Joao Moutinho’s late strike saw Wolves win their first league game at Old Trafford in almost 42 years, beating a disjointed Manchester United 1-0 in the Premier League.
Wolves’ last league victory at Old Trafford came in February 1980, and they should have been ahead at half-time. They registered 15 shots to Man Utd’s four in the first half – the first team to have more attempts than United at home since Liverpool in December 2018.
But Bruno Lage’s side had scored just one goal in their previous six Premier League games, so it was no surprise that the half ended goalless, despite early saves from David de Gea to keep Daniel Podence and Ruben Neves at bay.
United were better after the break and the introduction of Bruno Fernandes improved them further. He struck the crossbar in United’s best chance, while Cristiano Ronaldo – who wore the captain’s armband in the absence of an injured Harry Maguire – had a goal correctly ruled out for offside.
Romain Saiss matched Fernandes’ effort as his free-kick also rattled the woodwork, but Wolves did make the breakthrough late on. Phil Jones was making his first senior appearance for United in two years, but his defensive header landed at the feet of Moutinho (82), who arrowed home past a rooted De Gea.
It was Ralf Rangnick’s first defeat as United interim manager, with the club missing the chance to put pressure on the teams above them in the race for the top four. Wolves leapfrog Brighton into eighth, just three points behind United in seventh place.
It was a performance that promoted a frustrated tweet from Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, who called United’s showing “not good”.
It’s not good. It really isn’t!
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) January 3, 2022
How Wolves won their first Premier League game at Old Trafford
De Gea has needed to be in superb form for United this season, and was called into two early saves as Wolves dominated the opening exchanges. The first saw him turn Podence’s effort around the post, before stretching to send Neves’ stinging volley over the crossbar with his fingertips.
Podence again tested De Gea at the near post – although it was a routine save for the goalkeeper – with United’s best chance of the half coming just before the half-hour. Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan-Bissaka combined down the right, but the latter’s cross went just over the head of Ronaldo at the back post.
However, at the other end, Ronaldo almost gifted Wolves the opener. His poor defensive header was collected by Marcal, which Raul Jimenez just nodded wide of the target. However, United would have been saved by the offside flag against the Wolves forward.
The only chance of note in the opening exchanges of the second half was a Podence header that went easily at De Gea.
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (6), Varane (7), Jones (7), Shaw (7), McTominay (6), Matic (6), Greenwood (7), Sancho (6), Ronaldo (6), Cavani (5).
Subs used: Fernandes (7), Rashford (5), Elanga (n/a).
Wolves: Sa (7), Semedo (7), Saiss (7), Kilman (6), Coady (7), Marcal (7), Moutinho (7), Neves (7), Trincao (6), Jimenez (7), Podence (8).
Subs used: Traore (7), Silva (n/a), Dendoncker (n/a).
Man of the match: Daniel Podence.
Substitute Fernandes soon had the hosts’ best chance in the 67th minute. Nemanja Matic swung in a cross from deep on the left, and Fernandes was unmarked to meet it in a superb position. However, his lifted effort smacked the underside of the crossbar before going wide.
Just after, United thought they had found the breakthrough as Fernandes swung in a free-kick from the right-wing. Ronaldo nodded it home, but he was well offside and the goal was correctly ruled out.
Jones makes his return after two years
Phil Jones made his first senior appearance in two years in defence, ending a run of 712 days on the sidelines.
Last time he played for United, in an FA Cup win over Tranmere in January 2020, the UK’s first lockdown was still two months away and Jose Mourinho had just been appointed Tottenham boss. That’s how long ago it has been since he took to the pitch in any form.
The 29-year-old has not featured due to what his former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described as a “horrible” run of injuries, but he is fit again now and his commitment in training is said to have impressed Ralf Rangnick.
Wolves matched their opponents soon after as they also struck the woodwork. Matic was booked for hauling Traore down just outside the area, with Saiss lining up the free-kick. He whipped it towards the near corner, but it hit the top of the crossbar before going wide, although De Gea looked to have it covered.
But Wolves deservedly made the breakthrough in the 82nd minute. Traore’s cross was nodded away by Jones, but only as far as Moutinho waiting at the top of the area. He took a touch before steering the ball into the corner past De Gea, sparking wild celebrations in the away end.
- Phil Jones replaced Harry Maguire in defence, with Raphael Varane also returning in place of Eric Bailly. However, there was instant comeback for Bruno Fernandes, who was named on the bench after serving a suspension.
- Wolves reverted to a front three with Francisco Trincao returning in attack. Nelson Semedo also returned as right wing-back, while Ki-Jana Hoever dropped down to the bench, along with Leander Dendoncker.
United could have snatched a last-gasp point with a perfectly-positioned free-kick. Fernandes lined it up after a conference with Ronaldo, but his direct effort was pushed away superbly by Jose Sa as he secured a clean sheet for his side.
