Manchester United 1-0 Wolves: Raphael Varane’s late header earns off-colour hosts a narrow win at Old Trafford in their Premier League opener after visitors wasted several good chances
- Wolves were impressive and created a number of chances but were wasteful in the final third
- Raphael Varane broke the deadlock against the run of play with a close range header in the 76th minute
- New goalkeeper Andre Onana looked to have given away a penalty in injury time but VAR did not award it
A winning if unspectacular start to the season for Manchester United. Given that Erik ten Hag lost his home opener to Brighton a year ago, he will take this though.
For 75 minutes at Old Trafford, it looked like ending in disappointment again. A Wolves team that had changed their manager just four days earlier had produced a vibrant display for new boss Gary O’Neil and had the best of the chances. Imagine how well they could have played if O’Neil had been in charge for a whole week.
After a summer in which Ten Hag has carefully side-stepped the question of whether United are genuine contenders for the Premier League title, here was evidence why the United boss remains so reticent to dream big.
This was a rather lethargic performance from a team that finished third last season and should be expected to improve on that this term.
Ten Hag sent out a team full of attacking intent but United failed to create any clear chances, and it was defender Raphael Varane who made the breakthrough in the 76th minute.
Captain Bruno Fernandes dinked a clever pass over the top of the Wolves defence and Aaron Wan-Bissaka lifted the ball first time to the edge of the six-yard box. Varane had stayed forward and was never going to miss with his header from point-blank range.
It felt harsh on Wolves and the sense of relief around Old Trafford was palpable. Ten Hag knows United will get better but they can’t spend too long going through the gears.
If the summer has brought some significant changes for United after a £160million spend on new players, much remains the same.
There were anti-Glazer protests beforehand with fans accusing the owners of holding the club hostage by not selling up, and the dilemma over Mason Greenwood continues to loom large.
The United fans were chanting about the Glazers within moments of kick-off and the Wolves supporters soon joined in with their own song about Greenwood.
Ten Hag was able to give Premier League debuts to Andre Onana and Mason Mount, although Rasmus Hojlund was sat in the stands already looking more stylish than his photo on the front of the match programme that was taken last week.
‘It’s a big night for all of us but it’s their first time in an official game and they will feel the excitement,’ said Ten Hag beforehand. ‘I’m sure they will contribute to our performance and to do even better than last season.’
If United’s starting-line-up was largely predictable, there were some interesting inclusions on the bench. Anthony Martial and Dean Henderson, not seen once in pre-season, were among the substitutes alongside Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay who have both attracted offers from West Ham.
Wolves’ preparations for the new season have not been quite as smooth, and O’Neil took charge of his first game since replacing Julen Lopetegui last week hoping to emulate that shock Brighton win here last August.
The visitors certainly had their moments during a first half in which United struggled to find their rhythm, and created arguably the two best chances.
Both involved the explosive Matheus Cunha who breezed past Casemiro in the 26th minute and past Lisandro Martinez who was already on a yellow card after scything down Pedro Neto. Cunha charged 40 yards upfield and fed Pablo Sarabia who drilled a low shot just wide.
The two linked again seven minutes later, Cunha exchanging passes with Sarabia before sending his shot just as close to the other post.
United struggled to break down their opponents throughout a rather tentative first period. Antony looked their best bet and when he slipped Marcus Rashford through in the 11th minute, goalkeeper Jose Sa was caught in no man’s land and fortunate that the angle was too tight for Rashford to squeeze a low effort past him.
Ten Hag dropped Fernandes into a deeper role and pushed Mount up to No.10, and United went close twice before the break.
First Craig Dawson swung aimlessly at Luke Shaw’s cross and Alejandro Garnacho was adjudged to have fouled Matheus Nunes as he went for the loose ball. Then Rashford’s header from Wan-Bissaka’s cross hit Nelson Semedo at close-range but referee Simon Hooper rejected United’s appeals for handball.
Martinez made way for Victor Lindelof at the break but United should have been behind within four minutes of the restart.
Nunes broke forward and fed Sarabia whose low cross was helped on by Neto and Cunha somehow managed to hit the outside of the post with Onana scrambling when it seemed easier to score. Another surging run from halfway by Cunha ended with United’s Cameroonian keeper lunging to his left to push away a low effort.
The erratic Garnacho blazed over at the other end but he was replaced in the 68th minute along with Mount as Ten Hag sent on Christian Eriksen and Jadon Sancho to try and turn the game, followed by Facundo Pellistri.
But it was Wolves who had the next big chance, Neto firing straight at Onana from close range.
You always felt like United had enough quality on the pitch to find a way through, and in the end it told as Varane headed home. There was still a nervy finish as Onana twice saved from Fabio Silva and then survived a penalty appeal when he clattered into substitute Sasa Kalajdzic.
Referee Simon Hooper didn’t give it, VAR agreed, and O’Neil’s frustration as complete as he was booked for dissent.
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