Did big team killers Wolves expose Manchester United?
By Joe Harker
Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Manchester United 2-1, a repeat of their FA Cup victory last month, to throw their opponent's chances of finishing in the top four into doubt.
Seventh in the league, Wolves are 16 points behind the cabal of "top six" teams and will not be able to catch them, though they have once again scored a great result against a top side. If their form against the teams lower down the league was better they might even have been in a position to challenge the established dominance of the richest sides.
Defeated by Wolves once again, United will have to do a bit of soul searching as newly appointed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces up to problems in his side.
As far as Wolves are concerned, they took advantage of United's mistakes and came back from being a goal behind to get all three points from the game.
While the first 15 minutes were a tough experience for Wolves they stayed true to their counter attacking game and exploited defensive mistakes from United with great skill. United once against applied pressure in the second half but Ashley Young's sending off allowed Wolves to seize control of the game once again.
Over the past decade of teams being promoted into the Premier League only two managed to finish within the top half in their first season, West Ham in 2012/13 and Newcastle United in 2017/18, with both clubs ending up in 10th place.
Wolves are going one better by finishing up not only in the top half but as high as any team outside the top six could reasonably expect to finish.
The Counter Claim:
Meanwhile, Manchester United have lost three of their last four games and the idea that they needed a big overhaul in the summer was underlined.
Whereas Wolves played like a team with a singular purpose, United were too often a collection of individuals. In terms of individual quality they trumped their victorious opponents but when it came to being a smart and cohesive team Wolves were by far superior.
Pick a position on the pitch for United and there's a good chance it's an area they need to improve if they want to consistently challenge again. Over the past few years they have wasted millions in transfer fees and the end result is a patchy squad in need of another expensive refit, shown up by a cheaper but more cohesive team.
The defence continues to be an issue. A mistake from Fred in the defensive midfield role allowed Wolves to score a first while centre backs Chris Smalling and Phil Jones combined for an own goal in the second half. Right back Ashley Young got sent off to compound the misery.
They also face the prospect of losing some of their players for nothing after refusing to bow to higher wage demands. Ander Herrera is reportedly heading for PSG after United decided not to fork over £200,000 per week wages. The high wages of players like Alexis Sanchez has reportedly convinced some of United's squad to push for bigger contracts when the time to renegotiate comes around.
Wolves really are big team killers this season, having taken four points off United and Chelsea, three off Spurs and one off Manchester City and Arsenal. They also knocked United and Liverpool out of the FA Cup, meaning they have beaten all but two of the top six at least once this season.
With a Premier League game against Arsenal still to come and a potential FA Cup final against City it is possible that Wolves will beat every single top six side at least once this campaign.