Manchester United, who were looking quite strong in the last few weeks with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, suffered a relapse once again as they bowed out of the FA Cup following a 2-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday.
The match was the fourth and last quarter-final game of the ongoing edition of the tournament, and it was held at the Molineux Stadium in West Midlands, UK.
After a goal-less first half, Raul Jimenez and Diego Jota scored the winning team’s goals in the 70th and 76th minutes respectively, and Marcus Rashford scored the Red Devils’ only goal in the fifth and final minute of added time, but by then it was too late to add another.
Here are the talking points from yesterday’s game:
1. Wolves completely overshadowed United
Nuno Espirito Santo would have been a happy man at the end of the game, because such was the domination displayed by Wolverhampton in the entire game. The only piece of stat where they lagged behind was possession, with United enjoying a good 61% on the ball.
The Wolves excelled across all other departments, and their counter-attacks were especially menacing. In many cases, the Red Devils had to resort to hard tackles to stop their opponents. Overall, the Wolves had 17 shots to their name (7 on target).
They were also the team that was better in terms of defence, as a back-three comprising Romain Saiss, Conor Cody and Willy Bolly bossed their own penalty box. The United forwards were allowed zero space to try and work through, and the only goal that the Wolves conceded came in the final few seconds of the game, until when they seldom made a mistake.
2. United’s worst performance under Ole
Ever since #OlesAtTheWheel started trending back in December, Manchester United have played exceedingly well. They racked up 32 points in twelves straight league games without a defeat, and they also eliminated PSG in the Champions League round-of-16.
Solskjaer’s arrival had an immediate positive effect on the club, as they won several games on the trot. But the run ended in London last week, when Arsenal won 2-0 in a Premier League fixture against the Red Devils. Their next game across any competition was the Wolves game yesterday, and they lost again.
While United failed to score in the Arsenal loss, their gameplay was far superior compared to that of their rivals. Arsenal had gotten lucky via a penalty kick, with David de Gea also making a mistake in predicting the path of Granit Xhaka’s scorcher. But then they completely lost the plot against Wolves this time around.
Solskjaer’s men failed to create chances, and their work in defending was also shabby. The team collectively contributed to the loss. This was the first time since Solskjaer’s appointment that Manchester United lost two games in a row.
3. Diogo Jota was supremely effective for the Wolves
It was only last week that Diogo Jota was called up to the Portuguese squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, and the former Porto and Atletico Madrid striker simply unleashed all his powers on Manchester United, probably on a celebratory note.
Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw bore the brunt of most of Jota’s counterattacks, and even after countless attempts to void the onslaughts, they were still ineffective against him – especially in the latter half of the game.
It is to be observed that Jota has been enjoying a good time ever since Nuno Espirito tweaked his side’s formation from his usual 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, thereby choosing to play him from the center than from the flanks.
Yesterday as well, it was his newly enhanced skill-set that came into play as he outran Luke Shaw, before slotting the ball into United’s net and assuring the Wolves of a win.
4. Manchester United’s defence needs to improve considerably
Solskjaer employed the 4-4-2 formation for the second game in a row, and the plan backfired once again. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof were extremely ineffective against Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez. Their incompetence paved the way for both of the Wolves’ goals late in the second half.
With such inefficiency in the defensive backline, the United boss should consider going ahead with a three-man central defence in the upcoming games, provided he wants the team to be of adequate competition in the remainder of the Premier League and the Champions League.
5. Bad day at office for Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera
This was Anthony Martial’s second game since recovering from his recent injury, and Ander Herrera’s first. Both players looked extremely out of place in the starting XI, as Martial failed to utilise his chances up front, and with Herrera losing the ball on many occasions, allowing the Wolves to perform counter-attacks.
In theory, Herrera and Paul Pogba were supposed to play on either side of Nemanja Matic in midfield, but the Spanish midfielder often played way behind both Pogba and Matic. United hence lost their support structure im attack, and that led to a huge lack of chances to score.