Adama Traore shows he can be a game changer in draw against Manchester United
It was a tale of two halves at Molineux
Much of Wolverhampton Wanderers' success last season came as a result of the instinctive combination play between their two forwards - Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota. In the Europa League qualifiers Nuno's team are currently breezing through, they have continued that form. In the first half, the duo looked flat. In the second, as they found their stride - aided immensely by the introduction of Adama Traore - Wolves looked an entirely different prospect.
In contrast, the understanding between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial shone in the first period but faded quickly in the second. Rashford, whilst ostensibly playing as United's centre forward, spent most of the game drifting out to the left touchline or dropping back and occupying the space usually taken by a traditional number 10. This meant that Anthony Martial, the left inside forward, was free to take up dangerous attacking positions in the Wolves' penalty area, often standing on the shoulders of Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett, the two outer centre-backs in the Wolverhampton back three, who both looked thoroughly uncomfortable with the prospect.
Rashford has playmaking ability. It's very rough around the edges but it's there. He frequently found himself in pockets of space and was eager to look for his striker partner Martial, who made intelligent diagonal runs in behind the Wolves backline. The game's opening goal came as a result of a fine Manchester United attack constructed down the left and Rashford taking up the following position on the blindside of Ruben Neves.
He isn't picked up by Joao Moutinho, the one player who should spot the danger being created here by the positioning of the United players, either. If Moutinho has the hunger to get in between the two United simply don't score.
It leads to this situation, with both Shaw and Martial attacking the same gap behind Conor Coady, who is caught between closing Rashford down and covering that space behind him, with Rashford ahead of the Wolves midfield.
As you can also see, Moutinho has barely moved.
Funnily enough, you could probably argue Martial makes the wrong choice here and should leave that area behind Coady for Shaw, whilst himself changing course and sprinting beyond Boly's right shoulder, past the penalty spot and into the six-yard box to get on the end of a square ball. That's the way a clear cut chance is created in this position. Instead, they get a half-chance, which Martial is good enough to smash past Rui Patricio anyway - no easy feat.
The weighting of the pass from Rashford and the finish from Martial are both extremely high level of difficulty actions made to look easy. The same for the Wolves equaliser.
In fairness to the two Portuguese midfielders caught out during the above sequence, it's not a common occurrence. Neves and Moutinho are usually part of the reason opposition teams struggle to break Wolves down. They clog opposition passing lanes intelligently and are tactically disciplined. Truth be told, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba could probably do worse than watch and learn from that aspect of their opposition's midfield partnership.
They also combined to make it 1-1 after yet another moment of long-range brilliance from Neves. He's scored 13 goals for Wolverhampton now, three of which were penalties and the other 10 coming from outside the box. More often than not, they've been absolute belters. Given the increasing influence xG stats, it's reassuring to have players like this out there (Bruno Fernandes is another one) who can still have 'SHOOOOT' yelled at them whenever they receive the ball in the opposition half. I'm sorry but that's just an incredibly fun part of football. I never want that to die.
Beyond that, the pass from Moutinho to create the opportunity is every bit as aesthetically pleasing as the finish.
Best thing about this Ruben Neves goal is that his first touch was absolute rubbish. What a goal pic.twitter.com/788Uqp5bWI
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) August 19, 2019
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, despite another masterclass in tackling, will be disappointed with his closing down of the shot when he sees it back. It's not enough to have any concerns about him going forward, obviously he is a wonderful defensive player, but you just expect him to be braver there. Had he faced the shot without turning his back and ducking, it probably doesn't go in. Given the way he plays the game, though, United supporters should be confident that when the young full-back watches the footage he will be furious enough with himself to never allow it to happen again. He just seems like that sort of player.
The game's standout performer, despite all this, was Traore, who came off the bench for Matt Doherty and caused United all kinds of problems. Traore is still an unstoppable one-on-one dribbler. Gradually, though, you're starting to get the feeling that his understanding of the game is starting to catch up with his own jet-heeled enthusiasm for teleporting down the touchline at every available opportunity. He seemed to pick and choose his moments better and gave Luke Shaw fits, kittens, full-sized adult cats and whatever else you can think of to demonstrate the panic Traore caused solely by being in possession of the ball and knowing he could skin his marker with ease each and every time.
His crossing remains erratic at best but one delivery found its way to his opposite wing-back, Johnny, at the far post, who really should have done better with the chance, tamely heading straight at De Gea.
Whilst Nuno's early substitution wrestled back control and helped Wolves salvage a point, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's changes seemed muddled. In fact, the decision to start Daniel James over Juan Mata or Andreas Pereira on the right-wing probably wasn't the best decision given that United had 69 percent possession in the opening 45 minutes and little opportunity to use his pace on the counter-attack. Jesse Lingard is quickly running out of time in the starting XI.
Of course, none of the above will get spoken about as much as Pogba's penalty, which was met with an outstanding save from Patricio. Whether or not you think Rashford should have taken it (hint: he should have), it should be noted that players miss penalties. That's just what happens. Good teams shouldn't rely on them for three points and the United players will know that, truthfully, after a hugely positive first half, they did nowhere near enough in the second to win the game.