Manchester United Are Doing Something Their Title Rivals Are Failing At After Wolves Win
What Manchester United’s Premier League rivals wouldn’t give for a slice of luck that fell the way of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side late on against Wolves.
A dull and forgettable encounter was instantly wiped from memory when Marcus Rashford’s injury-time effort struck Romain Saiss and left Rui Patricio wrong-footed, handing United three points they had barely deserved.
And as if seeing United in second in the Premier League wasn’t bad enough for their title rivals who probably thought they’d seen the back of them for another year or two, now they’re doing things they used to make a habit of under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Scot looked as cold and as frustrated as the rest of us as he sat in the directors' box and watched United go through the motions in the freezing Manchester night, but in the manner of the late winner, he’d have recognized some characteristics from his own great sides.
That’s not to get ahead of ourselves and suggest United are truly back - there is still plenty to work on - but ending 2020 in second place is a major statement of intent from this side, as well as a sign of the progress they’ve made in the previous 12 months.
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They’re also in the midst of doing something that the rest of their rivals have struggled within a season that is testing consistency and reliability like no other.
After losing to Arsenal at Old Trafford at the start of November United had won just two of their first six Premier League games. But the trip to Everton sparked the side into life and since then they’ve been on a nine-game unbeaten run, with seven of them won.
Nine-game unbeaten runs will be like gold dust this season and while the points garnered in that two-month stretch will be invaluable, what it has done for United’s confidence is something that can’t be measured, other than in moments like Rashford’s winner and the way belief never wavered, despite the difficulties of breaking down a side have proved a constant thorn in the side for Solskjaer’s United.
They had created very few chances of note until that goal, but they kept pushing and probing, and eventually, a bit of luck fell their way.
Even since drawing with Leicester three days ago, United had seen Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea (twice) and Leicester themselves drop points. Late winners could be incredibly valuable in this title race, and with 15 games played we have to say Solskjaer’s side is well in that discussion now.
Beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day and they will go to Anfield in mid-January knowing they are piling the pressure on Liverpool, who will not want to see United trying to hunt them down, even if they have to remain firm favorites to defend their crown.
United will have to play better than this to beat Villa, however, and it’s evident one of the improvements that must come is their form at Old Trafford.
How United must wish every team would turn up at Old Trafford and play like Leeds.
Vote for United's man of the match vs Wolves
The reaction to the performance of Marcelo Bielsa’s side here 10 days ago focused on the Argentine’s methods, rather than the way Solskjaer sent out a side to ruthlessly pick them apart.
As Leeds has proved since the 6-2 drubbing they experienced against United, there is nothing wrong with Bielsa’s style, but unfortunately for United, not every side is as accommodating as their rivals from across the Pennines.
While Leeds played to United’s strengths, almost every other side to come here recently has tried to stifle United. Wolves followed the template of Chelsea, Arsenal, West Brom, and Manchester City is trying to bore United into submission.
Rashford prevented that from happening this time, with another helping hand from Bruno Fernandes, and in finding a consistent run of form in terms of results, United are doing something that their rivals have all struggled with recently.
Credit: Tyrone Marshall