As Jofra Archer proved in the second Ashes Test, pace changes everything.
Senses are sharper, adrenaline pumps and numerous elements thought to be under control escape it.
Monday’s Premier League showdown between Wolves and Manchester United at Molineux – which ended with the spoils fairly shared in a 1-1 draw – was similarly a contest at its best when clattering along without a thought for the consequences.
Only with a full pre-season under his belt can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer truly be considered at the United wheel. And his is a team built for speed.
As in their 4-0 thumping of Chelsea on the opening weekend, plenty of United’s early work was scruffy and without structure – they completed only 70.7 per cent of their first-half passes – but they have a forward line to frighten.
Jet-heeled winger Daniel James might have put his standout asset to better use had he spent more of the opening 45 minutes upright. A booking for simulation was deserved, welcomed with delight by the Molineux faithful and a grounding moment for a young talent on the crest of a wave.
Similar enthusiasm once surrounded Anthony Martial, like James a goalscorer from the bench on his Old Trafford debut. Here he became the first player to score 50 goals in a United shirt untouched by the hand of Alex Ferguson since the great man left the building.
The road from his 2015 roof-raiser versus Liverpool to this point has been a bumpy one, but there was a delightful smoothness in the slick interchange between Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford that allowed Martial to rifle an unstoppable strike past Rui Patricio. If ever there was a shot to make up for neither side managing an attempt in the first 26 minutes, it was this.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 19, 2019
Solskjaer’s front four in fast-forward caused Wolves plenty of problems, not least pushing them too deep to effectively launch their trademark counter-attacking raids. The sight of centre-forward Raul Jimenez turning to attack on the left wing, midway inside his own half, was a forlorn one.
Nuno Espirito Santo plotted success last season on the basis of polished and precise work in the transitions, but with calculation failing he opted for chaos. He brought on Adama Traore.
Blessed with the frame of a Greco-Roman wrestler and the pace of a 100 metre sprinter, Wolves’ unusual Olympian composite barrelled rapidly about the place and put United – especially left-back Luke Shaw, who must have felt like he was marking an articulated lorry with dodgy breaks – on their heels.
Eschewing a run into space down the flank, Traore darted into traffic in the 53rd minute, smashing through Scott McTominay. Harry Maguire’s finger wagging when his foul ended the assault made it look as if he just found the whole thing a bit silly.
It was, although United never truly cleared their lines from that attack and a dash of their old panache meant an exquisite equaliser for Wolves.
Ruben Neves felt the pain of pace a few moments earlier when he was booked for felling James. Yet he brought the ball and time under his spell when he collected Joao Moutinho’s neatly worked corner. United defenders charged towards and past the delicious curler that thumped David De Gea’s crossbar on the way in
— Wolves (@Wolves) August 19, 2019
Paul Pogba, once again influential on the other side of his close-season discontent, was inspired to bring his poise to the party – gliding into the Wolves area with intent. It all happened too quickly for Conor Coady. The Wolves captain had his hands in the air to protest against the foul before he made it.
And so Pogba stood and waited, sizing up Patricio. A conventional run-up and a firm hit later, the Portugal international guessed correctly.
Red and gold shirts dashed manically after the loose ball. It would have jarred had this game been decided by a moment immediately after everyone stood still.
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