Win or Bust For United Against Wolves?
April 2, 2019
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer officially has the reigns at Old Trafford and fans are now optimistic about the club embarking upon a path with a clear footballing vision.
There does, however, remain the question as to whether Ed Woodward will provide the necessary funds this summer to help deliver such a project, and a large part of this could depend on Champions League qualification.
With seven Premier League games left to play, the race for the top four could not be tighter. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are all competing in a four-way tie for either 3rd or 4th place, as a place in the European competition is simply essential for each club next season. For reasons both on the field, and off it.
The Red Devils are currently fifth and face a tricky away trip to Molineux tonight, a ground that they lost at just over two weeks ago. A repeat of such a scoreline in the league would provide much more damming to United’s season though, as any type of slip-up will inevitably be capitalised on. Every fixture is now a six pointer, a factor that these players need to quickly recognise.
Midfield Need To Step Up
Against Watford, United looked sluggish and lethargic in possession, most notably in their ability to recycle the ball and keep it for long passages of play. Instead, it was the Hornets who were spraying the ball across the park and looked much more comfortable in working the areas in and around the final third. Abdoulaye Doucoure bossed the middle of the park, with United looking like bystanders at times.
This is where the frustration grows from amongst the Old Trafford crowd, as their midfield trio should be grabbing games like these by the scruff of the neck. This phrase may sound a tad ‘old fashioned’ and a bit ‘vague’, but all too often do we see the game go past the men in the middle. Paul Pogba is usually the orchestrator for United, but as soon as his playing space is squeezed and restricted, the Red Devils look bereft of any creativity.
Too much responsibility is put on the Frenchman’s shoulders and although he should no be exempt from criticism, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera both need to offer more going forward. Deploying a midfield three and sacrificing a frontman should result in more efficient ball retention, but this just doesn’t seem to be the case at United. Simply put, a more mobile deep laying playmaker is required to help change this misfortune around.
On the note of such a player, the Red Devils will be facing up against one of the best in the division in Ruben Neves. The Portuguese midfielder anchors the Wolves trio, which is also comprised of Neves’ national teammate Joao Moutinho and the diligent Leander Dendoncker, who has provided as more than a satisfactory acquirement since his introduction into the starting XI. This battle in the centre of the park is an intriguing one, and one that will likely decide the game tonight.
United will most likely sit a little deeper and attempt to hurt the Wanderers on the break, but they cannot allow their midfield to sit on the ball for too long. Moutinho and Neves exploited the Red Devil fullbacks with their through balls in the last meeting, so Solskjaer will need to formulate a plan to cut out such openings this time around.
Heads Still In Paris?
Ever since that emphatic result in Paris last month, United have had a little dip in form and their performances are no longer riding on the natural momentum that came with Solskjaer’s appointment. The Norwegian has now been given the job on a full-time basis, so the players now need to prove that they are committed to the cause and stay loyal to the manager that has turned the results round.
It is an important period for the club, from here until the end of the season, as the fans will want to see a sign of continuous progression and a blueprint on the field that is here to stay for years to come. We have seen glimpses of such a system being implanted, through the restoration of counter-attacking football on the pitch. However, it is clear that some players are just not up to the scratch required of this level, nor do their performances warrant their lucrative weekly wages.
This summer will be huge for Solskjaer and co, as the Norwegian needs at least three new starters in this current team. The calibre of these signings could well rely on whether the club will be participating in the CL next season, and the importance of the European competition should not be undervalued by anybody involved with the sport. United have to be in the Champions League and tonight’s fixture is a crucial step in achieving this objective.
Win or Bust?
Across social media, a large proportion of the Red Devil fan-base are eyeing up this fixture from a ‘win or bust’ perspective – should they win tonight, CL qualification looks extremely likely, but a loss would be all too large of a blow to recover from.
From a mathematical point of view, this may not be the case, but momentum is so important in the Premier League. After three disappointing performances on the bounce, the wheels have taken a little rock on the Ole brigade, but a win at a tough ground tonight would see a U-turn on such recent displays. Undefeated in their last seven at home, Wolves are certainly no pushovers.
When looking at the remaining fixtures between the top four contenders, United certainly have the tougher run of games. With home times against Manchester City and Chelsea, plus, a trip to the blue side of Merseyside to come, the Red Devils have a rough ask over the next coming months. They will need to enter the final stage of the season firing on all fronts, with three points at Molineux being a great start in doing so.
Predicting United results is never an easy task, as although they boast plenty of firepower going forward, leaking goals at the back continues to be an issue.
It will undoubtedly be a close affair, as both teams like to set up in a robust and organised fashion. Their midfielders don’t always like to burst forward, so I’m not expecting a scoreline that represents the floodgates being opened. Instead, it will be the wide players trying to cause the danger in the final third, and I can see both teams scoring.
A tight affair with not exactly much between the two sides, a score draw looks likely here.
Official prediction: 1-1 – 11/2 with 888 Sport
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.