Manchester United 1 (Varane 76) Wolves 0
Gary O’Neil’s debut as Wolves head coach produced no points at Old Trafford on Monday night, but the positives were aplenty, mixed with a hint of frustration, as the Old Gold missed a host of good chances, before Raphael Varane won it for Manchester United in the final 15 minutes.
Pablo Sarabia and Matheus Cunha both came close with difficult chances before the break, but after it, the opportunities were even bigger. Cunha hit the post with the goal gaping, while Pedro Neto shot straight at Andre Onana and substitute Fabio Silva twice came close.
However, Varane headed home Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross which proved the decisive goal, leaving Wolves empty handed on day one, but looking forward to the Premier League campaign with optimism after a night of what might have been.
As far as opening 45 minutes go, O’Neil couldn’t have asked for much more, aside from a goal his side deserved. Wolves were the better team and created the bigger openings, while remaining solid at the back and fighting for every ball. The new head coach’s principles were on show instantly.
During the first 12 minutes, Cunha had a shot blocked from distance, after Nelson Semedo had charged down the right, while Jose Sa was off his line quickly to keep out Marcus Rashford from a tight angle, during an opening when the away end audibly responded to the positive start.
One of the two big chances arrived on 26 minutes for Wolves. The lively Cunha beat Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez in the middle of the park and was away, picking the right time to slip in Sarabia, and the Spaniard hit it firm and true, but a nick off the heel of Varane took it the wrong side of the post from an Old Gold perspective.
Seven minutes later it was Cunha himself taking the shot on. Sarabia returned the favour by slipping him in down the right and from a tight angle, the Brazilian backed himself, firing across goal and agonisingly wide of the far post.
United couldn’t match those dangerous attacks but did end the half well. Alejandro Garnacho flashed an effort across goal and Varane headed a Bruno Fernandes corner wide with the last moment of a half where Wolves will have been pleased with their work.
Half-time | Man United 0-0 Wolves
After the interval, Wolves continued to impress, but couldn’t find the crucial breakthrough. Nobody had a better chance than Cunha, who was brilliant all game, but when left unmarked at the back post to meet Sarabia’s low cross he turned on to the post from close range.
The Brazilian remained a threat however, and after carrying the ball some distance for his team, had a curling strike turned behind by Onana. Then, yet another lung-bursting run by Cunha carved up an opportunity, but after Hee Chan Hwang opted not the shoot, the ball fell invitingly for Neto, who shot straight at Onana.
However, Wolves were made to pay for their missed chanced with 12 minutes remaining when United pounced. Wan-Bissaka found space down the right and helped the ball across goal for Varane to nod into an unguarded net. A bitter pill for Wolves to swallow.
Even then, Wolves kept plugging away and deserved an equaliser. Twice Silva, soon after coming on, tested Onana, once at his near post and then with a powerful strike which the goalkeeper saved with his feet. Then captain Maximilian Kilman had an effort on goal, with Onana holding on to his header.
During the seven minutes of added time, Wolves kept going and Silva came close to turning home from close range, before a big VAR call went the way of the hosts. Sasa Kalajdzic, making his first competitive appearance in a year, appeared to be clattered by Onana, but the decision was no penalty and United held on. As for Wolves, plenty of positives to show for their efforts.
Full-time | Man United 1-0 Wolves
Man United | Onana, Wan-Bissaka, Martinez (Lindelof 45), Varane, Shaw, Casemiro, Mount (Eriksen 68), Fernandes, Antony, Garnacho (Sancho 68), Rashford (McTominay 87).
Unused subs | Henderson, Maguire, Dalot, Pellistri, Martial.
Wolves | Sa, Semedo, Dawson, Kilman, Ait-Nouri (Bueno 77), Lemina, Gomes (Kalajdzic 87), Sarabia (Hwang 63), Nunes, Neto, Cunha (Silva 77).
Unused subs | Bentley, Doherty, Toti, Traore, Hodge.