Wolves

The Wolverhampton Wanderers team that won the FA Cup in 1893. The team poses with the trophy (left). back row from left to right: Dickie Baugh, Billy Malpass, Harry Allen (Captain), William Rose, George Kinsey, George Swift; front row from left to right: Robert Topham, David Wykes, Joe Butcher, Harry Wood, Alf Griffin. Source: Wikimedia

I watched the Manchester United v Wolves match on television last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of the pleasure was seeing the underdog triumph. And part was from the discomfort of the commentators who seemed shocked by the performances and the result. I expect some thought, some depth of knowledge from those entrusted with the commentary, and last night’s crew were sadly lacking.

For example, the predicted outcome according to their own stats was a win for Manchester United. The commentators agreed that was their expectation. However, if they had spent five minutes looking at Wolves, they surely would have thought differently.

Which team has the best defensive record in the league? Manchester City, having conceded 13 goals in 21 games. Which team has the next best defensive record? Wolverhampton Wanderers, having conceded 14 goals in 19 games – 18 before yesterday. Manchester United had conceded 26 goals up till yesterday in 18 games. (Chelsea have conceded 16 goals in 21 games and Liverpool have allowed opponents to score 18 times in 20 games. After that, defensive records deteriorate rapidly.)

In their last four games before yesterday, Wolves’ form was two losses, a win and a draw. Not good. But the losses were 1-0 to Manchester City and Liverpool, both of whom are streets ahead of Manchester United. And their draw was against Chelsea!

I’m not suggesting Wolves are going to be top four contenders, but they are clearly a good team who are hard to score against. Given the woeful performances from the team in red, last night’s result should have been no surprise.

The winning goal was scored by Moutinho who volleyed home a Phil Jones clearance. I wouldn’t say that was a mistake by Jones, who was generally one of United’s best performers, but it does show the thin line between success and failure. Had the clearance gone one yard to either side, the chance would not have been the same. (In the same vein, the result might have been different had the usually excellent Fernandes not hit the bar when presented with a free shot on goal.) De Gea, who also played well, cannot have been happy with his defense.

Finally, Wolves had 19 shots compared to United’s 9. It’s a raw figure which doesn’t tell the whole story, but alongside the corner count – 8 to 3 in Wolves’ favor – it suggests that the better team on the night won.

United have stumbled. Can they recover? As for Wolves, it will be interesting to see if they can keep up their form and their amazing defensive record.