Wolves v Manchester United: How the Red Devils have risen again
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, Manchester United have rediscovered themselves.
Left battered and bruised by the reigns of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and especially Jose Mourinho, after the retirement of all-time great Sir Alex Ferguson, Solskjaer has picked up the pieces in sensational style.
The Norwegian, a stalwart of Sir Alex’s trophy-laden era, has implemented the key elements of what made United so successful over the 90s and noughties.
Their attacking players have had the shackles taken off and are allowed to express themselves once again.
A core of British players has come to the fore – Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Scott McTominay and Ashley Young – in the wake of millions squandered by Mourinho.
And the biggest buy of Mourinho’s reign, Paul Pogba has finally started to show his true colours because of mutual respect between him and his boss.
The truth is, United are an entirely different prospect than the side Wolves drew 1-1 with at Old Trafford in September. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side should still take heart from that point, but United’s ethos has been flipped on its head.
They are not obsessed with playing a restrictive brand of football which is designed solely to avoid losing any more.
United are intent on doing everything they can to win convincingly, by being ruthless and easy on the eye.
Solskjaer, in his unveiling as temporary boss back in December, spoke about bringing the enjoyment and pride back.
“The first thing I felt when I came to United is that it’s a family club. It is. You know, I was so amazed when I got to the club how close-knit everyone was,” he said.
“It’s a family and then it evolved and developed, and you see the winning instinct.
“It’s about giving youngsters the chance. At Molde, this was my model.
“Man United was my model. You have family, tradition, history, giving youth a chance, attacking football and winning.
"It’s unbelievable how much it’s developed since I came in ‘96. It’s huge. Biggest club in the world, best club in the world, best supporters in the world and we’ve got the best players in the world.
“I can promise I will give everything I’ve got for us to have success.
“I’ll do my very best, along with the staff, to get the players playing and enjoying themselves. I can’t wait to get it going.”
And it is how Solskjaer has stuck by those words which has made him the heavy favourite to land the manager gig permanently.
Many think he is already a shoo-in for it, but he’ll know a trophy is what will really make those in power stand up and notice, and eliminate any doubt. And that is why we should see United go for a very strong starting XI at Molineux, although he has a fair few on the injured list.
Jesse Lingard, one of many who has stepped up a gear or two over the past few months, is due to miss the clash.
Definitely out are Young (suspended), Alexis Sanchez (knee) and Antonio Valencia (calf). Phil Jones hasn’t played for a month due to illness, and Matteo Darmian has also been out ill of late.
However, United’s severe injury list is easing, with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera both likely to feature. Anthony Martial also returned as a substitute for Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal – a rare loss since the switch to Solskjaer – so United have the talent available to frighten Wolves.
Nuno, though, certainly has enough at his disposal to beat the Red Devils, who are thoroughly impressive but, ultimately, not invincible.