Solskjaer's first irreversible setback: Man Utd offer nothing in tame FA Cup exit
The Red Devils slumped to a 2-1 loss at Wolves on Saturday night and they could have no complaints about the result after a strangely subdued showing
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Manchester United manager suffered its first irreversible setback on Saturday as a sluggish performance saw them suffer an FA Cup exit at the hands of Wolves.
United never really came close to delivering the kind of display which has become their hallmark under the Norwegian and second-half goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota were the least an impressive Wolves side deserved.
And while United have lost twice before since Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in December, they managed to overturn the first-leg Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain and their 2-0 reverse against Arsenal last week was also far from terminal.
But their 2-1 at Molineux loss closes off United’s most likely route to the piece of silverware which Solskjaer has been craving from the minute he walked through the door.
In a tepid first half, United paid the price for not having much in the way of a threat whenever Wolves tucked players in behind the ball. With the home side far from adventurous, United had few chances to break into space and Nuno Espirito Santo’s troops looked comfortable enough as a result.
It was in no way a surprise that United should find it more to their liking when their opponents try to attack but what did come as something of a shock was the fact they couldn’t make the most of the more open flow of the game in the second half as Wolves began to back themselves.
Indeed, Sergio Romero was the far more taxed of the two goalkeepers and had to be at his very best to keep out Raul Jimenez’s header from close range with a magnificent reflex stop. He would be the hero again shortly afterwards to deny Joao Moutinho’s effort from range, but the momentum was building in Wolves’ favour.
This would normally be when Solskjaer’s United would strike, making the most of a stretched environment to counter-attack at will. But here they had nothing. There was no swagger on the ball, no bite in the tackle, and Wolves were beginning to benefit in the way of increased confidence.
When Romero was finally beaten, it was the least Wolves deserved. Jimenez had had a couple of swings at the ball in the crowded area but then reacted quickly to bury a shot on the turn low to Romero’s right.
And if it was to be expected that United would respond, they failed to deliver in that department either. Wolves broke upfield from a United set-piece and Diogo Jota ran at Luke Shaw, turning the full-back inside out before firing low past Romero at the near post. Game over.
There was almost another twist after Victor Lindelof was shown a red card for a foul on Jota by the touchline, only for the VAR to downgrade Martin Atkinson’s decision to a yellow, but there was to be no saving United despite a 95th-minute consolation strike from Marcus Rashford.
With Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard all starting for the first time since injuries, there was too often a disconnect in United’s rhythm on the ball. Paul Pogba barely featured either, and Solskjaer can have no complaints that his side are out of the cup.
United have a couple of weeks off now before their next Premier League game at home to Watford, and it will give some players an opportunity to get fully fit and firing once more.
But there’s no turning back the clock on this FA Cup campaign. After scintillating away victories against Arsenal and Chelsea in earlier rounds, United simply had no answers this time around.