Wolves coach Bruno Lage casually and clinically detailed how his team exploited Manchester United’s incoherent pressing to outsmart them in Monday’s 1-0 win.
United were dominated for large periods by Lage’s visitors on Monday, before 35-year-old Joao Moutinho became the oldest visiting player to score a winning Premier League goal at Old Trafford to condemn Ralf Rangnick to the first loss of his reign.
But from United’s perspective, it was the manner of the defeat that was so perplexing – while the Red Devils were only marginally beaten in terms of expected goals (0.83 to 0.79), Wolves’ greater control and incisiveness allowed them 19 shots to nine, their six on target being three times as many as Rangnick’s team.
Arguably just as important as United’s ineffectiveness in attack was their lack of cohesion off the ball, with Lage seemingly predicting how the hosts would try to press.
Since Rangnick’s appointment there has been much focus on United’s style of play when not in possession, though prior to Monday’s defeat their high turnover frequency has remained practically the same as it was under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Michael Carrick, improving fractionally to 7.75 per game from 7.57.
Generally they are no more effective in this regard than before and, against Wolves, there was precious little coordination from those in attack when looking to win the ball back, with Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho engaging in just three tackle attempts between them.
Wolves’ setup seemed to play into that.
“It’s not about [exploiting] weakness,” Lage told Sky Sports. “We try to understand the spaces they will give. The way they press, we prepared to try and understand, when we have the ball we try to understand which men will be free.
“It can be whoever is free, one of the centre-backs free, or if they come and press three against three like they did with Cavani, the spaces will be outside.
“That’s why today we try to find Nelson Semedo and Marcal, and they come inside to play and then we play against six men: the defensive line and the two midfielders.
“When we arrive there it’s important to keep the ball, get the opponent running. Top teams, sometimes they have more problems when they don’t have the ball. If you spend more time with the ball, we will find our space and create chances.
“Manchester United changed their system a bit, but when you look in the end the way we pressed, controlled the game, the chances we created, we deserved the three points.
“When you are in the game you don’t think about [conceding], we had that chance with [Romain] Saiss when he hit the bar, it was balanced.
“This is football, sometimes we have games like the first Manchester United game at home we create a lot of chances, we had one chance with Saiss in the corner and we miss and after that they score.
“I’m thinking of trying to win the game, that’s why I put Fabio Silva in the game because at that moment I felt we could win the game. We played with a big personality, we created more chances than them, we had more of the ball than them, we deserved to win.”
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