Raphael Varane header earns Manchester United opening victory over Wolves
Manchester United survived a late VAR scare as Raphael Varane’s second-half goal saw them edge past an impressive Wolves to get their Premier League campaign off to a winning start at Old Trafford.
Varane headed home from close range with 14 minutes remaining to ensure an unconvincing display from Erik Ten Hag’s team ended in a 1-0 victory that was barely deserved.
Indeed, it looked like Wolves might get the chance to equalise from the penalty spot at the death when goalkeeper Andre Onana appeared to clatter into Sasa Kalajdzic, but referee Simon Hooper waved away protests and VAR backed his decision.
It felt harsh as few will have seen a performance like this coming from Wolves, whose plans for the season were thrown into disarray last week when boss Julen Lopetegui left just five days before kick-off, with Gary O’Neil coming in.
O’Neil, who was sacked at Bournemouth after keeping them up last season, will have been thrilled at what he saw as his new side put in a slick counter-attacking display that had United on the run for the majority of the game.
But it was old failings that came back to haunt them as they could not take any of their chances, with the electric Matheus Cunha hitting the post in the second half.
United will know a display like this will not be good enough, but they at least got the job done to ensure they join Manchester City and Arsenal in taking maximum points in the opening weekend of the campaign.
There was a small scale demonstration outside the ground before kick-off as United fans again chanted against the Glazers and the lengthy sale process of the club, which has been going on since November.
However, planned protests against the possibility of Mason Greenwood being integrated back into the squad did not extend beyond the odd banner, with the forward’s fate still unknown as the club are still in a consultation phase following the conclusion of their internal investigation.
The off-the-pitch issues have not clouded what was a promising pre-season for Ten Hag’s men, though they could not translate that into a cohesive performance in the opening 45 minutes.
In fact, to much surprise given their build-up to the season, Wolves were the better team as they had United running scared with pace on the break, creating two excellent openings to take the lead.
In the 26th minute a lightning counter attack saw Cunha surge forward and pass to Pablo Sarabia, but it was slightly behind him and the Spaniard saw his drilled effort go just wide with the aid of a deflection.
Another slick move saw roles reversed six minutes later as Sarabia’s excellent pass played in Cunha, but he dragged his shot wide after bursting into the box.
That acted as something of a wake-up call to United, who came to life in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
There were loud shots for a penalty when Marcus Rashford headed against the arm of Nelson Semedo, but the Wolves defender managed to tuck his limb in just in the nick of time.
But Wolves rediscovered their counter-attacking verve after the break and should have led in the 50th minute.
Another lung-busting break from Cunha, who ran virtually the length of the pitch, saw him lay the ball off to Sarabia and it came back to him at the far post, but, slightly off balance, his shot clipped the outside of the post.
The hosts were petrified of Cunha and their defence parted in alarming fashion five minutes later but saw a low shot saved by Andre Onana.
Cunha was at it again in the 71st minute with another run that had United floundering and the loose ball fell to Pedro Neto, but he shot straight at Onana.
There was an inevitability about what was to come as Wolves paid for their lack of cutting edge when United stole the lead in the 76th minute.
Bruno Fernandes unlocked the defence to play in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and his cross from the right was headed home by Varane from close range.
Wolves knocked on the door for an equaliser and Fabio Silva had a hat-trick of chances but was denied by Onana’s legs twice while Luke Shaw produced a goal-saving block to earn his side victory.
The visitors thought they should have had a penalty in the sixth minute of time when Onana went walkabouts, but Hooper and VAR denied them.