Wolverhampton Wanderers had an excellent record against the top six of the Premier League last season, and will hope to transfer that over to the new campaign when they host Manchester United at Molineux (3pm ET Monday).
Wolves secured positive results from eight of their 12 fixtures against the top six last season, winning at home to Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd and away at Tottenham Hotspur alongside four draws. Liverpool were the only side in that group to beat them home and away.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team actually defeated Man Utd twice at Molineux last season. Not only did they win 2-1 in the Premier League meeting in early April, but a few weeks earlier they had knocked United out of the FA Cup with another 2-1 victory. Given they also drew 1-1 when the sides met at Old Trafford, it is fair to say that Wolves had United’s number.
With an approach build around a solid defensive unit and quick attacking transitions, Wolves certainly had an able formula for defeating top-of-the-table sides. They also took a solid share of points from the teams in and around them that they eventually overcame to finish seventh in the table. Their problem came in breaking down the lower table teams. They had a worse record against the bottom six than they did the top six.
A fair chunk of the club’s summer budget went on making their loans deal for Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jimenez permanent, although they did spend over £16 million ($19.5m) on the Milan striker Patrick Cutrone in addition to signing a pair of young Portuguese prospects. So their starting XI for their opener away at Leicester last weekend had a very familiar look to it.
The performance, too, was typical Wolves. They defended well, limited Leicester’s shooting opportunities and sought to break forward quickly when possession turned over. While they, too, created little of real note it was nevertheless a solid point with which to begin the campaign against a team who are likely to be one of their direct competitors.
Man Utd also met a direct competitor last weekend and they came away with an even more positive result, thrashing fellow top-four challengers Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford. The first half was pretty even, but United went in at halftime ahead, thanks to a Marcus Rashford penalty. When space began to open up after the break, they took advantage, with further goals from Anthony Martial, Rashford again and debutant Daniel James sealing a clear victory.
It was a very good start to the season and one that showed the potency Man Utd have as a counter-attacking force. There is a lot of pace in their front line, and in Paul Pogba, they have a player capable of moving through midfield and connecting things together when spaces open up. Their big-ticket summer purchase, Harry Maguire, is a centre back who has been more comfortable defending closer to his own goal, suggesting that might be their approach.
That is a valid strategy, of course, and one that even Sir Alex Ferguson often turned to against other big teams. It might even make sense given the relative weakness of United’s midfield zone. But they will also have to find ways of breaking down set defences if Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is to engineer a return to the top four after last season’s sixth-place finish.
The early assumption is that Manchester City and Liverpool will finish in the top two, with a reinforced Spurs most likely to take third. That would leaves Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United fighting over fourth, while also trying to ward off possible challengers from behind, such as Wolves, Everton and Leicester.
Our Betting Preview’s Wolves vs Man Utd Predictions & Picks Verdict
Like Leicester, who travel to Chelsea on Sunday, Wolves will be keen to underline their credentials as potential a top-six side by defeating an established member of that group this weekend. They beat Man Utd twice last season and neither team looks substantially different from how they did then.
Man Utd are favorites on the road with the primary USA bookies at around +125 (5/4), but another Wolves win on Monday looks a good wager. That is the betting prediction of this Wolves vs Man Utd preview: