Analysis: Why Manchester United winning goal against Wolves CANCELLED yesterday and 3 points awarded to Wolves

Analysis: Why Manchester United winning goal against Wolves CANCELLED yesterday and 3 points awarded to Wolves


Wolves 3-4 Manchester United: Kobbie Mainoo keeps his head while others lose theirs

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 01: Kobbie Mainoo of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United at Molineux on February 01, 2024 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

By Carl Anka

2h ago

Manchester United won for just the second time in seven Premier League matches, after an an incredible finale at Wolverhampton Wanderers.


The returning Marcus Rashford got United off to the perfect start by scoring a well-taken goal in the first five minutes, with Rasmus Hojlund doubling their advantage 17 minutes later.


The second half was infinitely more testing, with the hosts offering more attacking threat and coming back from 3-1 down to equalise in stoppage time.


Then up stepped Kobbie Mainoo.


The Athletic’s Carl Anka mulls over the game’s key talking points…


Mainoo is already crucial

Wolves’ second-half comeback owed a debt to smart substitutions and a controversial penalty, but they did well to battle back from 3-1 down to 3-3. Yet when it looked like all hope was lost for United, Kobbie Mainoo emerged.


The 18-year-old had just won the club’s player of the month award for January and his late, low shot to the far corner after some jinking footwork was a moment to savour.


Mainoo is already United’s best midfielder when it comes to receiving and passing under pressure. He was given a more advanced box-to-box role against Wolves while Casemiro served as the team’s deepest midfielder. Mainoo’s understanding of when to slow things down and when to increase the pace gives him a maturity beyond his years. As can be seen from the graphic below, he had 53 touches of the ball on Thursday, with the majority coming in the middle of the pitch. He finished with a pass completion rate of 84 per cent and won six of his 13 ground duels.




Going forward, the question will be which players will partner Mainoo in the starting line-up.


He is likely to be a mainstay for the remainder of the season. Even his ‘calma calma’ goal celebration — after scoring his first Premier League goal — made for a pleasant watch. Where others lose their heads and play at 100 miles per hour, he understands the value of picking your moments and helping your team win games.


A brief glimpse at United’s strongest XI?

Erik ten Hag’s response to defeats in December often revolved around the injury crisis at his club. United lacked the consistency in personnel to master the “routines” needed to properly exact his tactical plans. It was a few steps removed from saying “Player X will be like a new signing”, but he urged fans and pundits to wait for the return of his best players before judging his team’s performances.


Rashford celebrates his opener (Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)

A dominant first half against Wolves, scoring two goals and having another two chalked off for offside, made for an emphatic argument. United are better when Ten Hag can name Casemiro, Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez in his starting line-up. Not an earth-shattering revelation, but the team’s improvement at Molineux, against a traditionally stubborn opponent, was pleasing.


This was only Shaw’s 12th game of the season, yet he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, serving as a key means of ball progression down the left and teaming up with Rashford in the final third.


The return of Martinez has dramatically improved United’s ability in possession, with the centre-back’s line-breaking passing from deep turning defence into attack much quicker. This was the Argentine’s ninth appearance of 2023-24 and a goal-line clearance early in the second half was further evidence of how sorely he has been missed. No other defender in the squad offers as much with or without the ball.



The Athletic’s match dashboard, showing how Manchester United’s counter-attacking threat was (eventually) enough to see off Wolves




It was not a surprise that United became far more stretched and far less composed as the game wore on, those recent returnees started to tire, and Ten Hag started looking to his bench (although one substitute, Scott McTominay, did score United’s third when unmarked from a Bruno Fernandes corner, and Antony offered real threat on the counter).


Wolves’ late pressure and would-be equaliser to make it 3-3 were illustrations of what we already know. Even with everyone fit, this squad still needs some work in key areas and remains especially vulnerable to counter-attacks and set pieces.


Games between these two sides are rarely thrillers, but this United XI found a way to turn a sure thing into an anxiety-inducing, but ultimately victorious, romp.


If Ten Hag can keep his key players fit and firing, he might salvage something from this season yet.


Rashford makes a point on his return

Ten Hag considered the matter closed. Rashford’s Belfast excursion made him the most talked about player in England, but his decision to take responsibility for his actions meant he was always likely to start against Wolves. “The best apology is changed behaviour”, and the best way for Rashford to begin the healing process with any fans annoyed by his off-field decisions would be to score at Molineux. It took just five minutes and a one-touch finish after a lay-off from Hojlund.



There was no dentist chair celebration or even his typical finger point to his temple. Rashford’s goal — his fourth in nine games against Wolves — was just the start of an impressive performance from the forward. He teamed up with an overlapping Shaw on the left for a move that saw the full-back assist Hojlund’s goal in the 22nd minute. It wasn’t quite the blistering level of performance we saw from Rashford this time last year, but it was a display befitting one of the better attackers in the league and someone meant to be a leader in this team.


He would be substituted for Antony in the 73rd minute as Wolves began to stir. Ten Hag gave Rashford a start on Thursday because he knows the 26-year-old can help him win matches. One swallow does not make a summer, and it will be interesting to see how Rashford is received by the Old Trafford crowd on Sunday against West Ham. More goals and more assists will help draw a line under things as United look to make a charge on the European places.


What did Ten Hag say?

We’ll bring you the views of the Manchester United manager after his post-match press conference.


What next for Manchester United?

Sunday, February 4: West Ham United (H), Premier League, 2pm GMT, 9am ET


After a run of seven wins from eight games against West Ham from December 2020 to March 2023, Manchester United have lost their most recent two meetings with David Moyes’ side, who drew with Bournemouth on Thursday evening.


Recommended reading

The treatment room is emptying – now the pressure is on Erik ten Hag

City and Liverpool are now a little weaker – for United, that can only be positive

Brian Brobbey, Ajax’s in-form striker who loves shooting

(Top photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)





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