Manchester United started the season with a thumping 4-0 victory over Chelsea. That was an outcome that even the most optimistic Manchester United supporters didn’t expect, but it was something that didn’t surprise their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian has been quiet over his club’s transfer dealings over the summer, while others were highly critical of Ed Woodward and his transfer business. He obviously believed that he had a good squad at his disposal and felt that the signings of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Daniel James were more than enough for an already talented young United squad.
His second round opponents on the other hand, were more frugal during the summer transfer window. Wolves’ only notable new arrivals were Pedro Neto, Patrick Cutrone and Leander Dendoncker and they all came at much lower cost.
However, Nuno Espirito Santo managed to make quite a squad last year and his biggest success for this summer’s transfer window is keeping the whole squad put and not selling any first team players. This means that the Wolves will be a very tight and compact unit once again and it will be very difficult for their opponents to take points away from them.
Manchester United Young Squad
Manchester United’s starting line-up against Chelsea on Sunday was the youngest named by any of the Premier League clubs in the first round. This is quite the achievement for Solskjaer as Manchester United only recently had several over 30 players.
With a young core of players including Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford – plus the highly talented Axel Tuanzebe, Mason Greenwood and new signing Daniel James the future certainly looks bright for United.
However, it is not just the future which seems bright as the present looks quite luminous as well. If there were any doubters that United are not yet ready to challenge for the title, the 4-0 victory over Chelsea probably convinced them otherwise.
The squad that faced the Europa League champions was 24 years and 227 days old on average, but didn’t seem immature or lacking in experience. If anything, they proved much more mature than their Chelsea counterparts and wisely waited for mistakes to be made so that they can punish the Blues on the counter.
Sense of Camaraderie
Another thing which caught the eye with this United squad is how well they got on with each other. All the players played as a team and individual egos were definitely cast aside. Even the lofty ego of Paul Pogba was nowhere to be seen as the French midfielder played excellently without suffocating the team.
This would have been impossible during Mourinho’s tenure and that’s why all the plaudits must go to Solskjaer. When the Norwegian took over from the Special One an instant shift in mentality and mood occurred at Old Trafford. That was accompanied by a winning run, which directly shows how great of an effect squad moral has on results.
Even though the end of last season saw a drop of form at United, it was still evident that Solskjaer’s biggest accomplishment as manager was bringing the squad together. That certainly shows right now and Manchester United fans shouldn’t be blamed if they start feeling overly optimistic regarding their chances for the season.
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Potential for Strong Start of the Season
It is not just youth and camaraderie which might prove important at the start of this season. The fixture list has also been kind to United. After they defeated Chelsea in the first round, they now have a more than decent chance of bagging no less than 15 points in their next five matches.
This is because after they face Wolves at the Molineux, they have winnable matches against Crystal Palace, Southampton, Leicester City, and West Ham. This means that against all expectations, Manchester United might go into their derby against Arsenal at the end of September as the league leaders.
A Tough Wolves Test
However, for those potentially winning fixtures to become a reality, Manchester United will have to work very hard. Possibly the toughest of those matches is the second round duel that they have against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.
The Wolves kept their best players and added Neto, Cutrone, Dendoncker, and Bruno Jordao to their squad. All of these new additions are relatively young players and it is to be expected that they will serve as back-ups for Espirito Santo’s settled squad.
And that settled squad proved to be more than a match for most sides facing the Wolves last season. The Wolves finished last year seventh and were the best of the rest. Only the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United were ahead of them.
Manchester United in particular weren’t far in front of Espirito Santo’s side and were only 9 points ahead once the season ended. What’s more, Wolves took four points out of their two EPL matches and defeated the Red Devils at the Molineux 2-1.
Wolves’ home form was another positive in an overall good season. In their 19 home matches last year, the Wolves won 10 and drew 4, losing only 5 games. Outside the Big 6, only Everton had a better home record, but only because of a better goal difference than the Wolves.
Wolves’ Big 6 Record
Wolves’ home form might not be such a big concern for Manchester United, but their record against the so called big 6 definitely should. This is because Nuno Espirito Santo’s squad managed to defeat all of England’s big guns and some of them lost twice to the Wolves.
Just taking a look at how the Wolves played against Big 6 clubs in all competitions will probably send shivers down Manchester United fans’ backs. The Wolves defeated Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, and Liverpool. They defeated Manchester United twice – once in the league and once in the cup. In addition to these victories, they also drew their matches against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and once again against Manchester United.
This record is indicative of a side which is not afraid to play against the big guns. In fact, it shows that Espirito Santo’s side is particularly motivated when playing against the top sides and is even more dangerous in these matches.
Players such as Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves, and Raul Jimenez keep their best performances for the Big 6 and they would very easily play for any of the top 6 teams in England and anywhere across Europe.
Manchester United to Triumph at the End of the Day
All of this should tell United fans that the match on Monday will be anything but a routine victory for the Red Devils. Sides such as Wolves, Everton and Leicester City are no longer considered as also-runs. Any match in which a Big 6 club faces some of these teams is now considered as an evenly matched affair and the winner of the match can be anyone’s guess.
However, with all of this being said and done, United are still a better side than Wolverhampton Wanderers. They will probably use Wolves’ last season’s record against the Big 6 as a lesson and will tread more carefully this time round.
It is to be expected that Manchester United will go into the match knowing the threat that Wolves can pose. This will take the surprise factor away from Wolves’ game and Espirito Santo’s team will have to work hard to surprise a team which they already surprised three times last year.
Wolves might end up as victims to their own success from last year as clubs will approach them differently this season and as a result they will have to adapt their playing style to these new circumstances.
That’s why we feel that even though Wolves will give their best and hold United at bay for long periods of the game, Solskjaer’s side will still find a breakthrough eventually. A tough match is to be expected, but United should win it once the dust is settled.