(Note: Updated with Arsenal result)
Things continue to break in favour of Manchester United, whose bid for a top-four finish continues at Molineux on Tuesday when they face a Wolverhampton side whose maddening inconsistency against the bottom of the table also continued.
Manchester United (18-7-6) is fifth in the table entering this match after Arsenal climbed to third following their 2-0 victory over Newcastle United on Monday. The Red Devils are currently level with Tottenham Hotspur on 61 points, trailing the Lilywhites on goal difference, as the three sides along with Chelsea vie for the final two Champions League places.
A week of high spirits and optimism following the announcement to make Ole Gunnar Solskjaer full-time manager concluded with a 2-1 victory over Watford at Old Trafford on Saturday. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial scored the goals, but the scoreline did flatter to deceive to a degree as United tallied both times against the run of play.
Additionally, keeper David De Gea was pressed into duty to make key interventions throughout the match as United improved to 11-2-1 in league play since Solskjaer replaced sacked predecessor Jose Mourinho.
“It’s so tight,” Solskjaer told MUTV after the win when asked about the jostling for top-four spots. “Four very good teams challenging for two places. Now we’re almost in the driving seat and it’s giving us a fantastic chance.”
“It’s been an incredible run (since Ole came in),” added Andreas Perreira, who was involved in the buildup to Martial’s goal in the 72nd minute. “Even the players weren’t sure we would come so far but we’ve worked hard and stuck together and when Ole came in he did a fantastic job with us. Everyone at the club loves him and we’re delighted to work with him and continue doing our job.”
This will be United’s second trip to the West Midlands in barely more than a fortnight, and they will be trying to avenge their 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton in the FA Cup finals to end their bid for a second straight finals appearance. Left back Luke Shaw, coming off a Man of the Match performance versus Watford, is eager to atone for that loss – especially after his failed challenge on Diogo Jota led to the Wolves striker drilling the second goal past Sergio Romero on 77 minutes.
“After that game, especially with me slipping, I was devastated and getting knocked out of the competition hurt a lot. We need to focus now and we need to put things right,” Shaw said. “Obviously it won’t make everything better because it was a cup competition, but we’re focused on making sure we get three points everywhere we go now until the end of the season.”
Wolverhampton (12-8-11) still are seventh in the table on 44 points, but after their 2-0 defeat at Burnley on Saturday, the Wolves are now one of five sides separated by two points from seventh through 12th. Wolves supporters could only lament their side’s inability to take care of business against the bottom six teams as well as they do against the top six.
Wolverhampton fell to 3-1-5 in matches against teams 15th or lower in the table compared to 2-4-3 against the evergreens in league play, and Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have beaten United and Liverpool en route to their FA Cup semifinal showdown with Watford on Sunday at Wembley.
“I don’t think we deserved much from the game. I don’t think we played too well,” centre back Connor Coady told Wolves’ official website. “First half we didn’t control it how we wanted to control it and gave away a sloppy goal where we weren’t switched on to the free-kick, which is disappointing from our point of view.
“I thought we dominated the second half but didn’t create too much and they hit us with the sucker punch.”
Perhaps with an eye on this match, Nuno opted to bring in-form striker Raul Jimenez off the bench after he played for Mexico during the international break. He also held out right back Matt Doherty from the starting XI, and both players had half-hour runouts in Wolves’ failed bid to grab an equaliser before conceding a second in the 77th minute.
Wolves, though, have been in exquisite form at Molineux with six wins and a draw in their last seven matches there. Three of their FA Cup victories have come in that run, but both clean sheets came in league play.
In the first league meeting, the teams played to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in September. Joao Moutinho’s goal shortly after halftime canceled out Fred’s goal on 18 minutes as Wolves began to give clues they were going to be one of the best promoted teams of the Premier League era.
Wolverhampton’s FA Cup win gave them three wins in five home matches versus United across all competitions in the Premier League era.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Manchester United 1.
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(Diogo Jota photo courtesy Wolves official Twitter account)