Manchester United hosted Wolves at Old Trafford for their opening Premier League tie of the 2023/24 season.
There was plenty of speculation as to which players Erik ten Hag would choose to start the game with.
Andre Onana was named in goal for his official United debut. In defence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka started alongside Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw.
Casemiro was the team’s deepest-lying midfielder in a trio also consisting of Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes.
Alejandro Garnacho on the left and Antony on the right meant that Marcus Rashford started in the nine as the striker.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 1-0 win against Wolves.
Poor first half performance
United were very poor during the opening 45 minutes.
The expectation was largely that Wolves, who only appointed their manager Gary O’Neill five days ago, would struggle which would allow the Red Devils to dominate.
The reverse was mostly the case.
Wolves were stronger and quicker in their duels – something that seemed to stun Ten Hag’s men.
The opposition were also incredibly effective in the way they came out of the blocks and shifted in and out of shape depending on the circumstances at the time.
A number of good goalscoring opportunities were presented to them, and O’Neill would have been left disappointed they didn’t head down the tunnel at least a goal up.
On their part, United were simply uninspiring and lacked energy and any penetration against a stubborn rival defence.
The passing was below par and the 20-time English champions found it hard to retain possession and mount any meaningful spells of pressure.
Most of United’s players did not turn up in the first half, more so in the attacking department. The likes of Garnacho and Rashford were especially poor in the execution of their responsibilities going forward.
It was a discouraging and dispiriting first-half display in the first game of the new campaign. The second half was marginally better, but was far from convincing.
Concerning midfield dynamics
Going into the game, one of the things to watch out for was how Casemiro, Mount and Fernandes would function as a unit in the middle of the park.
Going by their exploits against Wolves, some concerns about their cohesiveness are definitely warranted.
The three found it hard to control the tempo primarily due to their inability to retain possession for sustained periods. There was simply no control whatsoever.
Even in terms of positioning, there seemed to be a bit of disconnect between Mount and Fernandes as to who was supposed to go forward and who would stay back. The result was that Casemiro was in instances outnumbered and left to marshall the midfield on his own.
Casemiro, Fernandes and Mount also struggled to match Wolves’ aggressiveness and physicality.
It felt for example like they were hesitant to contain Matheus Cunha who, on more than one occasion, was allowed to power the length of the pitch and threaten Onana’s goal.
Hopefully, it’s all down to them not having developed a solid understanding yet and sufficient time being required to gel properly, otherwise United will continue to be outdone as the season progresses.
Better teams will exploit these evident weaknesses in midfield unless United address them promptly.
Sancho has a genuine chance at forcing himself into starter status
A conclusion that can be drawn from the win is that there are still two or three positions that are up for grabs, especially in the forward areas of the pitch.
No-one did anything particularly impressive that would have left them to still be an undisputed starter for the next clash vs. Tottenham Hotspur.
There is definitely a chance for someone like Sancho to come in and force Ten Hag into a rethink.
He was a bright spark after he came on for Garnacho, who never really got into his groove. Only after Sancho came on did United at least make Jose Sa work.
The 23-year-old was involved in almost every positive phase of play creatively during the time he was in action.
Sancho took his defender on whenever the chance arose and was able to link well with his fellow forward men.
There’s no reason why he can’t become a regular fixture in the starting XI if he carries on in the same vein.