45 min +1: And so of course United nearly take the lead again, Pogba forcing the ball down the inside-right channel to release Lukaku, who whips a first-time shot across Rui Patricio and inches wide of the left-hand post.
45 min: A welcome period of sterile possession for United in midfield. They needed it; they’ve been rocking.
43 min: Moutinho’s looper instigates a game of head tennis in the United box. The visitors half clear. Neves returns the dropping ball, sending it arcing towards the top right. De Gea does extremely well to claim it under his crossbar, then make sure he doesn’t take it back over the line. Safe hands.
42 min: Now Dalot goes in the book for a cynical arm in Vinagre’s face, the Wolves man threatening to break clear down the left. A free kick in a dangerous position. Moutinho will take.
40 min: Coady shanks a backpass high into the sky. Pogba is lurking, and Rui Patricio does extremely well to improvise a clearing header. No way is this match going to end 1-1.
39 min: The resulting free kick is floated into the mixer. Doherty rises highest and heads wide left from six yards. A great chance spurned. Some rank headers this evening.
38 min: McTominay holds the ball up well down the left, and is yanked to the ground by Bennett. A free kick in a very dangerous position. But Young’s delivery is totally hopeless, failing to beat the first man, and suddenly Jota is tearing away from the packed box and up the other end! Shaw tries to stop him but fails, gives chase, and tugs him back. That’s his tenth booking of the season, and he’ll miss United’s upcoming matches against West Ham and Everton.
37 min: Fulham aren’t relegated yet! Ryan Babel (33 min) has equalised for the Cottagers against Watford.
35 min: Pogba faffs around out on the United right and is stripped by Jota, who immediately knocks the ball past Young and is tugged back by the shirt. Young should be booked, but for some reason Mike Dean can’t be bothered to do his thing. Which reminds me, Peter Littley sent this email a few minutes ago: “Doesn’t really matter what plans each team has made, with Mike Dean in charge the result is in his hands. Hope he’s swallowed the pea and stays well off stage.” Latest score: Littley 1-0 Dean.
33 min: United’s early confidence is kaput. They were purring nicely for the first 20 minutes of this game, but can hardly string two passes together at the moment. Now it’s Wolves who are first to everything. It’s been good fun from the first whistle.
31 min: Wolves are right in this game now. In fact, they should be in the lead. Doherty and Jimenez combine cutely down the right. Doherty reaches the byline and hooks back for Dendoncker, who should score, eight yards out, but leans back and lifts his shot miles over. To be fair, the ball might have bobbled just before he hit it, but still.
29 min: That equaliser has got Molineux bouncing. And now the hosts are seeing much more of the ball. A free kick on the halfway line is pumped upfield by Coady. Jimenez teases Shaw down the right, then rolls a pass across the face of the United box for Neves, who hoicks an awful shot miles over the bar, and wide right to boot. Neves has a good old shout, hollering into the sky in frustration. It was a decent chance to work de Gea.
27 min: If Fulham lose at Watford tonight, they’ll be relegated. And they’ve just fallen behind at Vicarage Road. Abdoulaye Doucoure with the opening goal after 23 minutes.
GOAL! Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Manchester United (Jota 25)
Fred dawdles, 25 yards from his own goal. Dendoncker slides in to dispossess him. Jimenez takes up possession and flicks a ball down the middle and into the box, where Jota is clean through and onside! He lifts a shot calmly over de Gea and the hosts, who have been outplayed up to this point, are level!
24 min: Vinagre skedaddles in from the left. He tries to slip in Jota down the channel, but the ball breaks off Boly, to Jimenez, free on the right. Jimenez flashes a shot high and wide from a tight angle. But no matter, because …
22 min: United continue to dominate. They’re first to everything right now. McTominay is seeing a lot of the ball. Jose Mourinho, for all his faults, has an eye for a player.
20 min: Wolves win their first corner of the evening, Vinagre making ground down the left, his cross cut out by Smalling. Wolves load the box … then Moutinho stubs his toe while taking the corner, the ball dribbling straight out of play. That’s a risible corner, registering 8/10 on the Aspas-o-meter.
19 min: It’s fair to say United deserved that early goal. They’ve been effervescent from the get-go. Wolves haven’t been able to hit their stride at all. They try to clear their heads by stringing a few passes together at the back. They don’t go anywhere, but that’s not the point.
17 min: How on earth are United not two up? First Shaw dribbles with purpose down the left and cuts back for Lukaku. But McTominay, perhaps still giddy, gets in the way of his own man. No matter, because Lukaku is soon chipping in a cross from the left, the ball dropping to Lingard, whose header towards the bottom left is well kept out by Rui Patricio. Like Lukaku earlier, he probably should have scored.
15 min: That’s McTominay’s first goal in a Manchester United shirt. He peeled off in celebration with a smile that would have lit up those Molineux friendlies during the Cullis era.
GOAL! Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1 Manchester United (McTominay 13)
United find their feet! Shaw shuttles the ball infield from the left wing. Fred then moves it on to McTominay, to the right of the D. McTominay takes a touch and sends a diagonal fizzer towards the bottom left. Rui Patricio is at full stretch, but has no chance, the ball skidding off the wet turf at high speed and in! That’s a fine finish!
