The cardboard cutout of Cristiano Ronaldo in the stands proved less significant that the presence of Mason Greenwood on the pitch. Manchester United’s confidence is being elevated by re-signing the player with most goals in the history of professional football but Greenwood has scored more times for them as a teenager when Ronaldo ever did. His third in as many games this season secured a victory that came against the run of play and earned both him and them a slice of history.
Not since Robbie Fowler had a teenager struck in the first three games of a Premier League campaign. Never had a side gone 28 away games unbeaten in the division and while there may be an asterisk attached to United’s achievements, given that virtually all came in empty grounds, they took the record of the Arsenal Invincibles, albeit in uninspiring fashion.
Contentious, too, with Wolves feeling Paul Pogba had fouled Ruben Neves seconds before Greenwood drilled in a low shot from an acute angle. Perhaps Rui Patricio, the goalkeeper Wolves sold, would have saved it. Jose Sa, the one they bought, got a hand to it but Greenwood had a ninth goal in 11 league games. United prevailed from a tricky trip. Like Arsenal, Wolves are goalless and pointless. Unlike the Gunners, they are genuinely unfortunate.
They have had 57 shots. The fact none have gone in presents a problem but they troubled United. It would be an exaggeration to say Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side passed their trial by Traore. Rather, they survived it. They were tormented at times but then Ronaldo’s imminent return is a reminder of the excitement an irrepressible winger used to generate, consuming the crowd’s attention every time he got the ball, ratcheting up the volume levels.
Yet Traore is a famously erratic finisher and with Raul Jimenez yet to score since his return to fitness, Wolves drew another blank. Raphael Varane got the assist for Greenwood’s goal and played a part in the clean sheet, showing his reliability and reading of the game. The issue was that he needed to, with the newcomer left exposed. Solskjaer had gone for the riskier approach and it threatened to backfire.
United’s wealth of attacking talent, plus the absence of the injured Scott McTominay, meant Pogba adopted a deeper role. Yet that comes at a cost defensively and with Fred as error-prone as he was at Southampton seven days earlier, United’s back four lacked protection.
Traore’s first barnstorming run took him past both holding midfielders and resulted in a Jimenez shot, with David de Gea denying Raul Jimenez a first goal since his return to fitness. Then Fred, with a wretched touch, presented the ball to Francisco Trincao. The Barcelona loanee would have had a first Premier League goal but for a brilliant intervention from the sliding Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the goal-line.
Romain Saiss improvised an overhead kick, which went just past a motionless De Gea’s far post. Unfortunate then, the defender was culpable later as De Gea made a double save after Saiss met a corner with a header. The second was brilliant, but the defender should have scored. Trincao had miscued another attempted finish as the ball just would not go in for Wolves.
United found the net before the break, even if Bruno Fernandes’ fine finish was disallowed for offside after a Pogba pass. He supplied a lovely flick when Greenwood drilled an effort just wide but was sufficiently frustrated that he picked up a booking for dissent. Jadon Sancho was muted on his first start, Daniel James, a surprising choice, scarcely any better as Traore overshadowed each.
Solskjaer rang the changes. United did bring on their No 7, but it was Edinson Cavani rather than Ronaldo, who will have to take another shirt. But it meant Greenwood moved to Ronaldo’s old spot on the right wing. And from there, he let fly and United could head north with all three points.