Viva Ronaldo” sang the jubilant Manchester United fans, and if they cannot believe their fortune with the return of the superstar, one of their favourite sons, then they will also wonder how their team rode their luck to claim this victory.
The only goal was scored with a characteristically deadly finish by Mason Greenwood, and while he may naturally be concerned as to how much he will feature once Ronaldo arrives, the 19-year-old made another compelling case that he cannot be ignored.
Three Premier League games and three goals mean Greenwood is living up to his billing as the best finisher at United. He struck an unerring, angled shot that was too powerful for Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa as it skimmed under his outstretched hand and into the net.
Maybe Sa should have done better, but like most of his team-mates Greenwood struggled and yet was alive at the key moment – a bit like Ronaldo has been so often throughout his stellar career.
It sparked wild celebrations from United and even more frantic protests from Wolves, led by Ruben Neves, who was convinced he was fouled by Paul Pogba in the build-up. TV pundit Graeme Souness agreed, as he damningly labelled the challenge a “leg-breaker”.
Instead, referee Mike Dean played on and if Wolves were guilty of missing a series of chances, while also being thwarted by a world-class save by David de Gea, they were also culpable in being distracted and expecting the whistle as United scored. Neves was apoplectic. He ran to the touchline, he showed the mark where he had been caught, he was cautioned, and he insisted on doing the post-match interviews to get across his side of the story.
There was another, similar incident Wolves could point to when, in the first half, Bruno Fernandes went down apparently injured and the United players insisted they put the ball out of play – which they did. But when Neves was on the turf, United played on. Is that sportsmanship or just a burning desire to win?
Last weekend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was complaining about a perceived foul in the build-up to a goal by Southampton and after this result he was praising Dean for letting the game flow – a sentiment not shared by Fernandes, who had remonstrated angrily with the official at half-time for perceived injustices.
But United found a way to win and established a new record of 28 games unbeaten away from home in the Premier League, the longest in English Football League history, which, if nothing else, points to an ability to adapt to every situation.
For Wolves, this felt cruel. They had 15 efforts on target, they were rampant, with the brilliant Adama Traore unstoppable until he tired, and they were roared on in a raucous atmosphere – yet they lost. For them, it is now three 1-0 league defeats under new head coach Bruno Lage, but if this is the way they will perform, then surely they will climb the table.
United will now anticipate Ronaldo’s debut in their home fixture against Newcastle United after the international break, and they will also reflect on contrasting performances from their other two big summer signings – the two they expected to make – in their first starts. It was certainly disappointing for Jadon Sancho, struggling out on the left wing, before he was taken off. His only potential goal involvement came when his header to Luke Shaw fell short, and he inadvertently set up a chance for Wolves with Joao Moutinho shooting over.
But if Sancho struggled, there was a far more assured display from Raphael Varane. “Welcome to the Premier League,” Solskjaer said of what the former Real Madrid defender faced, but he stood up to it impressively, winning his duels and reading the play, and capped it with an assist for Greenwood’s goal.
Nevertheless, Wolves could have been three goals up inside 15 minutes, with United as mobile as the life-size cardboard cut-out of Ronaldo that was waved by their supporters. Traore burst thrillingly between Pogba and Fred, running from his own half to tee up Jimenez, whose low shot was blocked by De Gea at his near post with his feet.
Then Francisco Trincao was simply too quick for the woeful Fred as he surged clear and side-footed the ball past De Gea, only for Aaron Wan-Bissaka to sprint back and superbly block before it could cross the goal-line. Greenwood fizzed a low shot narrowly wide, in a warning of what was to come, but United were clinging on, although their resilience was highlighted as Trincao nutmegged Maguire and tried to pick out Jimenez for a tap-in, only for Varane to slide across.
Trincao scuffed past the post when afforded a clear sight of goal and Romain Saiss’ powerful header was parried by De Gea. The rebound dropped to Saiss only for De Gea to make an astonishing one-handed save from his point-blank shot. It proved to be a turning point.
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