11 min: Dendoncker takes possession of a Neves pass in the centre circle and with one touch nips past two United players. He’s got a lot of space to romp into, but a rush of blood makes him play a pointless pass to Jota, who wasn’t expecting it, and United intercept. Neither team have found their feet yet.
10 min: The first corner of the night is won by United, thanks to good work from Lukaku down the left. The set piece is worked back to Pogba, who attempts to release Young into the box with a wedge down the inside-left channel. But the pass is too strong, Young can’t control, and the flag goes up for offside anyway.
9 min: The rain’s coming down in the midlands. Pogba falls over in the centre circle under no pressure whatsoever, allowing Neves to stride off with the ball. He slips a pass wide right for Jimenez, who enters the box but can’t get a shot away. Wolves should have done more with that situation.
7 min: But it was good build-up play by United, who will be encouraged by the ease with which they opened up the hosts. Now Pogba sends a pass wide left. Shaw tries to break clear but Lingard’s weak role in a one-two scuppers the plan.
5 min: United should be leading. Pogba rolls a pass wide right for Dalot, who crosses perfectly for Lukaku. He’s six yards out, the ball dropping for him to head home. He slams his effort straight at Rui Patricio, who parries well but really shouldn’t have the chance to save. That’s a poor miss. Wolves clear their lines.
4 min: Neves dribbles down the right, tight on the touchline. For a second he threatens to break free of Shaw but is forced to check back. Then McTominay attempts to power through the centre circle but he’s turned around as well. It’s a little bit scrappy, but very high paced.
2 min: Both teams take turns to get a feel of the ball. Wolves first, then United. Lindelof launches long in the hope of finding Lukaku, but the pass is no good and sails straight through to Rui Patricio.
And we’re off! Within ten seconds, Lingard is shooting goalwards after a dribble down the middle of the park, straight from kick-off. He sends a dribbler towards the bottom right from the edge of the box. Rui Patricio gathers without fuss. Talk about starting on the front foot!
The teams are out! Wolves are in their classic old gold, while United sport their famous red. It’s one of the great sights in football. Squint slightly and pretend you’re watching the two glamour teams of the 1950s: Billy Wright, satin shirt shimmering under the lights, leading his men against the Busby Babes. Drizzle coming down. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the touchline kicking a ball; you know full well the player inside is busting to play. We’ll be off in a minute!
Ole speaks. “Wolves are well organised, they counter quickly, they have some individual quality. The two up front work as a pair really well. The three in midfield have all the passing range you can ask for. They have the fitness, they run about the pitch and are solid at the back with their size and pace. They’ve drilled this system for quite a while. It’s important for us to start the game well, to get on the front foot and play with more tempo and urgency, rather than the slow game we played last time.”
Nuno talks. “We must bounce back from the last performance at Burnley. We want to play better. We have to bounce back immediately and raise our standards again. We have to be more compact and when we have the ball we have to provoke more, create more, produce chances. This is a different game [to their FA Cup victory over United]. It’s a new challenge, let’s go game by game.”
Wolves make four changes to the side named for the defeat at Burnley last weekend. Jonny, Romain Saiss, Ivan Cavaleiro and Adama Traore all drop to the bench, with Ryan Bennett, Matt Doherty, Ruben Vinagre and Raul Jimenez taking their spots.
Manchester United make six changes to the team that beat Watford on Saturday. Stepping up: Victor Lindelof, Fred, Scott McTominay, Diogo Dalot, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard. Standing down: Phil Jones, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial and an injured Marcus Rashford.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Rui Patricio, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Vinagre, Jimenez, Jota.
Subs: Cavaleiro, Costa, Gibbs-White, Jonny, Ruddy, Saiss, Traore.
Manchester United: de Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw, Fred, McTominay, Pogba, Dalot, Lukaku, Lingard.
Subs: Jones, Mata, Martial, Andreas Pereira, Rojo, Romero, Matic.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
Wolverhampton Wanderers have enjoyed playing Manchester United this season. Back in September, they came away from Old Trafford with a deserved 1-1 draw, Fred and Joao Moutinho exchanging goals, Adama Traore going close twice late on. Then a couple of weeks ago, Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota fired Wolves into the semi-finals of the FA Cup at Molineux at United’s expense. Can they do it again, and beat the Reds twice in the same season for the first time since 1980?
They don’t come into this match in particularly good nick. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side sit seventh in the Premier League table, the Best of the Rest, but they’ve only won once in the league in the last two months, and that against Cardiff City. They’re coming off the back of a lame 2-0 defeat at Burnley. And they’ll surely have one eye on this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final with Watford. It’s only natural if they don’t approach this game with 100 percent vigour.
Then again, United haven’t been themselves of late either. They suffered back-to-back defeats before the international break, in the league at Arsenal and in the cup against Wolves. And their return to Premier League action was frankly weird, a 2-1 home win over Watford in which the Hornets were by far the better team. Nevertheless, everyone’s feeling pretty good about themselves again. A top-four finish, unimaginable when Jose was at the wheel, is a very real prospect now. A rediscovery of form here, and infectious new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be three points closer to completing one of the great managerial salvage jobs.
Here we go, then, a big match between two of English football’s grandest clubs at the business end of the season. It’s on! Kick off is at 7.45pm BST.