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Traoré justifies Nuno’s faith but more hurdles await Wolves marathon men | Stuart James | Football


This was the first of five fixtures in 14 days for Wolves, taking them up to double figures for the season by the start of September, into Northern Ireland, Armenia and Italy in the process, and leading some to wonder whether the toll of playing in the Europa League on a Thursday night – Torino are up next – could derail any hopes of their breaking into the top six this season.

Their record against those elite clubs last season was nothing short of astonishing; Wolves collected 16 points, including beating Manchester United here four months ago, en route to a seventh-placed finish in their first campaign back in the top flight. United, who also lost at Molineux in an FA Cup quarter-final last season, finished one rung higher on the league ladder, albeit nine points ahead. Could Wolves possibly reel them in?

The only thing that can be said with any certainty on the basis of this early meeting between the two is that United look far more accomplished than they did in April, when Ashley Young was sent off, Chris Smalling scored an own goal and Fred made the mistake that handed Wolves a route back into a game that had been slipping away from them. None of those three featured here, yet it was not just the personnel changes that made a difference during an opening 45 minutes when United were dominant and Wolves failed to register a shot on target.

Wolves struggled to cope with the way United pressed them so aggressively and at times there was a clear disconnect between Raúl Jiménez and Diogo Jota and the rest of the Wolves team. The midfield was overrun and retreated ever deeper as United monopolised the ball, leaving the two Wolves forwards isolated and making it hard for them to counterattack. The fact that Wolves were also profligate in possession hardly helped.

“United dominated, we suffered too much,” said Nuno Espírito Santo, the Wolves manager. “We struggled but we stayed in the game.”

Nuno is a man of few words – there were a total of 65 in his programme notes for this match – yet no one can question his management skills. The decision to bring on Adama Traoré at the interval, in place of Matt Doherty at right wing-back, gave Wolves a new dimension and the impetus to take on United in the second half in a way that felt far more reminiscent of their performance last season. Traoré, who sometimes gives the impression that he is too quick for his own good, was excellent.

Wolves, whose season started on 25 July with the visit of Crusaders in an early Europa League qualifier, suddenly had some momentum. Rúben Neves, João Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker, the midfield trio who were peripheral in the first half, were now playing much higher up the pitch, and Jota and Jiménez started to look far more menacing.

Jiménez, with a lovely guiding header from Moutinho’s free-kick, came close to bringing parity only to be denied by the woodwork. That chance came about after Harry Maguire fouled Traoré, whose surging runs down the right helped to crank up the volume among the home supporters and added to the sense that an equaliser was coming.

When it did, it was a moment of beauty, as so often is the case when Neves’s right boot connects with the ball outside the area. Moutinho expertly picked out his compatriot with a drilled pass from close to the byline. Neves’s first touch was a little wayward by his standards and he needed a second to set the ball. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with his third touch, however, as the Portuguese precisely curled a right-foot shot beyond David de Gea and into the net off the underside of the bar.

What followed was the now familiar VAR interruption and the worry, from the Wolves supporters’ point of view, that their wild celebrations had been for nothing. The game was held up for the best part of two minutes before it was decided the goal should stand. “That is what is worrying me,” added Nuno. “What I am afraid of is that we will be afraid to celebrate a goal. We cannot lose this atmosphere, this sound, this energy. Please, they have to find a solution to it.”

In fairness to United, the balance of the game shifted again after that Neves goal and but for a terrific save from Rui Patrício to deny Paul Pogba from the spot – after the Frenchman had decided that it was his turn to take over penalties, despite the fact that Marcus Rashford had converted from 12 yards in the opening game of the season – the visitors would have gone away with three points.

Wolves, instead, remain unbeaten and will travel to Italy on Thursday for the first leg of their final Europa League qualifier with no shortage of belief. Whether they can juggle the demands of Thursday-Sunday football over a longer period remains to be seen but for now few Wolves fans will be complaining about drawing with Manchester United on a Monday and taking on Torino 72 hours later.



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