MANCHESTER, England – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was keen to downplay Manchester United’s chances of fighting for the title but he will know better than most that it is results like this 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers who honor teams that are capable of winning championships.
Solskjaer, who won six titles as a player at Old Trafford, will appreciate the importance of a close win amid these grueling winter fixtures.
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Here United scored only two shots on goal for 90 minutes against a understaffed and very inexperienced Wolves team. But their third night, an attempt by Marcus Rashford who heavily distracted Romain Saiss in the third minute of stoppage time, kicked off – and Solskjaer’s side are now second in the Premier League table, just two points behind Liverpool. It was only United’s second 1-0 win this season, but there are likely to be more if United are to remain real title contenders.
Solskjaer and the rest of the home bench seemed almost taken by surprise when the ball came into play after a game with many clear chances and should end in a fourth draw in the last five meetings between these two teams. However, the Norwegian coach can be pleased that his players at least showed a desire – if not always the ability – to score a winner and it was Bruno Fernandes who pushed the ball forward when the clock slipped which eventually led to Rashford’s winner led.
United have picked up 23 points out of a possible 27 since losing to Arsenal in November. And that trip to Anfield to play Liverpool on January 17th is becoming increasingly critical.
It’s been a long time since United played such a pivotal game at the top of the table.
“We had a fantastic attitude and it’s a great result,” said Solskjaer afterwards. “The desire to go on and create a little luck, we earned that luck by wanting to keep going. It’s a good way to end the year.”
“We’re just focusing on the next game. I’m very bored, but we can’t be too far ahead of ourselves,” he added. “We are in a decent position at the moment, but the season is not even halfway through.
“We didn’t play as well as we want, but we won a game against a very difficult team. It’s my first win in the league against them. There have never been many goals in the games, but for me it is this is a big step forward – that you don’t play well but you win. “
If United are to become Liverpool’s most serious challengers they need to find a way to be more creative at home. For much of the evening the Wolves looked happy to go with a point and it was telling that referee Jon Moss felt the need to hire goalkeeper Rui Patricio for a waste of time, with most of the remaining 20 minutes to play.
Although Solskjaer took advantage of the full extent of his attacking arsenal, a combination of Rashford, Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba only forced Patricio to make two significant saves from the winner. United won’t always be able to rely on added time distractions to win a game. but that’s a debate for another time.
After disappointment over a late equalizer against Leicester on Boxing Day, United rebounded with a decisive win in a massive game under difficult circumstances. If the King Power Stadium draw was a missed opportunity, this time United were able to capitalize on both Chelsea and Leicester losing points the day before. It was also a game they could easily have lost around this time last year.
“We’re a different outfit now,” said Solskjaer. “We’re better mentally and physically. That belief came from performance, results, and players on the field who can change games in a second.
“We pointed out last season that we had to add more points towards the end of the games and we did that a couple of times this season.
The victory over the Wolves ended at a high point in 2020, and after that Solskjaer ended one of his interviews with the words: “We can look forward to 2021.” The foundation for a first title challenge in seven years has been laid, even if the United boss isn’t ready to admit it yet.
“After 15 games there is no title race,” he said. “You can of course lose the chance to race in the first 10 games. But play another 15 – get to 30 games – and maybe we can talk about a title race.”
“The faith is there, we have shown what we are capable of, and this result is massive for the trust.”