most by a visiting side at Old Trafford in the Premier League without scoring since Chelsea in 2019.
Wolves are without a win in nine Premier League away games while they have lost each of their five, their longest top-flight losing streak on the road since 2011.
Since the start of 2020-21, Wolves have failed to score in 45 Premier League games, more than any other side.
Tottenham host Manchester United next Saturday at 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports. Wolves host Brighton on the same day at Molineux; kick off 3pm.