Wolverhampton Wanderers have been the most familiar of opponents in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at Manchester United, but the Molineux side are under new management and present a new challenge this time out.
Nuno Espirito Santo left the club in the summer and found a fresh start elsewhere in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. The two sides came up against each other last week, Spurs managing a 1-0 win thanks to a 10th-minute Dele Alli penalty, and that fixture gives us a decent idea of what to expect from Wolves this weekend.
United travel to the Black Country on Sunday, with kick-off at 16:30 BST. Wolves are looking for their first win of the Premier League season.
They did find victory in the Carabao Cup in midweek, though, sticking four past Nottingham Forest in the second half. Romain Saiss put them ahead after 58 minutes and the goals flowed from there, the other three coming from Daniel Podence, Francisco Trincao and Morgan Gibbs-White.
WOLVES’ RECENT FORM
Nottingham Forest 0-4 Wolves – Tuesday, 24 August
Wolves 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur – Sunday, 22 August
Leicester City 1-0 Wolves – Saturday, 14 August
United fans know this Wolves outfit pretty well. The squad is familiar and the high prevalence of Portuguese players still exists (there are eight in the current squad), but the style of play has changed somewhat from the Nuno era.
Bruno Lage, the 45-year-old Portuguese coach who had been out of work for a year after leaving Benfica in 2020, has come up against United once before, as assistant manager of Swansea City in 2018, working under Carlos Carvahal. His first management job was with Benfica B, and Benfica’s first team followed. He won the Primeria Liga with them in a record-breaking debut campaign, but things fell apart in the second season.
At Wolves, it’s a fantastic opportunity with a talented squad. Lage has set his side up in a 3-4-3 formation. Their start to the Premier League season has been one of decent performances without finding the back of the net, the 1-0 defeat to Tottenham coming after the same scoreline away at Leicester City.
Lage has been pleased with the performances of his teams, although obviously not the results. After the 4-0 win against Forest, he said “I think it was the same as against Tottenham, more [of the] ball, press high, create lots of chances.”
That is the new Wolves style. United fans will remember some dull encounters over the past three years, with a couple of 0-0s, two more 1-1s and the other five all being decided by one goal. Under Lage, we can expect to see something different, some intense pressing, lots of possession and lots of shots.
Against Tottenham, despite losing, Wolves had 57.8 per cent of possession and 25 shots. Unfortunately for them, only six of those shots were on target. Lots of chances created, but not many high-quality ones.
Gibbs-White believes Wolves have deserved more from their first two games.
Morgan Gibbs-White, after scoring against Forest, that he felt his side “deserved at least a point, if not three points” in both of their opening Premier League games. That is the mood at Wolves, that a win will come soon playing like this. They need to be more clinical, though, as Lage has said.
“We can’t confuse patience with moving the ball slow. We need to put more tempo on the ball.”
So United face a different challenge in this Wolves side to recent years. The Reds will try to wrestle control of the game off Wolves and will need to reduce the number of good shots they have on goal.
Traore has been linked to Spurs but looks set to stay at Wolves.
One point of interest is Adama Traore. The rapid Spanish forward has been linked with a move to Spurs, but Lage insists his future remains at Molineux. If Raphael Varane is to come in for his United debut, he’ll have to be alert early on to deal with Traore’s intense pace. Either way, we could have a good game on our hands in the Midlands.