Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can show their progress by avenging Molineux woe
Solskjaer's side lost twice and drew once to Monday's night's opponents last season
Wolverhampton Wanderers were a nightmare for Manchester United last season. Three times the teams met, three times the promoted side were superior, winning two and drawing one.
The pair meet again on Monday night at Molineux, with United vengeful and hoping to continue their positive start to the season. It will be United’s third trip in five months to the stadium, which has introduced a safe standing area.
The 2-1 FA Cup defeat there in March deflated United’s season completely. Such was the optimism following an FA Cup run in which United beat both Arsenal and Chelsea away, 14,500 season ticket holders applied for 4,500 tickets.
Although the fans turned up on a rainy Saturday night, the team did not, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero the only decent performer as he kept Wolves out until Raul Jimenez’s opener after 70 minutes and Diogo Jota’s double six minutes later.
That second away loss followed nine consecutive away wins and with it went Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s best chance of a trophy went with it.
United started better in the league game at Wolves two weeks later and Scott McTominay’s first senior goal put them ahead. United had 18 shots to Wolves’ four, but midfielder Fred gave the ball away and Diogo Jota finished.
“I’m pleased with the performance and doing it twice against such a difficult and amazing team,” said Nuno Espirito Santo.
“We played well enough and created enough chances to win the game,” said Solskjaer. Perhaps, but the wins that marked his early reign had turned into defeats – four out of five. He couldn’t stop the rot last season.
Nuno’s men, who finished one place below United in seventh last season and have ambitions to go higher this term, drew their opening game at Leicester City and have played two Europa League qualifiers, winning both 4-0 against Armenian side Pyunik.
The 48 fans who travelled to see the away leg all received a letter from captain Conor Coady after making their way independently, flights costing upwards of £600 (Dh2,700) as the club didn’t run a trip. Thousands will go to their next away game against Torino this Thursday in the play-off for the group stage, which is where Manchester United will enter the Europa League.
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"Those were tough games and Wolverhampton are a tough team to break down,” Solskjaer said on Friday. “They defend deep and don't give you a lot of spaces. They can play, they can counter attack, set pieces are dangerous.”
He was keen to stress that his side will prove more formidable opponents than they were last season, and enter the game following a 4-0 win over Chelsea in their opening Premier League fixture.
“We go into the game confident," Solskjaer said. "We’ve had a great week training, the mood has been good and it has been competitive. There were some players who weren’t involved who want to prove to the coaches and myself that they should be.”
Solskjaer feels that his players' increased fitness will play a part and also stressed that “towards the end of last season we were mentally tired and now we are mentally fresh".
“I’m looking forward to the first hurdle,” he said. “You want to see the reliance, the robustness that we can bounce back as a team when the going gets tough – and I’m sure it will be on Monday when Wolverhampton will give us a very hard challenge.
"We have to break them down, stop them counter attacking and can’t give them too many set pieces. It’s a mental test, but we’re in a good place at the moment. We hit an obstacle, that’s when you want the leaders to step forward. Anyone can play well towards the end of a game when you’re winning 3-0.”
The leaders, absent in previous meetings against Wolves or, in the case of Harry Maguire, newly signed, need to be prepared to stand up and be counted.
Updated: August 19, 2019 03:20 PM