Man of the match – Daniel Podence
It was a shame Podence did not come away with a goal having worked De Gea most regularly, but he did rank top for attempts (4), shots on target (3), chances created (4) and touches in the opposition box (7).
Sky Sports’ Andy Hinchcliffe said of Podence on co-commentary: “It’s been such a lively performance, especially in the first half. The stats tell the story. He had quality on the ball, great movement off it but he just needs to score more goals.”
Redknapp: Rangnick made it up as he went
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“They were playing a side so devoid of confidence, of ideas, of how to play, the system – we talk about managers coming into the game and Rangnick came in with this famed 4-2-2-2 system.
“It doesn’t work if you don’t have the right players. You have to play the right system. Then he went to a three at the back, a 4-4-2, and at the end, I think he was making up systems.
“There was no real identity of how they were trying to play. The Watford performance was a real low, but I’m sure the United fans thought at least they were good going forward. There was nothing today.
“When you watch Man City and the best teams, they have control of the midfield. United never had that.
“Never once did they play passes to each other, or have an ability to take the sting out of the game, they were so poor today.”
Ince: United all over the place
Former Man Utd and Wolves midfielder Paul Ince on Sky Sports:
“I said before, you could sense in the stadium the fans starting to turn, they were booing when Greenwood came off.
“4-2-2-2 doesn’t work. Whether it’s a new Man Utd way or not. I don’t get it. If I look at that performance, Norwich, Newcastle, there’s a lot of room for concern.
“Look at what Conte’s done at Tottenham in such a short space, I don’t know what they’re doing here. I think they’re all over the place. They don’t have faith, they don’t have belief in each other, they play as a load of individuals.
“It was a lot better when Fernandes came on, but they’re just hoping.”
What the managers said
Man Utd interim manager Ralf Rangnick: “We didn’t play well at all, neither individually nor collectively. In the first half, we had big problems to keep them away from our box and our goals.
“In the second half, we changed to a different formation with a back three. We had more control and there was a spell of 15 minutes where we could have scored, we hit the crossbar.
“The goal we conceded was one of too many this season where Moutinho could shoot completely unmarked, with no problems or pressure at all. Therefore, we are very disappointed about the result, but also about parts of our performance.
“They were playing with almost four or five central midfielders and we had problems controlling that part of the pitch. Whenever they tried to release one of their wing-backs, we were also struggling.
“That’s why we decided to change our formation. We had more control in the second half, they didn’t have that many chances as they did in the first half. But we missed our chances to score and we have to admit that they deserved to win.
“Wolves were the best team we have played, collectively and individually, and we had more problems today than in other games.
“We didn’t press at all. We tried after 10 or 15 minutes, but we were not able to get into those pressing situations because Wolves did that well. They had an overload in the centre of midfield and whenever we were trying to tackle them in those areas, they played via their wing-backs.
“So far, we had the results and at times played well, but today we have to admit they were better than us.
“I don’t want to speak about the individual performances of players. This is an issue of the whole team. We can only improve the team if we get better collectively.”
Wolves manager Bruno Lage: “It’s one more victory. It’s a lovely stadium, a place with a lot of history, but the most important thing is the way we played this game against this team.
“I think we prepared well for the game and I give a lot of compliments to my players to come here and play in our way.
“The first half was very good, we controlled everything, we created a lot of chances and didn’t score. Second half, they adapted and changed the system. Afterwards, we changed some guys and they helped us to win this game.
“Even now with three points and one goal, we had more chances than goals so we need to continue to work.
“The most important thing for us is to see where the full-backs are, which position they start in. [It is important] to find the spaces. When they’re defending or attacking, where they are… In the first half, the space was outside. That’s why Semedo and Marcal had a lot of chances, a lot of the ball, and the boys found those spaces.
“The players understood the plan and I think we deserved the three points.
“I never thought about that [the luck not going with Wolves]. Every time, I’m positive and that’s why every time, I come to try and win the games. This is football, they have one good chance for Bruno and we had one with Saiss.
“We won, it’s good for us. The first time Wolves have won here [in the Premier League] so it’s important for us and now we move on, day by day and game by game.”
- Manchester United have failed to score in four different Premier League home games this season, already more than they did in the whole of 2020-21 (3).
- Manchester United have lost their opening league match in two of the last three calendar years, as many defeats as they’d suffered in the previous 23 years before that.
- Wolves’ Joao Moutinho has now scored exactly once in each of his four Premier League campaigns; all four of his goals have come from outside the box, while 50 per cent of his strikes have come against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Manchester United host Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup on Monday, January 10; kick-off at 7.55pm.
Wolves’ third-round game is at home to Championship side Sheffield United on Sunday; kick-off at 2pm.
Source : Sky Sports