Five things Erik ten Hag must fix from Man Utd’s underwhelming win vs Wolves

Manchester United won at Old Trafford on Monday night, but failed to impress in the season-opener.
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Manchester United began the 2023/24 campaign with a 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, but failed to impress at Old Trafford.

Erik ten Hag’s side were second best against Wolves for long periods, and were fortunate not to have a penalty given against Andre Onana in the latter stages after he clattered into forward Sasa Kalajdzic.

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The United boss said after the game that his side could have been ‘much better’, while Gary Neville claimed the Red Devils were ‘outplayed’. It’s a worrying start to a season that has promised so much, and we’ve picked out five areas that must be fixed from Monday night’s match.

Finding a forward

With Rasmus Hojlund still nursing a back problem and Anthony Martial recovering from a hamstring issue, Marcus Rashford was deployed as the central striker on Monday night, and it didn’t quite work for the England international.

Rashford cut a frustrated figure for most of the game and struggled to get involved in the build-up play. Indeed, the attacker had the fewest touches of any starting United player at Old Trafford - excluding Mason Mount, who was replaced on 67 minutes. Rashford touched the ball 38 times in his 88-minute showing - in comparison, Andre Onana had 51 touches while Jadon Sancho had 22 despite coming on in the 67th minute.

Rashford has always looked more comfortable out left for United, but with Hojlund set to be eased into life at Old Trafford, there’s an expectation that the Red Devils’ no.10 will often play centrally in the coming weeks, and he’ll need to get more involved than Monday’s encounter. Given that scoring goals was such an issue at the end of last season, ensuring the frontline is a fluid unit will be imperative for Ten Hag this term.

Chances from open play

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United managed to muster 15 shots against Wolves, with the team’s main attacking threat coming from counter attacks or advances down the wide areas. Indeed, Casemiro regularly picked out Antony and Alejandro Garnacho on the flanks, but the wingers’ decision making in the final third was extremely poor.

Alarmingly, few attacks came from open play, and United struggled to find a way past Wolves’ low block, especially when Gary O’Neil’s men got back into shape. It’s particularly surprising given Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount occupied such high positions in the middle, yet the latter produced zero shots, key passes or dribbles, while Fernandes was wasteful in possession.

Overrun in midfield

United’s offensive midfield caused issues for Casemiro, who was overrun in the middle. Too often Wolves players found gaps which they could drive into, with Matheus Cunha in particular surging through the centre, and had the most dribbles (6) of anyone on the pitch.

Mason Mount struggled on his Manchester United debut.Mason Mount struggled on his Manchester United debut.
Mason Mount struggled on his Manchester United debut.

It was an area Neville highlighted after the game, and he described the Red Devils’ midfield as ‘non-existent’. United had lined up in a 4-3-3 shape, differing slightly from the 4-2-3-1 system used by Ten Hag last term. The arrival of Mount should provide more creativity and dynamism, but the United boss needs to work out how to best utilise the ex-Chelsea man alongside Fernandes, while it was noticeable that United’s best spell in the game came after Mount was replaced by Christian Eriksen.

Outfought

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Wolves’ ability to stream through the middle wasn’t just down to United’s midfield set-up - the Red Devils were outfought by the tenacious Mario Lemina and Joao Gomes. O’Neil’s side also looked fitter and more determined, a worrying observation given the 40-year-old has been in charge for less than a week at Molineux.

Even Ten Hag admitted after the game that United 'were not aggressive enough’, and he’ll need to see an improvement at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Ill-disciplined Martinez

Lisandro Martinez was booked just 17 minutes into the season-opener at Old Trafford, for a needless lunge on Pedro Neto. The robust challenge could have injured the Wolves attacker, with Martinez forcefully flying in at speed and catching Neto.

Given how frequent bookings are being administered this season, the unnecessary yellow for Martinez will irk Ten Hag, especially given the Argentinian had to duck out of a tackle at the end of first half, which resulted in a Wolves breakaway.

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