MAN UTD 1, WOLVES 0
Raphael Varane spared Manchester United’s blushes with a late winner in their opening Premier League game of the season against Wolves at Old Trafford.
The central defender’s 76th minute headed goal came completely against the run of play as the Reds had been second best.
Wolves looked far from a side in crisis after an exodus of key players followed by the departure of manager Julen Lopetegui in the week leading up to the season’s start.
Gary O’Neil’s side came with a game plan brilliantly executed as they stopped Erik ten Hag’s side and then proving a continual threat on the counterattack.
Indeed, they had 23 goals attempts which is the second highest by any visiting side to Old Trafford since 2003/04. They must still be wondering how they failed to find the net.
And then deep into injury time, Wolves were denied as clear a penalty as you will see when Reds’ goalkeeper Andre Onana missed the ball and took out substitute Sasa Kalajdzic.
Simon Hooper waved play on and VAR backed the referee saying it was not deemed a clear and obvious error by the referee which even astounded former referees’ chief Keith Hackett who tweeted it was a bad night for the match officials.
O’Neil later revealed he received an apology from Jonathan Moss, from the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), who told him it was a “blatant penalty”.
United will certainly need to improve on the level of this performance if they are to challenge at the top.
Former Reds’ player Gary Neville said they were fortunate and described their midfield as “non-existent” which it was as Wolves carved them open time and time again.Embed from Getty Images
But it was a win and a contrast to last year when United lost their first two league games to Brighton and Brentford. Indeed, they had lost their first fixture for two of the previous three seasons.
Ten Hag admitted: “It can be better. We can play better. But we’re very pleased with the win.
“The opposition were dynamic. We have to match that. We had to fight for our points.
“There is no easy game in the Premier League and definitely not Wolves. They’re a tough team and we did really well. You have to fight in every game.
“We hope we’ll be better on the ball in the next game.”
Of Wolves’ penalty appeal, ten Hag added: “It was the judgement of the officials and lucky for us no penalty. I think you can debate it, but I think no penalty.”
Captain Bruno Fernandes said: “It was important to start with a win and three points. We had a great fighting spirit, not the best performance but we had to find a way to win the game.
“We scored the only goal in the game and that was the most important thing.”
O’Neil said: “Yes, disappointed of course to leave and drive home with nothing and probably more so after what Jon Moss told me after the game.
“When I look what the lads gave and how hard they worked and stuck to the game plan, they were incredible.
“We wanted some points, and we don’t leave with any.
“We tried to overload the middle, create a box in there four versus three, lots of detail. Similar approach to what I have always done, while tweaking it with the players we have.
“But it isn’t all down to me, the players were great and executed it. We had some great chances but found a way somehow to not put the ball in the net.”
Onana and midfielder Mason Mount made their Premier League debuts for United. Fellow new signing Rasmus Hojlund missed out because of injury.
Defender Harry Maguire, linked with a move to West Ham, was on the bench while Alejandro Garnacho started.
Matt Doherty was on the bench following his return to Wolves from Atletico Madrid in the summer.
O’Neil instead opted for Nelson Semedo at full-back. Joao Gomes started while Matheus Cunha was also in the first starting line-up despite being a fitness doubt.
United took until the 11th minutes before carving out their first clear-cut chance when Antony released Marcus Rashford whose shot was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Jose Sa.
Wolves came within a whisker of taking the lead when Matheus Cunha broke and released Pablo Sarabia who rolled a shot narrowly wide with Onana beaten.
The Molineux side had another great chance when Cunha burst clear on the right and fired just wide of the par post, another let-off for the lack-lustre Reds.
United finally woke up from their slumbers as Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross was met by Rashford whose goalbound header was blocked by Nelson Semedo.
The Reds appealed for handball, but replays showed the ball hit the chest of Wolves’ right back.
United made a change for the restart as Martinez, booked early in the game, was replaced by Victor Lindelof.
Wolves wet close again after a Sarabia break and Neto fired a ball across the face of goal for Cunha, free at the far post, looking certain to score only for his shot to strike the outside of the upright.
They were carved open again as Cunha broke from half-way and saw his shot pushed around the post by Onana.
United were simply awful and ten Hag responded with 22 minutes by making two further chances as Mount and Garnacho were replaced by Christian Eriksen and Jadon Sancho.
Wolves carved open United yet again, this time Neto fired straight at Onana when, either side, it would have been a goal.
Against the run of play, United snatched the lead in the 76th minute.
Fernandes’ dink over the Wolves defence released Wan-Bissaka who crossed for Varane to head home from inside the six-yard box.
The goal came as ten Hag was about to make his fourth change as Antony was then replaced Facundo Pellistri.
Wolves remained a threat as substitute Fabio Silva had two efforts in quick succession both blocked by the legs of Onana.
Ten Hag was clearly intent on holding on to the slender lead as Rashford was sacrificed for Scott McTominay, the Reds’ final change for the dying minutes.
Wolves remained a threat as Silva had a goalbound shot blocked by Luke Shaw.
There was drama in stoppage time as substitute Hee Chan Hwang had an effort deflected into the side netting by Wan Bissaka.
But that was followed by controversy in the fifth added minute when Onana came out for cross, missed the ball and clattered into substitute Sasa Kalajdzic.
It looked a nailed on penalty but Hooper waved play on and VAR backed the match official to the fury of O’Neill who was booked.