Manchester United really should have made much lighter work of Wolves but the victory, not the manner of it, was all that mattered. It’s good to be home…
It wasn’t pretty. It was barely even interesting. But Manchester United won and that’s all that matters.
Erik ten Hag declared the visit of Wolves as must-win so he will have been grateful not only to get back home, where United have done so much of their best work this season, but also to welcome a visiting side that brought their buckets and spades to Old Trafford.
Wolves’ lack of urgency and United’s absence of potency made for spectacle intriguing only in how finely balanced it remained until the 95th minute, when Alejandro Garnacho finally made the points safe.
The spoils give United a four-point advantage over Liverpool in the race for a Champions League place with three games to go. With two – Chelsea and Fulham – at home, where Ten Hag has now masterminded more victories than any United side since 2010-11, the manager should now feel able to draw a line under their recent wobble.
20/38 – Manchester United have now won 20 Premier League games this season and 38 in all competitions, their most in a single campaign since 2010-11 (39). Erik. pic.twitter.com/PHhX4eWtHT
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 13, 2023
It’s a much-needed fix to a short-term problem but deeper-rooted flaws were still evident. Ten Hag had hoped United might have replenished their energy levels during their first clear midweek since September but neither that nor two days off for the players after the West Ham defeat appear to have sufficiently recharged his players’ batteries. Another free week before a trip to Bournemouth, themselves coasting to the end of the season like Wolves, might help but it’s more likely that United just have to get over the line then take the summer to ‘reset and recharge’ as Ten Hag hoped they might in five days.
Weariness might be a factor in United’s attacking struggles but Ten Hag’s forward line needs so much more than rest.
With Marcus Rashford sidelined, Ten Hag fielded a front three with just 13 Premier League goals between them. His first change, Wout Weghorst, added no more to that miserly tally but at least by the time Anthony Martial departed for the Dutchman, he’d added a 14th.
It came courtesy of Antony, who teed up the centre-forward for tap-in. Selfless? Perhaps. But at the back of the Brazilian’s mind as he went through on goal on a right foot barely fit for standing on, were doubtless two early chances he’d fluffed. Then came another, just before half-time, when Antony again chose the wrong option when Martial was the right one.
A team with an ounce of potency and ruthlessness would have had the game won at half-time. But United gave Wolves just enough reason to peer over the shades to check if it was worth leaving their sun-loungers.
They did, briefly, when Adama Traore rose from his perch on the sideline to add some pace. Or at least the possibility of it. Just the mere thought was enough to put United on the back foot and make for an edgy last half hour when there was really no need for the shredded nerves eventually soothed by Garnacho.
“I heard United don’t do it the easy way, that is in the DNA,” said Ten Hag at full-time, but the manager must be sick of it already. With two wins needed from three games against sides mired in mid-table, United really should embrace the simple life as well as their home comforts.