It was debatable what was more worrying at Old Trafford on Saturday: Manchester United’s draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers or the reasoning Jose Mourinho gave afterwards for the result.
“It is the basic law of football,” said Mourinho. “Something you learn in the academy.” He is right, and it does not bode well, especially as everything seems to be coming so easily to everyone else.
While United were struggling against the Premier League newcomers, Manchester City were putting five past Cardiff. At the same time, Liverpool were beating Southampton 3-0. The gap between United and the top is already eight points. City’s goal difference is already +16. It will not take much more of this before focus starts switching from possible title challenges to making sure they finish in the top four. That may already be the case.
Mourinho has warned repeatedly this could be a “difficult” season, most recently at a news conference on Friday. That came after three straight wins for the first time since April but Mourinho will feel that at the moment, nothing is straightforward.
There was spells against both Burnley and Watford where United wobbled. Against Young Boys in Switzerland on Wednesday night, the first 30 minutes were uncomfortable. In all three games, they were able to ride it out and win. They started poorly against Wolves, too, and were indebted to David De Gea for making two very good saves before Fred scored the opener.
Against Burnley, Watford and Young Boys, United found that crucial second goal. Against Wolves, it never came. Paul Pogba, brilliant in the build-up to Fred’s first goal for the club, was robbed in midfield and was punished by Joao Moutinho. Still, there were 37 minutes to put things right but the onslaught, so often a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams when they were chasing a game, never started. Ferguson was watching from the stands, back in the directors’ box for the first time since suffering a brain haemorrhage in May.
By the end the United fans left inside Old Trafford were thankful substitute Adama Traore had not taken one of his three chances on the break to make it an even more disappointing afternoon.
Wolves’ big players — Joao Moutinho in particular — all turned up. In contrast, Alexis Sanchez was substituted for the third game in a row. He has only completed 90 minutes once this season.
More was expected from Sanchez this season. United’s official website ran an article in the summer declaring that the Chile international would be fit and firing this term after his first full preseason for five years but whatever was meant to happen has not. He has yet to score this season and his record since arriving at United in January stands at just three goals in 23 games.
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